In This Together: Tips for Parents Working from Home
26 May 2020
Malene M. Therkelsen
With employers currently encouraging workers to telecommute, alongside the closure of schools and daycares, many parents are finding themselves in new territory: working from home (often full-time) with children but without access to babysitters, playdates, or even help from grandparents. All those supportive outlets that we normally rely on aren’t accessible when they are needed most.
Attempting to keep up with your workload while simultaneously taking care of children can be challenging. But don’t panic just yet! We’ve gathered 6 tips on how to navigate life at the intersection of working from home and parenting that have helped our team and made our new situation a little easier.
Be upfront with your employer
Communication is an essential part of any job. When working remotely while parenting, make sure you continue to proactively communicate with your boss and coworkers that you will require flexibility to address the needs of your children. “If you clearly communicate your needs, you not only help to make your own life less stressful during this time, but you also open the door for your coworkers to have this conversation as well,” says Kaila Kea, Career Coach at themuse.com. “They may also be struggling with balancing work and family life, just like you, but don’t know how to address it.”
Communicate with your coworkers
No matter how well you try to plan out the day, your children will most likely interrupt your work at some point. They might make loud noises during your conference calls or photobomb your video meetings. Your coworkers will be more understanding about interruptions if you communicate and warn them ahead of time. “If you have a conference call and know there might be some unavoidable noises in the background, call attention to it at the beginning of the conversation,” suggests Alissa Carpenter, Author of How to Listen and How to Be Heard: Inclusive Conversations at Work. “This way if/when it happens, people are a little more prepared and not as thrown off by the distraction.”
Create a schedule and be creative with it
While working from home full-time as a parent, you might need to make adjustments to your work schedule in order to watch your children. Consider how many hours you need to work that day, when you will return calls, and what you can accomplish while your child is playing in the next room. It can be challenging to finish all of your work during regular business hours if you’re also on 24/7 kid-patrol. “Depending on your flexibility and your partner’s flexibility, you might consider switching to shift work,” suggests Sara Sutton, CEO & Founder of FlexJobs. “Maybe you work for four hours (uninterrupted) in the morning while your partner watches the kids, then you switch. You watch the kids in the afternoon while your partner works. Then, when the kids are in bed, you both get a little more work done.”
Establish boundaries with your children
It’s important to establish boundaries with your children while working from home. “Have a family meeting and explain how work works. Let your kids know that you have certain tasks that you must accomplish, and you can’t take frequent breaks to help them,” says Sutton. Use visual cues to minimize interruptions such as a “do not disturb” sign on the door and let your children know that when the sign is hanging there they either 1. can’t come in or 2. need to be in “quite-mode” if they do. Sutton suggests that you explain to your children “once you’re done with whatever it is you’re doing, you’ll come out and check on them. But until that happens, they need to either wait for you or solve the problem themselves.”
Schedule breaks with your children – as well as some “alone time” downtime
Parents temporarily working from home may benefit from scheduling breaks with their children throughout the day. During these breaks, you can play with them, help them with schoolwork, or go outside to burn off some energy. Consider reading, board games, drawing, dancing, scavenger hunts, etc. “If you give the kids your full attention during breaks, they can look forward to them, and it might just be easier for them to get through your working blocks too,” says Teresa Douglas, Co-Author of Working Remotely: Secrets to Success for Employees on Distributed Teams.
On the other hand, planning “me-time” downtime is just as important. Working from home while taking care of children can take a toll on your energy levels and patience. “In a house with multiple adults you can trade off—and try to discuss when and how you’ll each take your downtime in advance to avoid arguments,” Douglas suggests. “Solo parents might need to wait until the weekend to use an early morning or late evening for alone time.” During your alone downtime, you should prioritize things that make you feel good and relaxed such as reading a book, working on a craft, getting a workout in, etc.
Suddenly juggling a full-time remote work schedule with at-home childcare creates new, unanticipated challenges. Since many parents might be unexpectedly at home for weeks, we encourage using these tips to establish an effective work-from-home strategy for you and your kids. With some planning, clear communication and an adaptable attitude, you may be better equipped to successfully manage your workload while raising your children during this difficult time.
Cite references for expert quotes & recommendations below: