Working From Home With Kids. #WFHWK
It’s not only the latest hashtag but the latest working parent hurdle given the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.
I want to start by putting things in perspective. Some people find this helpful but some annoying – sorry if you are in the latter category.
There is a large part of our population that have already lost their job or need to leave the house to earn their living.
We are a group of people who CAN do their job from the safety of our own home, and with the school closures, we share that home all day with our children. Children that need direction and some amount of supervision; either young and a handful, or older and we now have a more active role in their education. Or in the middle – undoubtedly the toughest of all.
I’m not insinuating that you need to take this in stride because you are more fortunate than others. You can struggle massively with this new set up and still be grateful that you are employed despite the challenges. It is totally okay to get overwhelmed, frustrated and frankly sometimes just fed up. Hopefully, this article can help you navigate some of those frustrations.
I just want to point out that this is a good challenge to have, given the current circumstances.
The bottom line is: challenges are hard, and this is new to everyone so let’s work through this together.
At a Macro Level
Before I dive into my list of tips to help you cope with working from home with kids I want to address the blend of our two worlds colliding. There are no longer physical boundaries between our two jobs. Momming runs right into working with a break of mom on the side. Same with Dadding.
I think it’s time we revisit and embrace Jeff Bezos’s “Work-Life Harmony” over the ever-elusive concept of work-life balance.
“I get asked about work-life balance all the time. And my view is, that’s a debilitating phrase because it implies there’s a strict trade-off.” Jeff said to Business Insider. Instead of viewing work and life as a balancing act, Bezos said that it’s more productive to view them as two integrated parts.
While I appreciated the sentiment back when I read that article early 2019 it didn’t really sync in until this new situation of working from home with kids. Our context switching needs to be more fluid between the two roles, employee and parent.
Now that being said, and all my points below also really need to be backed up by a shift in company culture.
Companies need to stop measuring their employees’ productivity by hours in front of a computer and trust that each employee is devoted to doing a good job. Take into account the mornings we mentally run through the upcoming day’s events, evenings we spend visualizing the pitch they need to make or the late nights we login to fix a bug as inspiration struck. Heck, my problem-solving brain seems to kick into high gear when I am completely removed from the situation at hand.
Take away this hourly pressure and I genuinely think we will see huge returns in an employee’s mental state, productivity and ultimately retention.
Massive props to the companies that are already supporting their employees during this transition, taking the pressure off of a 9-5 schedule and allowing for life with intrusions.
10 Tips to Master Working From Home With Kids
Without further delay I will jump into what I feel is the top ten tips that will help you adjust to working from home with kids.
0. Adjust your Expectations
This comes first and foremost and is absolutely required to continue down the list. You are not going to have a dedicated 9-5 interruption-free workday. Productivity (in the beginning) will take a hit.
You have new challenges in front of you. Both in finding your productivity stride as an employee and as the involved (and calm) parent that you want to be.
Take comfort in knowing that there are many people in your situation learning the new ins and outs of working alongside their kids.
Be open about your situation with your boss and coworkers.
There will be an adjustment period but if you are good at your job (which I’m sure you are especially if you are reading articles about how to be even better) then you will acclimate and you will be churning out quality work in no time.
1. Stick to a Morning Routine
Wow. I can definitely feel the difference on the days that I’ve rolled right out of bed and into my inbox. There is a general sluggishness about me.
I have control over this with a simple morning routine.
A quick shower, sometimes just to rinse off and wash my face (come on girl!), brush teeth, deodorant on.
I’ve also started to incorporate some creativity time in the AM before my laptop opens. And I like to jot down a couple of lines in my gratitude journal.
All this (plus some baby and toddler cuddles) starts me off in good spirits and with the right mindset to tackle the challenges ahead.
2. Healthy Food and Water
Both super important and something I still struggle with every day! I guess I’m writing this section for my own internalization. (Note that as I write my tummy growls. I’ll be right back.)
Water is so, so important for our bodies to function and I’ve always been better at intake in the office. At the office the water is super cold (which I love) and it tastes lovely and I’ve just made a habit of filling up a small cup before meetings as I walk by the kitchen. At home, I have to make a concerted effort and haven’t yet figured out how to do this. Any tips, let me know.
Food, too, is sadly a second priority for me, Which means I have to grab something quickly when I’m starving. So whatever I eat is usually not the most nutritious.
You know what, I feel vastly under qualified writing about this. I’ll have to come back to you with some tips on how to actually ensure you eat healthily and stay hydrated while working from home. But hopefully, we can all agree on its importance both for long term health and short term energy.
3. Workout and/or Spend Time Outdoors
You know how important getting physical exercise is, well, its importance has compounded here and now. Working from home with kids means you are not walking to and from and throughout your office building. If you are not careful you can slip into the ‘sedentary’ lifestyle which is a very slippery slope.
Do yourself a favor and prioritize physical fitness. Replace your commute with a run or yoga. Take a walking meeting!! Those are freaking cool. Put your headphones in for any call where you don’t have to be on the computer and get walking. For an extra bonus, you will get a nice boost of vitamin D. (Sorry, I write this from California, so that’s valid all year long, perhaps it will be more seasonal where you are.)
Sadly I must add that with the current climate to ensure you keep social distancing while out and about. We are all trying to do our part with flattening the curve.
4. Coordinate Calendars with Your Partner
If you and your partner are both working from home with kids it is really important that you coordinate calendars. Ideally, one parent can be productive in a back room while the other does what they can out in the open, near the kiddos.
Here are a couple of things we have done:
- We coordinate calendars to ensure important meetings don’t collide. Sometimes they do and we deal but if we get ahead of this one person or the other can usually shuffle things around.
- Split the day down the middle, one of you has the back room until noon and then swap. If you wake up early for an hour or two before the kiddos and then work until noon that is 5-6 hours of productive time. This will help offset an afternoon of less effective concentration.
- If possible, have meals as a family, tech off and at the table. It’s a good time to reset and de-stress.
My last point on this is to make sure that you treat each other equally. More or less time should not go to the “more important job” or the “bigger income” because both of your jobs are important and deserve an equal amount of dedication.
5. Don’t Constrain Work into the 9-5 Box
You are working from home with kids, I know I don’t need to remind you (but Yoast SEO asks me to!). For me, the most productive time I can get in is before the kids wake up. Getting an hour in makes me feel ahead of the game. These days, with a 5-month-old this is not always possible so I end up putting a bit more time in than I’d like to after we get the kids to sleep.
With early mornings and/or some evening hours I feel like I get a bit of slack in the day when I’m multitasking the kiddos. I also feel like those extra hours give me a little slack to take a break mid-day and simply be present with the family.
6. Become a Pro with the Mute Button
I am a firm believer, as a woman, that you deserve a seat at the table. These days, coming to the table means putting your video on and making your presence known. If it is a large meeting and you stay on mute, your video will not pop up for others to see.
This past week it has become very evident to me that there are a lot more men popping up on video during calls than women. Partly because there are literally more men in my meetings. But if I’m any indication, it’s pretty intimidating. With a video conference, you have to speak up more abruptly than before. You are not sitting around a table where you can raise your hand or gently cut in.
Those women that have asserted themselves this past week have really stood out for me. I say we all make a bit more effort. Not only for yourself but for those that need the extra push. I’m not talking just to the woman, but for all those a little less assertive. And for the bosses, don’t forget that we still need you to pull us forward at times.
BUT!!! Get good at mute/unmute. Unmute when you are going to speak and mute to keep background noise to a minimum at all other times. Being adept at the video button; it a plus as well.
7. Plan Your Kiddos Day
This does not have to be detailed if that doesn’t speak to you. We simply put a list together of activities to resort to when my almost 3 year old asks for TV, again. So our day consists of him playing with his toys, asking for TV, us distracting him with an activity (click here to see my collection of indoor activities), repeat.
It is really important to remember that young children learn by playing, they don’t need structured learning. And for school-age kids, the actual classroom time in school is about 4 hours, so don’t try to plan out an 8 hour day. You don’t need that pressure.
I love the idea of letting older kids plan their own day. And, I love the whiteboards of daily schedules and/or simple lists that are littering Instagram as all the parents learn how to homeschool.
The last thing I want to mention here is going outside and exploring is a great educational activity. Creek walks to find bugs, in your yard to find different plants and flowers, an open field to kick the ball around (hello physical education).
8. Let go of the Guilt
Some days you might feel like a rock star, able to multitask work productivity and be a parenting pro. That is awesome. But just as awesome is letting go of the guilt you might feel for a bad day. With the TV on all day, Goldfish being the only thing your kiddo ate, both your work and parenting feeling sub-par.
Some days will be good, some bad. The easier you let go of the bad ones, perhaps learn from them, the quicker you will start to see days trending up.
Do a quick troubleshooting session to understand why:
- Did I stay up too late last night?
- Did I skip breakfast?
- Am I dehydrated?
- Did I load up on sweets which is why I’m crashing?
See if you can get to the root cause and try to fix that tomorrow and move on.
9. Get Ruthless with Your Time
Get strict with your time. Be really clear on your priorities and team priorities.
- Focus on one task at a time. You’ll be multitasking with your kids so don’t try and multitask work tasks as well.
- Control work interruptions. It is a bit easier when you work from home because coworkers cannot walk up and interrupt you mid-flow. You have control over your notification settings. Turn notifications off until you finish your current task. If you are afraid you will miss something from your boss, let them know that you are doing this and if they need you to literally ring your phone. If they don’t like that idea, brainstorm together ways you can reduce work distractions.
- Limit meetings without a point. As in, don’t call a meeting if you can resolve issues over email. Reach out to others who have called meetings to be sure you understand the agenda and that you are a necessary attendee. If you can skip it and get the Cliffsnotes after, do so.
- Be ruthless with your email, archive quickly. Maybe not from your boss. Also, don’t aim to perfect communication before sending it. Do your best in a given amount of time but then press send. I know I could spend all day trying to perfect a simple email request. When I am quicker to send I might need to follow up with clarifications BUT more often than not the original communication did the job with fewer hours dwelled.
10. But Build in Time for Socialization
I know I just told you to guard your time but right now it’s more important than ever to maintain human connections.
Allow for socialization – check in with your coworkers. Ask them how they are doing and reassure them that they are doing a good job in a very difficult time. Have a non-work conversation. Social distancing does not have to equal social isolation.
I like to schedule a time where we actually share a coffee with each other over video conferencing.
On that note, reach out to your close friends and family. Text, Video Call, Group Call. If you are not used to talking on the phone (I am not) then it might be weird at first but give it a go. I’ve found in this one week I’ve had more touchpoints (haha) with friends and family than I had over the last few months.
We are all in a new and difficult position, bogged down by the weight of anxiety. Focusing on the day in front of you is the best way to stay sane in such uncertainty.
Adjust your expectations, start your morning off right.
Fuel and engage your body and your mind.
Communication is key to maximize productivity.
Don’t constrain yourself, or overload your kids.
Don’t waste brainpower on unneeded guilt.
Stay on task where you can but build in time to chit chat.
I don’t get all these right every day but frankly, when I get 80% right I’m feeling pretty good. Aim for more good days than bad.
These are my tips for working at home with kids in the house. What have you done to help the happiness of the whole household? I’d love to hear what you’ve learned along the way. Drop me a comment below so we can all benefit from the collective knowledge.
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Melinda CummingsMarch 25, 2020 at 4:19 am
I started off my working from home experience with such high expectations which was a mistake.
We are figuring it out as we go along now. I am adamant about going outside each day for fresh air. Either my husband or I will do it, sometimes in shifts to give each other a tiny break.
firstname.lastname@example.orgMarch 29, 2020 at 8:59 pm
I really like that – not only swapping off work vs kid duties but also swapping off going outside for a much-needed break from IT ALL. Thanks for commenting!