You’re in your home office on your first Zoom call of the day. Everything is going smoothly until your kids start fighting over a toy right outside the door. You’re able to ignore it until the screams become too much, so you apologize profusely as you step out of the meeting and step in to deal with the toy situation.|
Whether it's out of necessity or desire, working from home with kids creates its own set of challenges. Suddenly, it's not just you and your workday, but multiple people and their many needs that you have to accommodate. While it can feel overwhelming to be both parent and employee in the same space, with the right mindset and strategy, you can create a balance to help you stay professionally productive while caring for your children.
1. Involve them in your work.
Paul Entin, founder of epr Marketing, has been working from home for more than 20 years. "Children are naturally curious about what you do all day, and now that work is from home, they want to see what happens at work," he explains. "I had my kids making copies, proofreading articles, entering data into spreadsheets and doing other tasks and projects with increasing challenge and responsibility as they got older. Their time in the office became an effective way to teach reading, vocabulary, writing, speaking, organization and responsibility."
2. Be flexible.
While you may have had a strict schedule at the office, kids are often more demanding of immediate attention. Rather than get frustrated when your child needs more attention one morning or throw your plans out the window when nap time doesn't go as expected, allow your schedule to be less rigid. "One thing that can help is to set your priorities each night and a general plan for the next day," CEO of Mompowerment Suzanne Brown suggests. "[Then,] when—not if—something comes up, you know what you can move around and what still must get done. It gives you the ability to quickly reprioritize as necessary."
3. Rethink the traditional 9-to-5.
Work-life strategist Alexandra Sampson suggests that a traditional work schedule is nearly impossible with children at home. "Instead, create pockets throughout the day for [both] work and engaging with your children," she says. "I use the first and last two to three hours of my day to concentrate on work and use the middle of my day to alternate between time with my kids and taking care of work tasks. I may use 30 minutes to work hands-on with the kids on an academic enrichment activity, followed by 30 minutes of [independent activity] time for the kids while I respond to emails." Sampson advises parents to find ways to blend work and home life in a way that makes sense for the dynamics of their employer and family. Create a plan to discuss with your employer to be sure they are in agreement and it will work for both sides.
4. Give your kids their own workstation.
"To help get work done while also being available to help with schoolwork, I'd suggest setting up another workstation in the home office or working side-by-side at the kitchen table," says Entin. "Parents may find integrating work and family—rather than forcibly trying to separate [them]—will result in a better balance, ultimately resulting in more productivity and less stress [for everyone]."
5. Consider a new productivity approach.
"Whatever approach you used when you were in an office might not work at home," Brown explains. "You can't expect to have back-to-back Zoom meetings without interruption." One approach she suggests is the Pomodoro Technique. This time management tool breaks work into intervals, typically 25 minutes in length followed by a five-minute break. "The trick is to plan your five-minute breaks as much as you do your 25-minute working time," she advises. Explain these breaks to your kids so they understand that is the time when mom or dad can focus the attention on helping them.
6. Remember that sometimes it takes a village.
Balancing the demands of raising kids and meeting work deadlines is not easy, so don't be afraid to ask for help. Talk to your employer about flexible work hours so that you can get things done in the early morning or late evenings. Hire a babysitter or ask a friend or family member to watch your kids for even a few hours, a few days a week. If you have a partner who has the flexibility, ask them to do some work-from-home days so that you don't have the sole responsibility. It's okay to rely on others to help lighten the load.