Remote work has been increasing in popularity for years, with more than 43% of U.S. employees working remotely at least some or all of the time according to Gallup. And with social distancing playing a crucial role in suppressing the spread of the coronavirus, working from home is more than a privilege—it’s become a necessity for many organizations where remote work is possible. Meanwhile, the majority of school districts and daycares are closed across the country—in some cases indefinitely— meaning that working parents are now playing triple-duty as full-time employees, full-time caregivers, and, potentially, educators. This has many of us, myself included, asking: How do I efficiently work from home with kids?
This will certainly impact people differently depending on the ages of their children, but there are strategies that can work for everyone to help improve your productivity (not to mention sanity) while juggling work and family. Remember: We’re all in this together, and most employers, managers, and coworkers are extra understanding right now. Remember that hilarious video of a baby and toddler making a cameo on BBC News? That’s reality right now, for all of us. No shame!
That said, here are some tips and tricks to help you balance the challenge of taking care of our families while working remotely to support your teams, customers, and partners. It’s not easy to work from home with kids, but it’s definitely doable.
Strategies to help you work from home with kids
- Establish a clear schedule: More than ever, having a clear schedule (for both you and your kids) can help you determine what needs to be done and when. Take a look at your must-accomplish tasks and high-demand time slots and schedule learning and reading time, creative time, clean-up, nap time, outdoor time, and technology time for your children where it makes the most sense. For example, if you know you have an important conference call at 10am, it may be wise to spend ten minutes making sure your children are set up with snacks, drinks, and activities beforehand, or turning on a favorite show to buy you some distraction-free time. Varied schedules can also help alleviate boredom and provide clear expectations for everyone about what the day’s needs look like. (Click here for a sample schedule of what this could look like.)
That said, one of the biggest benefits of working from home is flexibility, and kids of all ages are notorious for not abiding perfectly by schedules. Many employers will be more flexible and understand the need for non-traditional schedules right now if you are working at home with kids. Depending on the situation, it may be okay to push an assignment aside to go play outside or have lunch as a family, and return to the task later when they’re distracted or sleeping.
- Make a must-do list: To-do lists help improve productivity and focus in any situation, but right now, when your productivity might be limited, a list can help you focus on your absolute highest-priority tasks so you’re not wasting precious distraction-free time on less critical tasks.
- Take shifts with your spouse: If applicable, and depending on the flexibility of your and your spouse’s work, you may be able to switch off childcare responsibilities throughout the day. For example, one of you can start working early in the morning while the other makes breakfast and plays with the kids outside; an hour or two later, you switch and help with homeschooling or activities while the other partner gets high-value work done. This strategy, especially when paired with others listed here, can help you buy more uninterrupted work time, particularly during important meetings or to meet critical deadlines.
- Use your home office (or set up a temporary one): Having clear separation from the rest of the house—ideally with a door you can shut—can help keep distractions to a minimum. Your “office” may look like a closet, a bedroom, or a basement—the key is to find a quiet, uninterrupted space that acts as a physical boundary. Consider finding a nonverbal way to communicate to your kids when you absolutely cannot be bothered; for example, making a “stoplight” for family members by hanging red, yellow, or green construction paper on the door, or establishing rules that a closed door means “emergency only.” (Of course, this strategy works best for older children, and it is also important to make sure you do have plenty of periods during the day where the door is open/light is “green.”)
- Take breaks: You might feel pressured to be “always on” right now, especially if you’re new to working remotely and want to prove to your team that you’re working as hard as ever. But taking regular breaks is crucial for both you and your children during this time. If you can give your kids 10 to 20 minutes of quality time, that will often buy you an hour or two of uninterrupted time afterwards. Remember, this is an uncertain and potentially scary time for them too, and they may need your support more than ever. Take these shorter breaks to truly connect—get on the floor and play, cuddle up with a story, help them with a project or sit and learn with them as they “homeschool.”
- Take advantage of sleep time: Translate the old adage “sleep when baby sleeps” to “work when kids are sleeping.” Many children up to age four or five still nap for several hours a day, offering prime working opportunities. Even older children who don’t nap can be encouraged to participate in mandatory “quiet time” dedicated to reading or playing outside, buying you time to focus on assignments that require your complete concentration. You can also try waking up early and accomplishing crucial tasks before your family rises, or putting children to bed a bit earlier than usual and using that time to finish projects or catch up on emails. This is probably one of the most effective ways to accomplish work from home with kids.
- Keep children entertained. Create a “boredom box” filled with crafts and activities, stocked with things like construction paper, pom poms, scissors, glitter, paints, play-doh, googly eyes (anything, really!). You can either come up with a list of potential projects or let their imagination run wild. This is also a good time to practice rotating toys, perhaps having five boxes of favorite toys/puzzles/etc. and switching them out each day of the week.
- Loosen up on screentime. Even if you are vehemently anti-screentime, for many children, watching TV and playing video games is quite effective at keeping them quiet and occupied. If you have an important conference call or deadline coming up, and allowing them extra screentime allows you to meet your obligations, it’s probably worth it. Try not to feel guilty – this is a highly unusual, temporary situation. There are also plenty of educational shows and online games that you can point to (see below for more resources to help you through this time).
- Considerations for young children: Parents of young children, such as infants, babies, and toddlers, are at a disadvantage in terms of potential strategies – even screentime isn’t a cure-all for young children, and setting boundaries isn’t really feasible with a nine-month-old. However, there are two advantages on your side: nap time, and babywearing. Toddlers often nap for two or three hours at a time and infants typically nap three to five hours a day (often spaced between two or three naps). Babywearing is also a great strategy to help you get work done during awake moments, as babies are more likely to be soothed and quiet when close to you.
Additional resources to help you work from home with kids
- Here is a list of all educational companies offering free subscriptions due to school closings.
- Pinterest is always a great resource for coming up with homeschooling activities, art projects, baking ideas, and so much more.
- Etsy is a great place to find low-cost homeschooling materials for children of all ages. As the parent of a five-year-old, some of my favorites have been Let’s Play School and Bitty Beginnings.
- I’ve been using The Good and the Beautiful Pre-K coursework with my daughter, and I absolutely love it. These homeschool curriculums are designed for full-time homeschoolers but they would be incredible no-prep (read: you don’t have to print out or assemble) supplements for parents who want to ensure their children don’t disrupt their learning during this time at home. The company has rave reviews and curriculums and games that span from pre-kindergarten through high school.
- Disney Nature has a wide variety of educational materials for curriculum, lesson plans, and fun activities that build on videos for students grades 2-6.
The ability to work from home is an incredible blessing, especially now, but it can come with challenges. Learn how to enhance the employee experience and keep engagement levels high while working remotely or read the latest research on remote work.