Many of us have dreamt of working from home. Cutting out a long commute coupled with wearing comfy clothes from your cozy home office sounds great, right? Under normal circumstances, this might be an ideal work situation for many, but these times are far from “normal,” and unprecedented numbers of us have found ourselves, not only working from home, but with added responsibility on top of that. Perhaps you’re suddenly fulfilling the roles of project manager, parent, teacher, chef, and constant news consumer—or is that just me?
Working from home with our kids also home for an unknown period of time is uncharted territory for most of us, and it can be stressful. If you feel like you’re struggling to keep your head above water and “do it all,” know this: you are not alone. You can do this, but it will be different from your “normal,” and I am here to tell you, your expectations just might need to be adjusted. Here are a few tips to keep things relatively manageable when working from home with kids.
Create a Schedule
A daily schedule is a must-have if you want to hang on to your sanity while managing, not only your own work responsibilities, but your kid’s school assignments, too. Each night, make a plan (as best you can) for the day ahead. If you know you have teleconferences or a deadline during the day, build the rest of your schedule around those obligations. Break the day up into small chunks to get things done—hourly or 30-minute increments work best, in my experience, with lots of play/free time sprinkled in to keep the kids happy.
If you have a partner who is also working from home, the two of you can potentially divide up the day taking turns with the parenting/home-schooling responsibilities.
Of course, with kids, a schedule can be derailed quickly, and much of your schedule is contingent upon the age(s) of your child(ren). Do your best to stick with your plan for the day, but know you’ll need to roll with the punches, and sometimes, there is just no way around it, your “focus” time will need to be replaced with “play time.”
In this unexpected work-from-home situation that many of us find ourselves in, communication is key. As someone who has been working remotely for nearly five years, the one thing I’ve learned to do as much as possible is communicate: with my supervisor, team members, and anyone else who I am interacting with on a professional basis.
It’s okay to be transparent about your situation. Remember that, especially now, you are you are not alone! Let your colleagues know what’s happening in your world, so they aren’t caught by surprise. On a conference call you might say, “Heads up! My daughter is watching Dora right now, but in the event she interrupts, I will handle it as quickly as possible and return to the call.”
One idea for fostering a climate of transparency and togetherness is to create a spreadsheet with fellow team members, where each of you outline your availability for virtual meetings in the week ahead. Talk about what’s going to work best for everyone in terms of meetings and availability. This may mean more frequent, shorter meetings rather than a biweekly two-hour meeting, for example. Or it may mean fewer meetings and more communication via Slack and email.
The truth is, when we’re working from home with children afoot, it’s nearly impossible to be as productive as you would be sans kids. Add to that, that working remotely full-time is a new experience for many. Some of us may pressure ourselves to be as productive as we once were before the pandemic. Be gentle with yourself (and your team), and know that flexibility and understanding are imperative at this time. Talk with your team members—both as a group and 1:1—and be realistic about what can and cannot be accomplished from home.
Some things to discuss (or ask yourself!):
- What are your current priorities on the project?
- How will you get these tasks done?
- How will your team track what they are working on?
- How will you meet? How often? Will you communicate more frequently?
Don’t Pressure Yourself: Take Breaks
You may feel pressured to “prove” that you’re working and end up overextending yourself while working remotely in order to show your superiors that you’re getting the job done. It’s important to carve out time for breaks—not only for yourself and your own mental health, but for your kids, too! Taking breaks can help you feel refreshed and ready to return to the work when you’re able.
For every hour that you’re focusing (or half-hour, if your children are younger and can’t give you the space/time for an hour), take a 10 minute break. Grab a snack. Do some stretches with the kids, listen to a podcast, or dance to some light-hearted music with your littles.
As a project manager, you set the tone for what is acceptable and unacceptable for your team. Model open communication about your challenges and even about your daily schedule and the breaks your taking. Offer support to those who need it. Showing that you’re supportive and understanding will go a long way in continuing to foster the sense of togetherness with your team, even when you’re far apart.
Dedicate Special Time for Your Kids
Kids want and need your constant attention—perhaps more so in these particularly trying times. They don’t care if you’re on a conference call with your project sponsor and stakeholders—they just want you to watch them do that “cool move” they’ve been working on. Again and again. For those of us with school-age kids, we’ve now found ourselves as teacher-parents, too.
Thirty minutes of giving your undivided attention through play with your kids can help you, not only relax and forget the stressors of work for a bit, but fill your kids’ buckets, so they may be more receptive to independent play when you need them to give you space so you can get some work done.
Cuddle up on the couch and read stories. Get on the floor and do some wrestling—or a puzzle. These little breaks can help you feel more connected to your family and reduce interruptions when you need to focus on work.
Create a Boredom Box
Sometimes no matter what you do or how much time you’ve dedicated to your kids on a given day, they’re going to barge into your office and demand your attention—and most likely a snack. Creating a “boredom box” can be a lifesaver for times when you are on a deadline or must take an important call.
Fill a box with craft and art supplies such as construction paper, glue, scissors, pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, pom poms, stickers, and plenty of markers and crayons. You can assign them to design something specific out of the supplies you’ve provided, or let them create freely with the special boredom box supplies. It’s important to put the box away after you’ve done what you need to do in order to prevent your kids from getting bored with the boredom box.
For older kids, you could set up a scavenger hunt of sorts—either online or with items in your home. It may help to keep them entertained if a boredom box won’t do the job.
Amidst the current outbreak of COVID-19, you may be experiencing feelings of fear, stress, worry, and isolation. These feelings are natural when facing things that are beyond our control. During this challenging time, it’s more important than ever to extend grace to yourself, to your team members, and your family members! Remember to take it a day at a time (sometimes an hour at a time!) and don’t focus too much on the “big picture.” Just get through each day as best you can.
One of the perks of working from home is flexibility. If your son is fussy during office hours and it’s sunny out, it’s okay to push your work back to the evening once the kids are tucked into bed. Remember to communicate your needs, listen to your team members, and try and see this time as an opportunity to slow down with your family and be present in ways that life doesn’t usually offer us.