It could be your worst nightmare or a welcome change to the mundanity of office life. Whatever your thoughts, working at home with kids is a reality for many people amid the outbreak of COVID-19. Below, we review the best strategies for maintaining productivity – and your sanity – while working at home with kids.
Communication, expectations, guidelines
As with any big change at home or work, you need to communicate clearly what is happening and why, straightaway. Create some basic ground rules and manage the expectations of your children, as well as your partner or spouse if required. Everyone’s needs must be accounted for in this new arrangement, and that means doing some planning and scheduling to ensure adapting to the change is as smooth as possible. A key part of this is accepting that the daily targets and challenges you set yourself may have to go-by-the-wayside, as you adjust to your new circumstances. Don’t beat yourself up about it, though. Learn to prioritise. And accept that working from home with kids means sometimes not achieving all you want to in a typical working day.
Structure with a high degree of flexibility
Structuring your working day is important when working from home with kids. But, you must accept that this won’t mirror a traditional 9-5 routine. A good way to decide when you will work is to try and do it while your child is sleeping. This could mean getting up a couple of hours earlier, staying up later, or working during your child's afternoon nap. Factor in your partners schedule too, as well as any planned work meetings – this may involve some tweaking at the start of each day. You could even create a childcare rotation system with your spouse – two hours on, two hours off. Whatever you decide, don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself. Things may change on the fly. When they do, accept it – and embrace your new agile working life.
Where you work is important too
Home working advice emphasises the importance of establishing a dedicated space where you will work each day. When you’re working from home with kids, however, deciding where this will be is problematic. There are two main solutions, and which one you choose will depend on your circumstances. The first is to find a room in the house and create boundaries for when your children can enter. This is only feasible if someone else in the house is trusted with their care – your partner or an older child perhaps. Another option is to set-up your workstation in view of your kids. Great for keeping an eye on them, yes, but not so good for concentration. Investing in noise-cancelling earplugs or headphones – or even a fan or white noise machine – is a wise idea.
Relax the rules and don’t restrict play
The TV can be your saving grace when working at home with kids. You won’t find many better opportunities to get work done than when they’re sat watching a movie for a couple of hours. In the past, you may have restricted their screen time, but now your circumstances have changed, it might be time to reassess the rules and extend their privileges vis-a-vis your needs. Discipline is important but given the heightened intensity of working near your kids, you should establish a playful and positive environment. Let them get all that energy out of their system – whether that’s through running about the house or playing with toys – embrace the chaos for a while and reap the rewards later. Independent play is important for toddler development too. And rotating toys can help keep their attention for longer, so playtime occurs in focused periods.
Never feel guilty about joining in
It’ll be frustrating at first. But switching to the ‘working at home with kids’ mind-set as soon as possible will improve your mental health and productivity. Remember all those times you missed out on key moments in your child’s development because of work? Now, you’re around them all the time, and that’s an opportunity to treasure. So, join in with their play and give them your undivided attention if you have to, because those memories will be precious down the line. Being ‘fully present’ in whatever you’re doing is also good for your mind and motivation. When taking time out with your child, do it properly – turn off the computer and leave your phone on the desk. You and your child benefit from uninterrupted emotional and physical connections.
And finally… remember to interact with grown-ups
Hopefully, there’ll be plenty of opportunities for you to chat to colleagues throughout the day. That’s important for maintaining a connection to your professional life. Ideally, these should be video conferences where the personal connection is augmented through visual contact. You should also maintain regular communication with other adults – family, friends, etc – so you can enjoy being yourself without the work/parent hat on. Spending all your time with your child and/or spouse will negatively impact your wellbeing. Find time to meet up with friends, if possible (depending on your Government’s policy for limiting the spread of COVID-19). Or again, leverage technology to ensure these interactions are intimate and meaningful. Use your ‘me time’ productively too. Take up a hobby, do exercise, read a book or enjoy a film. Anything to engage the brain and give you a sense of purpose outside of the restrictive work/parent parameters.
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