Although working from home was once a luxury afforded to very few people, recent McKinsey studies found that 58% of employed people now have the opportunity to work from home (WFH) at least some of the time, with 35% of those jobholders working remotely full time. WFH proponents tout that remote work increases productivity and performance, but if you’re one of the 40% of family households in the U.S. with children under age 18 living at home, you might disagree.
It’s true that remote work gives you more flexibility, but any parent who works at home with children in the house knows it can be a tough act to balance. You must be an employee and a parent at the same time, both of which are demanding. If you’re looking to be the WFH employee of the month – or just get your work done with needy kids around – here are eight tips to help you get there. Good luck!
1. Create a schedule, and (try to) stick to it.
Although every parent knows it’s not always possible to get your children to do what you want them to, setting a schedule can be a good way to establish a routine for you and your family. For example, you can create set lunch times, dictate how much screen time is allowed, designate certain hours for creative learning or physical activities, and so on. Depending on your children’s ages, you will likely have to budget for flexibility within that schedule.
In addition to establishing a schedule for your kids, create one for yourself. For example, you might consider waking up early to get some critical work done before your children wake up and then accomplish tasks that require less focus, like answering emails, while they’re around throughout the day. If someone else is at home to share the parenting duties with you, trade off times during the day when one of you works uninterrupted while the other wrangles the children.
If your kids are old enough, explain your schedule to them so they know what is and isn’t allowed during your work hours. Establish reasonable consequences for when your children go off course.
2. Communicate your needs and expectations.
Whether you just switched to WFH or you’ve been working remotely for a while now, it’s important to communicate your at-home situation to your employer, co-workers and possibly even clients. You’re probably already familiar with one of the many highly rated video conferencing systems available, so take advantage of them by setting up a virtual call with key stakeholders to discuss the reality of working outside the office. People are often understanding, especially if they value your contributions to the organization. Explain your needs and expectations for making your time the most productive, and clearly identify what’s realistic for your circumstances.
For example, if you’re the only parent working from home with a toddler running around, you can prepare your colleagues for the impromptu guest appearances your little one will likely be making in your video calls. If you’ve created a schedule and know you will be offline during certain times of the day, you can make it clear to your manager and co-workers that you will have little or no availability during those times but that you will get back to them as soon as possible.
FYI: Video calling is a great way to stay connected virtually, but effective digital communication looks a little different from in-person communication. Check out these video conferencing etiquette tips to be successful.
3. Use technology to your advantage.
These days, there are so many different programs and applications that can greatly boost your business productivity while you work from home with children nearby. Take advantage of these tools to make your life easier. For example, if your children are running wild and can’t be tamed during an important presentation, turn on a Zoom background to limit visual distractions. Is 10 p.m. the only time you can get around to responding to emails? Use an email scheduling feature to automatically send your responses the next morning so you’re still communicating during normal work hours. You may even find it helpful to use a goal-tracking tool. These little things can help you complete tasks while you take care of your children.
4. Be strategic about how you break up the day.
The Pomodoro Technique is a time-management method that entails splitting up your workday into small increments, with the intention of improving your efficiency. This strategy has you working for 25 minutes and then resting for five to 10 minutes before repeating the process three times. After the fourth pomodoro (interval of work), you can take a 20- to 30-minute break before repeating the entire process again. These short periods of concentration interspersed with free time are a great way to balance professional and parental obligations.
While this technique may not be effective for everyone, you can try some variation of it to find what works best for you and your family. With children at home, you can tend to them during each break, spending that time making them lunch, setting up a craft project, dancing in the yard, etc. Giving your children undivided attention in short but frequent bursts can help reduce the number of times they try to distract you during your work intervals. It can also be helpful to explain this structure to your kids so they know when you can and can’t be bothered.
5. Schedule important meetings for the right times.
Speaking of strategic scheduling, a little extra planning can help your important meetings go undisturbed. If possible, schedule meetings during times when you know you won’t be interrupted by your kids – for example, during your toddler’s daily naptime or when your little one is at their half-day pre-K class. Similarly, if your co-parent is around during part of the day, that could be a great time to give your attention to colleagues. That way, you’ll be able to focus on business, with the assurance that your partner has the children under control.
6. Make your mental health a priority.
Balancing remote work and parenthood is no easy feat, so it’s critical to prioritize your mental health. Take some time to focus on your personal well-being each day. While you may not have time to take a long bath or listen to an hourlong true-crime podcast, you can prioritize your mental health in small ways. Some examples include waking up early to drink a cup of coffee uninterrupted, stepping outside for 10 minutes for some fresh air, or practicing yoga or meditation after the kids go to sleep. This daily self-care can help prevent burnout.
Tip: If you’re an employer or manager, it’s vital to emphasize the importance of your employees’ mental health.
7. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
You might feel like you need to be everything to everyone all the time, but that’s neither true nor practical. Everyone needs help sometimes – even you – and that’s OK. If you try to go it alone, you’ll likely find yourself falling behind in one way or another, which is obviously what you’re trying to avoid. Identify which of your responsibilities can be delegated to others, and then talk with your team and family about how they can help you rebalance your priorities.
Remember that good leaders want their remote teams to succeed. The best managers and co-workers will be understanding and willing to help you accomplish your goals, and so will your personal circle. Asking for help might mean passing off a time-consuming and tedious task to another teammate or having your mom watch your kids one afternoon each week while you get some work done. Turning to others when you’re in need helps you stay calm and productive amid all the balls you’re juggling.
8. Establish boundaries and consequences.
A big part of becoming successful while maintaining work-life balance is establishing boundaries and adhering to them. Create personal and professional boundaries that allow you to have a more balanced workload. For example, you might set a schedule that requires you to have uninterrupted work hours and off-the-clock family hours. Explain these boundaries to everyone involved so it’s clear when you are and aren’t available, and for what.
Additionally, create consequences for breaking those boundaries, and enforce them. If your kids are old enough, it can be helpful to talk with them about the “why” behind each boundary. Explaining the reasoning will help them understand the importance and (hopefully) make them more inclined to respect it. That said, it’s equally important to stay flexible. Give yourself and your kids the grace to make mistakes, especially while you’re still learning how to navigate working from home while raising children.