Employees work from home for many reasons: perhaps you are a working mother who is trying out a flexible schedule so that you will be able to care for your newborn baby around the clock. Maybe you are a single dad trying to finish grading papers while feeding your kids dinner and preparing them for bedtime. Or, maybe you prefer the quiet solitude and concentration benefits that working from home provides.
Though there are many avenues that lead to working from a home office, you likely chose remote employment in the pursuit of a better work-life balance. Whether you are an old pro at working from home with kids or the thought of pulling out your laptop at the kitchen table makes you a bit nervous, you will certainly be able to make your time more productive with the following nine tips.
1. Make a Schedule
Most people experience better physical and mental health when using a routine to structure their days. If you once thrived on the structure and routine that an office job provided, you can borrow your schedule from a day in the life of your former in-office position. When everybody in the family knows what to expect, there will be less conflict in the household overall. If you have small children, tantrums will decrease when your tots know that naptime follows lunchtime, or that an official “screen time” is held every afternoon at 3:00.
If you are still struggling after implementing a schedule for your family, consider the age of your children and whether they are able to understand verbal schedule directives. If you have a two-year-old, for example, she may understand that one activity will end and the next will begin, but due to her age, she will still be fuzzy on the overall concept of planning the day. Consider purchasing (or making) a visual schedule for toddlers and preschoolers.
2. Communicate With Your Partner
If you and your spouse or partner are both working from home with kids — especially if this is a new arrangement — it may be difficult to manage your work life as it collides with your home life. If neither of you has ever worked from home before, make sure to make time for a conversation in which you will discuss your expectations for the day.
For example, if you both have to work in the morning, perhaps the partner who does not have back-to-back meetings can set up a play table in his or her office. If you have older children at home and you both have to work, try setting up a schedule for your kids so that they can work or play independently until lunchtime. You may be surprised at how well your eleven-year-old can function alone when given some basic guidelines!
3. Create a Home Office
Working from the kitchen table or perching for hours with a laptop at the end of the couch will wreak havoc on your lower back, your neck, and your wrists. If working from home is a permanent arrangement, or if you are not sure how long you will be working from home, your entire body will thank you for investing in a more ergonomic arrangement.
If you have a spare room — or even an underused closet — you can create a home office that will truly feel like a place in which you can work. Decorate it with your favorite art and use wall calendars and color-coded notebooks to increase productivity. Even if you have to use a corner of the master bedroom as a makeshift “office”, consider purchasing a privacy screen to create the illusion of a room-within-a-room.
4. Have an Activity Bag on Hand
For small children, having a bag full of surprises you can pull out at a moment’s notice will give you some much-needed quiet time when you need to finish writing an email or calling a colleague. If your tot likes to draw, consider investing in some sparkly crayons or brightly colored construction paper that he or she can play with while you jump onto a video call.
Leave these activities in the bag for the rest of the day and only allow your child to play with them during the moments you need them to be extra quiet. This will ensure that you have items ready that will quickly catch their attention.
5. Prepare Snacks Ahead of Time
Try prepping some easy snacks, or having some food on hand that you (or your kids) can quickly grab when they’re hungry. Sliced apples with peanut butter, chopped veggies with hummus, cheese sticks, graham crackers, and juice boxes are excellent and healthy choices for both kids and adults.
If you are feeding babies or preschoolers, having snacks on hand that you do not have to take time away from your work to prepare is a great way to maintain your kids’ healthy diet. It may additionally be a great time to teach your older, more independent kids the finer points of snack or lunch prep.
6. Invest in a Meal Service
If you feel that your family’s healthy way of eating is becoming derailed due to busy work-from-home schedules, you likely have done one of three things: lived on takeout, served leftovers on multiple nights of the week, or opted for quick frozen meals night after night.
Meal prepping can only get you so far if you have little time in which to prep! Consider looking into a meal delivery service that delivers ready-made meals or food that require little work. These are often less expensive than takeout for the whole family and provide a wide range of healthy options that can be customized for allergies and dietary needs.
7. Clean the House Only Once a Day
If you can’t afford a maid and the thought of scrubbing applesauce and peanut butter off the floor or a high chair tray several times a day stresses you out, try ignoring the mess until nighttime. If you are working for most of the day, it would be worth your while to redirect your attention to work — and making sure your kids have what they need — during the daytime rather than spending your work hours picking up the house.
If your kids are old enough to clean up after themselves, now is the time to encourage this practice. If you are parenting babies or toddlers who think that pumpkin puree looks great as a part of your wall décor, try to focus on your work during the day and give the house one final sweep after the kids are in bed and you are finished with your work.
8. Consider Outside Help
If you can afford an occasional house cleaner, babysitter, or gardener, consider including this expense into your monthly budget. It may take some juggling when it comes to rearranging finances — maybe you sacrifice some of your takeout budget to hire someone to clean the house every two weeks — but with your family home all day, every day, you may have more cleaning to accomplish than you can tackle by yourself.
Similarly, try hiring a babysitter or mother’s helper for a few hours a few times a week in order to help your kids with homework, play with your curious toddler, or prepare dinner on a night you have to work and your spouse is working from his or her office in town. These expenses may seem extravagant, but the peace of mind they provide could be worth the cost.
9. Manage Your Expectations
There’s a lot to be said for being productive, creating a schedule, setting up exciting activities, delivering healthy meals to your whole family, and basically being a super-parent. There’s also benefit in letting go of some of your expectations — especially if they are unrealistic in a work-from-home situation. Did your family eat leftovers two nights in a row? Did your kids wear pajamas all day because you had a string of important meetings to attend? These situations happen to everyone. The important takeaway here is that your family was fed and clothed!
If you used to get ready in the morning, get your kids dressed for school or daycare, and then drop them off on the way to work, you likely mastered the art of compartmentalization. You understood when to prep meals, when to cuddle your kids or wipe their noses, and when to divide your home life from your work life. Because you cannot separate your duties as a parent from your work when you have a remote position, learning a new set of expectations for your daily life is crucial to ensuring that both you and your kids thrive. There is no one right way to work from home while parenting children. If you have accomplished your work and kept your children safe, fed, and happy, you can consider the day a success.