As many fellow professionals pack up their desks and set up virtual offices in light of COVID-19, I thought I'd offer some advice not only for the work-from-home employees—but for the parents who will be juggling deadlines and conference calls amidst cries and calls for Mommy and Daddy. Fellow parents, we can do this.
I've worked from home for more than 10 years and experienced many days with a little one around. I'm not perfect at this, and I've got a lot of room to grow, but here's what I've learned so far:
1. Set your boundaries
It seems simple: work from home. But, it's not, especially if your kids are home, too.
Disruptions. Spills. Whining. Tears. Arguments. These are unwanted guests that often show up at a pop-up virtual office. Some of the tension will be inevitable, but you can avoid a lot of it by setting your boundaries. Know what you will and won't tolerate before you try to start a work day wearing both employee and parent hats at the same time.
Boundaries include everything from when you'll work, what you'll work on, where you'll work from, and how your need interactions to go. You'll need to set up personal boundaries for yourself, family boundaries, and boundaries between you and your kids.
Boundaries at home can also look like creating a daily schedule for the day so everyone knows what to expect in the upcoming hours.
I realize not everyone loves boundaries, or knows how to set them. It's a process that takes work, but it's worth it! Here's a few examples from my own experiences:
For younger kids, boundaries can look like:
- Please stay on the blanket and play with your toys while I read this paragraph and respond to this email.
- Please don't touch the computer, this is Mommy's toy.
- Yes, you need to take a nap even though you're not at school today.
For older kids, boundaries can look like:
- I will make you lunch as soon as I am off this call.
- Please knock before you walk into my office and do not disrupt, I'll let you know when I am able to listen.
- I left you a list of activities for today, let's alternate screen time with reading, drawing and toys.
You're not a mean parent if you set boundaries, you're a parent setting yourself up to stay sane and modeling healthy habits for your kids.
2. Over-communicate... to everyone.
If you're going to work from home with your kids around, communicate, communicate, communicate. There's a lot of people you'll need to communicate with, prepare yourself. The better you communicate, the less stressed you'll feel. For starters, here is who will need communication from you:
Talk with your kids when they wake up and prepare them for the day. Explain why you're working from home and address the reality that everyone may feel thrown off schedule. Make space to process what they're going through (the break in routine is hard for them too). Share your boundaries and how you envision the day going. You can also, if age appropriate, explain why you work and how your job impacts them. This will help you earn their respect and offer an explanation as to why you can't stop everything and play legos.
If you're married, don't forget to do the same type of communication with your spouse. Set your boundaries and share what you need. Also, share your workload with your spouse. Is it a busy week? A slow week? Are you happy to be working from home? Stressed? This will help your spouse know how to best support you and reduce tension in the house overall.
Trust me, you won't be the only parent balancing kids at home in the next few weeks and months. But, tell your colleagues if your kids are nearby. You'll experience the amazing empathy that comes when working parents unite. Don't feel bad about your kids being at home, but again, set your boundaries with your team.
Let your boss, employees and colleagues know if there's an ideal meeting time. Or communicate that you'll need to break at noon to make lunch, or that you're free during nap time in the afternoons.
Sharing these details can help teams stay connected and unified when working virtually.
Friends and family
You may be confined to the house, but that doesn't mean people can't offer you moral support. If you've got a house full of kids, and you're trying to work from home, ask for prayer! It can bring a calmness to your space and the extra support and encouragement may be what keeps you from going crazy.
3. Create a separate area for work
If possible, create a designated space for your work. Do not try to work all cozied up in your bed. Or from the couch. Or the toy room (at least all day). You use a desk at your office for a reason, and finding a designated place at home will help you focus. If you don't have a spare bedroom or office, get creative. One of my friends sets up a TV tray in her bedroom as a makeshift desk. Another blocks off a portion of her dining room table to get work done.
Whatever you can do to make designated space for your virtual office... do it. And then, let your kids know what is and isn't OK to do near your space. Teach them how to respect the area and explain how and why you'll be using it.
4. Take a shower and get dressed.
I learned this tip early on when I began working from home, and it's a biggie. If you hope to be productive from a remote office, stay on routine and get ready for the day.
Now you may not need to iron your clothes or slip on heels, but it's still important to change, brush your teeth and get presentable. Getting ready will help your brain kick into working mode, and it will help you juggle a mountain of requests about to come your way.
Don't try to parent, and work from home, wearing slippers and pajama pants. Trust me.
5. Fight off guilt and shame.
Sometimes feelings of guilt come with the territory of being a working parent in general, but working from home (with kids around) can actually make this worse... not better. When you're trying to balance spending time with your kiddo, yet doing your job, a lot of guilt can rush in.
Shame about not giving your children undivided attention can come loudly knocking. Awareness of your feelings can help ward off this negativity. If you do begin to feel guilty for working while your kids are at home, ask yourself these things:
- What does my job contribute to my family?
- What have I been called to do as a professional?
- How can I use this opportunity to teach and model good work habits for my kids?
Also, arm yourself with frequent reminders:
- I am a good parent.
- I love my kid(s).
- I am working to help provide for our family, and that is a beautiful thing.
6. Reframe the interruptions as breaks
Mom, Dad, if your kids are at home and you're trying to work a full day, you're going to face breaks, also known as interruptions.
You'll need to pause to make lunch. Or change a diaper. Or put the kiddo to bed. Or turn on Netflix. (Yep, you're not the only one streaming entertainment as you balance your multiple responsibilities; no shame, remember?) You'll need to step away from your desk so you can reach the thing up high. Clean up the mess. Separate the arguing siblings. Admire the artwork. Kiss the boo boo. Listen to the song.
Get ready... it's coming.
But, instead of seeing these interruptions as annoyances and making kids feel bad for acting like kids, expect for your day to include several interruptions, a.k.a. breaks. It will help you find more patience.
7. Make digital connections
If you've spent all day at home with the kiddos, and all your plans are cancelled at night, digital media offers great ways to connect with other humans. It may not be face-to-face contact, but we live in the digital age! You can avoid going down into a depressed spiral by connecting with others, even if it does mean you need a screen. This can look like:
- Sending a text, Marco Polo or hopping on a video chat with someone.
- Posting an update on Facebook and letting people encourage you in the comments.
- Logging onto social media with the purpose of encouraging and engaging with others.
- Sending the emails or writing the blog post you could never seem to get around to.
Stay strong, fellow parents! A lot of us are balancing full plates right now. If you happen to be transitioning to a work-from-home situation, I pray your kids will appreciate and remember the positive things they picked up as they watched you balance working from home with them around the house.
You can do this!
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