Working from home has gained popularity recently as our world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic.
5 Tips for those of us still working from home…with kids
Editor’s note: This post was originally written on March 19, 2020, and has been updated.
It feels surreal to be updating this post nearly a year after the term “coronavirus” became mainstream. We are playing the waiting game for vaccines. We can almost see the day when our beloved children will return to school in a normal capacity. And still, throughout our world, communities continue to come together by doing the opposite-remaining at a distance from one another. Even though the pandemic has been going on for nearly one year, many individuals are still working from home in some capacity.
I don’t know about you, but every article I’ve clicked is encouraging me to learn a new instrument, write sonnets like Shakespeare did, or read stacks of Literature. I’ve been referred to several binge-worthy shows, as well as what glute workouts I can fit in between virtual meetings and email cram sessions.
While I am 100% here for self-improvement and making the most of this time, I need to temper all of the things I see on social media with a healthy dose of reality because. . .
. . . I have kids.
I know I’m not the only one with kids, so I reached out to a few colleagues across the United States who a) work from home and b) have children. We’re not out of pandemic life yet, so it’s not too late to set some boundaries or reinforce good work/life habits.
Here are five things that work for them. Maybe, they’ll work for you, too.
1. Have a dedicated workspace, even if it needs to change daily.
Since my kids are prime lap-crawling/stomping age, it’s not realistic for me to have my laptop on my lap while I’m with them. Trust me, I tried this, and my son deleted ten of my emails while spilling my coffee in an impressive feat of toddler chaos that only took three seconds collectively.
For the safety of my work-issued laptop and my last nerve, I need a space to dock my items. Dedicating a space for work allows me to enter into that space with a task in mind, and then it gives me the freedom to leave that space when the aforementioned toddler tornado informs me that his diaper needs changing.
For those with older children, this is a great opportunity to practice respecting boundaries and little things like appropriately entering a room where an e-meeting might be occurring.
This is delicate, though, because as parents, we want to be accessible to our children. My encouragement to you is to find the balance that works for your work expectations and children’s needs and don’t let the haters get to you if your daughter makes an appearance at this quarter’s earnings review meeting.
2. Set times to check email.
I’d like to apologize in advance to those of you who are reading this and are thinking, “Yeah, duh. How do you not already do that?” I think this advice is gold, and I am heartily sorry for living in ignorance my whole professional life.
Email interruptions were already affecting my productivity in the office, so this tip has already been incredibly useful to me at home. Most workplaces and businesses set an expectation for the appropriate response time for email, but be sure to communicate with your team, clients, staff, etc. about how often you plan to check your email.
3. Get real with your expectations.
LOUDER FOR THE PEOPLE IN THE BACK. (And by “people,” I mean my husband who is currently holding two kids while stirring mac ‘n cheese.)
Setting realistic workday goals takes time.
When we first began social distancing, my son still had daycare, so I was able to be more productive on work projects and still feel like I was giving my daughter what she needed during the day. However, my husband and I had to greatly adjust our expectations when we both started working from home. There was one day when we both scheduled meetings for the same time. After almost eight years of marriage, you’d think we would have checked with each other first.
The reality is that we simply misunderstood our plan and miscommunicated. After this happened, I returned to my normal work routine of writing my daily schedule on a whiteboard by my desk. Some days, he has blocks of meetings. I now know that during that time, I need to be available to take calls and answer emails, but I probably can’t take a detail-oriented meeting during that time.
Also, our vocation as parents isn’t something we should feel the need to defend. The phrase I keep hearing over and over again is, “These are unprecedented times.” So snuggle that kid who leans in for a hug while you’re in the middle of an email. Definitely take time to meet your kids’ needs, and don’t feel guilty about it.
Yesterday, I had to take a time-out from my work to put ice on a bumped head. These times are unprecedented. Work and home have collided, and it’s not necessarily a mess, but it’s not neat and clean, either. Work with your supervisor and teammates to establish realistic expectations.
4. Dress for the job you want, not the recliner you’re in: An homage to self-care.
I am not here to heap guilt on you for wearing sweatpants when you usually opt for business attire. Having said that, so many of the people I reached out to emphasized changing into normal work clothes even when working from home. This makes sense to me, but I wanted to chew on it a little more.
Why? Why does it matter what you wear when you work from home?
The more I dig into working-from-home best practices, the more I see the theme of “intention” come up. Wearing work clothes is a kinesthetic and visual representation of readiness for the day. And no, it doesn’t mean wearing a shirt and tie or a blazer and pencil skirt. It’s about signifying the start of your day with confidence.
Maybe for you, it does mean rocking a dress shirt at home, even if it’s just your dog and 6-month-old who notice. Perhaps, it’s sharp-looking athleisure wear. Whatever your outfit of choice is, putting on clean and professional work clothes can be a solid act of self-care.
On a similar note, don’t forget your normal routine. For lots of us, this includes showering, hair care, exercise, etc. Don’t neglect yourself just because you can’t leave your home. You are worth the time and effort, even if you’re so certain your cat just judged your choice of breakfast. And for the love, do not forget your coffee. We are less prepared for that than we were for social distancing.
5. Time management.
Consider chunking work time in an effort to be realistic on both the work and home fronts. A colleague of mine suggested 45-minute chunks of work time. This allows for buffer time every hour to meet your kids’ needs and enjoy special moments throughout the day.
In addition to having realistic buffer time every hour, another colleague suggested taking a legitimate break. It’s so easy to switch back-and-forth between what the kids need and what’s pressing at work, that we often forget to drink water, eat healthy snacks, or breathe intentionally.
If you’re in a two-parent household where both parents work-from-home, this can be a great way to check on your partner. “Hey, I brought you some water” is one of the nicest things you can say to another human since we’re mostly made up of water.
Since originally writing this post, I’ve implemented Cal Newport’s Deep Work philosophy. This means that I get a lot of my deep-thinking work done early in the day, and mostly before my kids wake up. This has freed me up to embrace our new normal instead of resenting it.
In Summary. . .
The five things I shared with you are nice and even useful. But the most important thing to remember is grace. Grace for yourself. Grace for your children. Grace for your coworkers and supervisors. Your partner needs grace, too.
You might not get everything finished in a day, or you might crush it today. Either way, you are more than what you produce or accomplish. Was it a lousy day in parenting? It’s okay. Say sorry if you need to. Hand out forgiveness like free toilet paper. Tomorrow is a new day.
Remember that even in the midst of a global pandemic, you’re not walking through this alone.
— Vanessa Lane is the Content Marketing Lead at Concordia University and can be reached at email@example.com. When she's not at work, she can be found playing with her kids or watching NBA basketball with her husband.
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