When the world shut down in 2020, everyone thought we’d be working from home for a couple of weeks and get back to normal.
So much for that!
In a post-Covid world, the nature of work will never be the same. A recent study showed that almost 92 million Americans can work remotely at least part-time. That number will only go up in years to come.
Work from home was new to the majority of businesses in 2020. After a couple of years of trial and error, we’ve learned much about how to do it well.
This article will share 11 tips for working from home with kids. Remember, of course, that this isn’t an exact science. These tips won’t magically solve the tension most work-from-home parents feel. After all, when relationships are involved–especially with kids–it can be messy.
Think of these tips as a way of leaning into the mess to produce something beautiful.
Working from home with kids: pros and cons
Before we jump into our tips, let’s consider the major pros and cons of working from home when you have a family.
Even though parents can work from home doesn’t mean it’s always the best idea.
First, kids need attention. Parents take kids to and from school, help with homework, make snacks, change diapers, etc. Then there are sick days, holiday breaks, and random days off.
Second, working from home means parents don’t have an office to leave at the end of the day, so it’s hard to leave “work” at work. Employees may continually feel pressured to check email, answer a text, check the calendar, or squeeze work when they can.
Third, parents may feel low-level guilt while working from home. They feel guilty both when they’re working because they’re not with the kids and when they enjoy time with their kids for not working.
Be ready to navigate these situations and emotions with your employees.
One benefit to working from home is the freedom to be flexible. Parents can work when and how it’s best for their family’s lifestyle.
A second benefit is that working from home has positive effects on one’s mental health. People who work from home can give more attention to the family’s physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
Finally, working from home with kids means more family time. Sometimes, people may want to work in the office to escape their children! But we all know how fast kids grow up. No one will say when they are old and gray, “I wish I spent more time at the office!”
In the end, it’s all about your experience and preference. Discuss these with your employees to determine what’s best for you and them.
Set reasonable expectations
Transiting to working from home with kids can be overwhelming. It will take time to adjust. As a company, help your staff prepare for that. The most important thing is to remember to be reasonable with expectations.
It’s unreasonable for employees to work from 9 to 5 every day. With kids around, there is always the chance of non-work interruptions occurring in the middle of the day when they least expect it.
Being flexible and setting reasonable expectations puts parents at ease. It communicates empathy and care. In the long run, it will serve them well and, in the end, actually increase productivity (we’ll talk about this more in a minute).
Multitasking is a myth. It’s not just that people can’t do two things at once, but they become bad at doing both things when they try.
If you’re a small business or startup trying to become successful, you may feel tempted to multitask in every area of work and life. You feel the weight of everything (including your employee’s livelihood) on your shoulders. Chances are your team feels some of this, too.
It’s important to guide people to take advantage of when they can focus on one thing. And do it well.
What does this mean? During family time, it’s okay to turn off notifications. When it’s work time, help your team learn how to communicate that gently to family members.
When we can be fully present in those moments, we’ll do our best work and parenting.
Set and keep boundaries
Help parents set healthy boundaries and encourage them to enforce them. This doesn’t mean they need to be a bad parent to be a good employee. But there are times when work simply needs to get done without kids around. Zoom calls, anyone?
A boundary could be as simple as, “When the door is shut, it means I’m working, and you can’t come in.” If parents have older kids, encourage leaving a whiteboard with specific messages or instructions outside your door.
For parents of younger children, make sure kids have options. Set up snacks, games, and discovery activities prior, so they aren’t banging down the door during that focused work time.
Foster regular and consistent communication
Work-from-home parents need to know they aren’t on an island. So set up regular and consistent communication with them.
But we aren’t just talking about weekly Zoom meetings or using Slack.
As an employer, you need to ensure communication lines are open for difficult conversations. Parents need to know they can share when their kids are sick or when they’re struggling at home. They need to be able to tell you when they are unavailable–without giving a particular reason.
A good way to foster a culture of communication is by taking the first step. Let your employees know you are available for a chat and share your own schedule with them, so they see you as a person instead of just an employer far away in another state.
Louthian Law Firm, for example, uses its social media channels to bring employees together. It can be as simple as writing a post that brings attention to the pets in your group or even a shoutout to an employee who killed it at work in the past month.
Set up a home office
This one is straightforward. If you give people the option to work at home–parent or not–you need to give them what they need to set up an office.
And, no, working at the kitchen table is not an office. Parents need to find a dedicated space so they aren’t interrupted.
A dedicated workspace communicates to everyone at home that when the parent is there, it’s “work time.”
The best-case scenario is that the workspace is in an enclosed room. If that’s not possible, choose a quiet corner that’s out of the way. If staff do a lot of work on a laptop, outfit them with a large monitor and desk/workstation. Monitors are more easily noticeable, so it will be more obvious when you are doing something important.
Finally, home workspaces should be comfortable and enjoyable. This will help parents enjoy work and, hopefully, alleviate any stress that comes with working at home.
Focus on outcomes, not hours worked
With the change in where work happens also comes the nature of how work is done. For jobs where working from home is possible, the objective shouldn’t be to log a set number of hours. Instead, the focus should be on achieving outcomes.
Because much of our work today is automated and centered around knowledge-based software, we’re able to accomplish our work more quickly. If a task can be done in 15 minutes rather than one hour, we should celebrate not complain that someone is “not working enough.”
That means your company should set specific metrics for what it means to be successful. Deadlines, specific numbers, and hard output goals will help your employees be results-focused rather than time-focused.
If a team member can accomplish their particular goals in less time, good for them. They should use the extra time to take breaks and get some sunshine.
Win the morning
This one is short and sweet. If parents can wake up before the kids and get in focused work before the kids wake up, it will lead to a more productive, less chaotic day.
When the focus is on outcomes, not hours worked (see above), parents will feel empowered to work when it makes the most sense for them.
Complete priority tasks first
This is an overflow of the previous tip. Parents should prioritize whatever requires time and focus. Tasks like writing, research, project analysis, and more should come first before meetings, emails, or administration.
So, if you have been hired to manage the company’s content marketing, make sure you focus most of your day on creating great content instead of getting bogged down by 200 emails that keep coming through.
Once these priority tasks are completed, parents can take time to give their kids some attention. This would even be a great time to plan a break and have some fun! (That’s allowed!)
Take frequent breaks
Speaking of breaks, a flexible work environment should encourage more frequent breaks. However, we mentioned above that working from home can have the major drawback of always feeling like you’re “on.” Helping your people work against that mentality will take a concerted effort.
Research repeatedly shows that taking breaks increases productivity and is essential to prevent burnout.
Encourage your staff to carve out time to meditate, breathe, go for walks, get to the gym (yes, in the middle of the day!), eat lunch with their kids, volunteer to read at school, and more.
Regular breaks, especially with physical activity, will increase energy, spur creativity, and also help your staff be more mindful parents when they are with their children.
Use technology strategically
If your employees are working remotely, then they are likely familiar with all kinds of technology. Be sure to equip them with the best apps for time management and organization.
The simplest tech tool of all? That trusty phone alarm clock. Set alarms to help work in quick sprints or for reminders to take breaks. Parents can also set alarms to remind them to get their minds off work and take 15 minutes to give their children some attention.
For parents of older children, encourage them to use their messaging app to communicate throughout the day. “I’m in a meeting and will be up soon,” “Can you please quiet down?” or “Would you get dinner started?”
What about technology for the kids? It’s tempting to put a screen in front of a child’s face to help set those boundaries we talked about. Parents must use screen time wisely, however. A show or movie here and there is okay. But too much screen time has been linked to all sorts of struggles including obesity, behavioral issues, and insomnia.
One of the most difficult obstacles to working from home is not getting work done but being content with good enough. This is especially hard for people who are go-getters and pride themselves on perfection.
People work from home to foster a healthy work-life balance. That means sometimes a report will need to be turned in even if it’s not flawless. Or chores will need to go undone while you stay up late to finish a project.
And you know what? That’s okay.
Life, parenting, and work are hard all on their own. Be kind to your employees and tell them to be kind to themselves.
Wrapping it up
If your company has embraced remote work, these 11 tips can help your employees become more productive, organized, and motivated at home. Encourage your staff to try a few at a time and remind them that, gradually, they’ll learn their unique way of doing things.
Like anything else, every employee needs to find what’s best for them and their family. It’s your job to be there for them and guide them.