Working from home can sound like a dream for many people. You get to enjoy more time in your house, you cut out the commute, and you get to see much more of your family.
But the flip side has some not-so-dreamy realities, especially for parents having to balance work and childcare: a difficulty to focus; having to juggle work with looking after children and, in some cases, homeschooling them; blurry lines between work time and personal time, and kids lobbying for your undivided attention when you need to GSD.
On the least glamorous WFH (work from home) days, you might feel like you’ve got no work done and you’ve been a bad parent. Juggling work and looking after kids can be done, but it does require a recalibration of expectations and working styles.
To make your remote work reality more functional, here are some of our top tips for parents working from home.
1. Focus on the positives.
Although some parents work from home by choice, others have had to unexpectedly adjust to this new reality.
This situation comes with its own challenges, but we can all find some advantages in working from home — whether that’s avoiding the daily commute, having more time with the family, being home for dinner, or proximity to the fridge.
It won’t always be easy, but focusing on the positives (and reminding yourself of what you’re avoiding in the office) can help enormously on stressful days.
2. Adjust your schedule.
Just like kids, adults thrive on routines and work much more efficiently when we have a schedule.
Having a WFH routine helps us to stay focused and avoid the productivity lulls that come with multitasking or battling constant interruptions.
To add more structure and predictability to your day, create a morning routine and be strict about it whenever possible. When it’s wake-up time, get up and prep for the day as you would before going to the office. Then head to your home office, whatever this looks like to you, and get into a state of mind for work.
To optimize the rest of your day, adjust your work schedule to allow for home life, whether this includes breaks to relax or time to catch up on chores and take over childcare.
If you can, take advantage of a flexible schedule and come up with a routine that works for you and your kids — but remember that you can always adjust it to accommodate daily changes.
In our collection of remote work tips from our team, we shared this great tip:
Create a schedule with the people you live with. I work in the AM, watch kids (aged two and four) in the PM, and my husband does the opposite.
3. Be upfront with your colleagues.
While there are many steps parents can take to maintain their productivity while working from home, disruptions will still happen. Your kids will run into your office, throw a tantrum during a Zoom call, or require you to help with an emergency in the house.
The worst thing you can do is pretend everything is fine, approach work the same way you did in an office, and insist you don’t need any help.
Be upfront with your team about what working from home will look like for you and think about what requests you can make to make it easier and more productive. This might be an adjusted schedule that allows for more flexibility, or just a bit of extra patience.
4. Optimize your workspace for focus.
Although you don’t have to stick to this 100% of the time, assign one area of the house as your dedicated workspace.
This makes it easier to limit distractions and focus on work without having it seep into personal life.
When you start your workday by arriving at your dedicated workspace with a coffee and wearing daytime clothes, you let your mind know that this is the time and space where you start working.
Ideally, this would be a separate room that you can turn into a home office. But if that’s not an option, try to find a non-communal corner of your home to turn into your workspace. Agree with everyone in your household the rules for when and how they can get your attention.
Parents can also get their kids to help out designing homemade office signs, with green for “yes, you’re allowed in” and red for “don’t even think about it.”
5. Work in short bursts.
Parents of babies and toddlers have a harder time of it than most, since you can’t leave them alone.
If you’re responsible for childcare, your best option may be to work in short bursts when you’re able to, such as when the children are sleeping.
But if you’re lucky to be able to focus on work while your partner helps with childcare at home, design your schedule so you can come out of your office and help every so often, rather than locking yourself in all day.
6. Nurture creative activities.
Your kid probably isn’t going to sit quietly and read a book all day while you’re working. If you’re responsible for childcare, keep your kids immersed in play by nurturing creative activities.
Rotating between different sets of toys and other activities can encourage deeper and more meaningful play while giving you a bit more time to focus. If your children aren’t used to playing independently, you can try sparking their imagination by making it into a game in its own right — one that encourages independent activities such as solving a puzzle or creating something from scratch with art materials, with a set time to show you what they’ve come up with.
If you’re okay with your kids having some screen time while you’re taking important calls or needing to focus, check educational resources like Scholastic Learn at Home, digital games that teach things like spelling and music skills, or even virtual museum tours.
7. Schedule meetings wisely.
Almost every parent who works at home has a few unfortunate mishaps to share.
While a lot of this is inevitable and all you and your colleagues can do is laugh, plan for interruptions by giving your children a nonverbal ‘do not disturb’ when you’re on conference calls.
Of course, that isn’t always going to work with free-roaming toddlers, in which case it can be better to schedule calls during their normal sleep times. At times, you might just need to mute your calls or even reschedule if you need to be on childcare duty.
8. Get technology on your side.
The rise of cloud computing is precisely what’s enabled the surge in remote working. Instead of having to manually exchange documents or log in to user accounts on-site, employees can now access the information they need to do their jobs online.
With collaboration platforms like Microsoft Teams, project-management software like Trello, and web-based CRM (customer relationship management) software, it’s easier than ever to get work done at home.
Whether it’s having a bit of fun setting your own video conferencing background on Zoom or taking time to create a tech stack that makes your job that much easier, choosing the right applications can make a world of difference.
9. Know when to switch off.
Mastering the work-life balance has never been more difficult. While many are quick to praise the virtues of working from home, you can also end up feeling like you’re always at work. That’s why it’s crucial to know when to switch off.
Being a parent, chances are you’ll need to account for some flexibility when it comes to drawing up your daily schedule. Still, it’s important to set a time when you can confidently say you’re finished for the day. This naturally requires some self-discipline and expectation setting with your team, but you need to have clear boundaries to keep stress at bay.
10. Be easy on yourself — and ask for help.
If you’re a parent juggling work and childcare, you deserve a medal and all of the opportunities you can get for a helping hand.
This might mean getting support from a family member, hiring someone to help with childcare, or asking your employer for flexible hours or a bit more lenience during WFH.
But above all, don’t expect yourself to balance everything effortlessly and effectively all the time. Look for the opportunities to make your work-life easier, but also be kind to yourself when things don’t go as planned. If things are hard to manage, try to take some time off if you can, and remember to focus on self-care too. It can be a stressful situation for a lot of people, so it’s important to focus on your own well-being and know your limits.