Have you ever taken a call from your car while parked in the driveway because there isn’t a single quiet spot in your house? If you have, you might be a parent who has found themselves working from home with kids.
In an ideal scenario, I can drop my kids off at school and return home to frolic in the living room and read emails in peace and quiet while sipping a hot cup of coffee. But the reality is that not every day is predictably structured and carefree for parents. Illnesses, school closures, weather events—national emergencies—can turn your much beloved routine on its head.
If you find yourself in a place of juggling kids while working from home during these turbulent times, grab that hot cup of coffee and let’s commiserate about the reality of working from home with kids. And a few pointers of how to cope.
1. Morning Routines Are Key
It was not until I had kids that I truly understood the adage “up with the sun”. In fact, my kids are known to be up before the sun. My parenting day usually begins around 5am when the kids begin to wake. So, in order to squeeze in any AM workouts or even showers, my husband and I plan accordingly from wake up.
Because we are such early risers, I wind up getting online for work much earlier than some of my teammates. Even when the kids are home, I take advantage of this start time difference by focusing on heads-down work and postpone any pairing requests until after our 9:30am standup, when everyone else comes online.
2. Plan Your Day in Productive Time Blocks
In this article by Michelle Woo, she suggests doing the big things first. Instead of trying to jam through a bunch of emails, “try to take on the hard, important stuff first, even if you can’t finish it all at once.” That way you are tackling the things that require the most mental fuel first instead of later in the day when you’re tired.
Find the time blocks that work best for you and your schedule and plan your day accordingly. Another tip I’ve recently been using is to book meetings or one-on-ones with team members during nap times. And find the times to block out several hours at a time to binge work.
Work from home mom Natasha Burton had great tips on this in her article. One of the mothers suggested, “working in micro blocks” which means stealing even five minutes of time throughout the day to be extra productive. Another mother suggested bringing your laptop with you and working outside a coffee shop with WiFi while waiting to pick up the kids, even in your car!
3. Preparing For the Inevitable Interruption
Once the day starts, as other folks come online, managing things gets a little more challenging for me if my kids are home. This scenario is very possible: I am deep into an intense pairing session with a co-worker; we are in a mind-meld and solving problems, learning lessons, and proposing solutions. Then, out of nowhere, a voice interrupts, “Mom! Can I have a strawberry bar?!”
And what do my teammates think of the interruption? Nothing.
It’s the norm to have small interruptions when you’re working remote and kids are stuck at home. Ideally, we could have uninterrupted time to focus and dig deep on work. As any parent knows, your mind is always spread between work and home life.
Luckily, I have the opportunity to work at a company in which this isn’t much of an issue. At Revelry, two of our core values that come into play in this scenario are “Be Excellent to Each Other” and “Work-Life Alliance”. We look to be excellent to each other especially when routines are out the door and our teammates find themselves working from home with kids. This is not always the case, but I am here to offer the best advice I’ve found throughout the years of working from home full-time with kids.
What To Do with Interruptions
Have the kid join the call on your lap! Maybe giving in to their curiosity can show your kid how you’re a badass at your job. I suspect that, after a moment or two, they will get bored and hop off your lap. But you will have satisfied their curiosity enough so they can get back to those legos you set out for them.
Another tip by Meghan Moravcik Walbert suggests disclosing that your child is with you before you get on the call. Most parents are understanding of this, and those that are not at least have been warned!
4. Get Support and Do What You Have To
Sometimes it’s the best you can do just to get through the day. All parents need support about the best ways to do things, and sometimes just to sympathize with someone who understands. If you don’t have time to join a local group for parents, join an online one. You’ll find a lot of support and great tips in there.
I find a lot of support in online groups for moms, such as the Moms in Tech (MinTs) Facebook group. I am including a few suggestions made in the group about working from home with kids. Tips that only other parents can understand, like, sometimes you just need to close the door, especially if children are being cared for by a spouse or nanny. It sounds easier than it is, but it’s something that other parents can tell you—it’s okay to just close the door.
In this article by Meghan Moravcik Walbert, she quotes a fellow Twitter work-from-home mother and author Lyz Lenz. Some of her best tips include playing with pipe cleaners, tape, toilet paper, ripping up old magazines, and when it comes down to it, “jfc who cares let them watch TV we are all just trying to live here.”
5. Have Activities Ready To Go
Have activities like drawing, play-doh, LEGOs, paints and reading ready to go. That way, when the kids start getting antsy, you have a backup plan for entertainment that doesn’t take away from your productivity.
Revelry’s COO, Thomas, says he gathers collections of activities and games to have ready for the kids during the busiest times.
Such as, “Can you gather 8 different blue things?”, “Can you find 3 books that have a cat?”, “Can you draw 5 pictures about space?” Specifically, things that are just aiming for 5-20 minutes of busy time, not trying to force 1-3 hours. Focus on activities that only take 20-30 seconds to send kids on their next mission.
Busy Toddler is a great resource for activity ideas broken out by age range. There are awesome ideas including sensory bins, washable painting activities, pom pom and pipe cleaner activities. If you can work outside with your kids, give them some water activities on hot days!
6. If All Else Fails: Yes, and…
If you run out of pre-planned activities, Josh who is Director of Product at Revelry suggests taking an improv mindset to current activities to branch them out to next activities and future activities.
He explains, “Yes, and…” goes a long way.
For example, “Oh, you thought this whale watching video was really cool? What did you really like about it?”
[the colors of the water and the splash of the whales]
“What if you made a picture of it with these crayons and how could you use other stuff to make it look like a splash?”
[cotton balls torn apart, other stuff]
Art project commences and ends.
“Wow, great picture! Tell me about it.”
[listen, and also look for something specific to point out.]
“What about this piece over here? Tell me more about that, it’s really cool/interesting.”
Find ways to create more bridges like pretending to be a whale in different ways, etc.
Go with the flow and always remember, “the most important tactic for me is simply to give myself some grace, and not worry so much about what other people might think if the kid is being rowdy in the background. If anything, an unexpected cameo from the kid often makes the conversation more human,” says our COO Thomas.
7. Set Expectations and Boundaries
Make sure the kids know what to expect during a typical workday. Have a sign or stoplight on your door for those times when you need to indicate that you’re “busy” and need space to dig deep or be on a call.
Take breaks to check in with the kids—it’s no secret you’re home. Just like you would with your team members or clients, why not book short breaks to get some face-time with the kids? This goes back to time blocking: block off time specifically dedicated to checking in with them.
Even though working from home with kids is certainly a challenge, we can all do it effectively with routines, boundaries and planning ahead. I hope this post was helpful. If so, be sure to share these tips and your best tips with other parents out there looking for the best ways to work from home while juggling kids!