Working from home can take some getting used to and while we are not all wired to adapt to a sudden switch, with a few tips and the right tech, we can all transition smoothly into working remotely.
Then the element of distraction comes in… your family is also home with you aaarggh!
Many parents, like myself, who work around flexible hours and their offspring’s schedules, might be used to working a couple of hours with their kids around. Whilst we have developed techniques over time to manage those overlapping gaps, having your kids home all day, is a different story! For first-timers, this will come as a complete shock to the system.
You are used to: Waking up, getting through your morning routine and saying goodbye to your family as they carry on with their day, not to be seen again for at least a few hours..
Until lockdown… schools are shut and unlike the holidays, when you can fill the days and tire your kids out doing all sorts of fun stuff you are confined to your home, where work and entertainment need to happen simultaneously.
Here I will go through some tips for working remotely and add some variations for staying sane while working with kids at home.
1. Your Work Space @ Home
You may have a study or a desk in your bedroom which you can close yourself in and use as your office. Alternatively you may prefer to take your laptop to a nice spot in your living area or outdoor space if it’s nice weather, where you feel happier and more inspired to work.
If you’re alone, any option works. With kids it’s a bit less blissful but there are ways to get around it:
Older kids – Independent
If they’re old enough to fend for themselves for some time you’re probably better off closing yourself in your designated “office” and setting a regular “check-in time” to see if they need anything or if they just want to talk to you.
Toddlers & Young Children
With toddlers and young children there’s not much point in closing yourself off in a room, unless you like the sound of constant knocking or worrying what they might be up to 🙂 The best option in this case is to station yourself somewhere easily accessible to where they are, giving them the security that you are right there if they need you and explaining to them that you need to work here so you will not be able to speak to them from this spot. This will probably mean working from your living area or kitchen where you would need to mentally zone yourself out from your kids voices, entertainment, TV and other distractions.
Unless you have all your baby-entertaining tools in one room, be mobile enough to shift whenever your little one gets bored of the current position/area. This might even mean leaving tasks that you could do from your phone (eg. emails) for when your baby needs to be held or fed.
If you are 2 parents/guardians, have older children working (or studying) from home or a relative living with you, share your meeting times and agree on a schedule to watch the kids . Choose the enclosed space as the designated office and explain to the kids that the person in there cannot be disturbed until they come out.
2. Morning Routine
Don’t change your alarm! That precious time it takes you to commute and get ready will be transformed into bonus minutes in your day ! Use the “gains” to do something you don’t usually have time to do whether it’s reading, learning something, training or watching sunrise.
With kids the luxury could turn into a necessity. Aim to get up before your kids do, its probably the only time in the day you are guaranteed to be undisturbed. You might need to use this time to work on something important that you need to do without distractions.
If it’s not already integrated into your routine, do some form of physical movement shortly after waking up. This will rev you up for the day and give your brain a good restart boosting productivity and creativity. It is crucial when you work from home as you will not get that usual short walk from your car/bike to the office, run to catch a bus or make those “trips” to colleagues desks, meeting rooms, the office kitchen etc. This activity can be anything from a morning run or walk, a home workout or yoga routine which can be as short as 15 minutes. Not keen on training alone ? Join a virtual fitness class online! Aim to get your heart pumping (within your limits) during this time to release endorphins and start your day on a positive note!
Get your kids involved too ! Exercise is just as important for them as it is for you and its something you can enjoy together outdoors or in. Get their bikes, create an active game or follow an online kids workout…
Wear something that boosts your self esteem and productivity and you will work better! You don’t need to “dress up” unless you have some videoconference meetings planned but see what works for you. Showering and putting on a casual, comfortable outfit that makes me feel good enough to run an errand in, helps me set myself into work mode. On the other hand my colleague, Julian, who is predominately client-facing, enjoys taking the opportunity of working in pyjamas if the day allows it!
This is equally important when your kids are around. Show them that this is still a work day (even though you’re not going to the office and they’re not going to school) with a difference that they can set the dress code ! Get them dressed in whichever outfit(s) they feel good in and are suited for the day’s activities.
3. Human Interaction
Working from home can get lonely, especially if liaising with clients is not part of your job.
Connect with another human, be it a colleague, client or your manager and try to have at least one real conversation via audio or (even better) video during your work day.
This is even more relevant when you have kids around. A conversation solely about work will remind you that you’re also a professional and not only a parent/ guardian trying to make it all work! Its equally important to let your manager and team know you are working with kids so they can understand why you might not always be available for meetings and that you will get the work done but perhaps outside the “regular” schedule. This will reduce frustration and anxiety from all ends.
4. Home Schedule
The easiest way to slide into an efficient work from home routine is to stick to your office schedule. Start at the time you usually arrive, take your mid-morning coffee, eat your pre-prepared lunch (so you don’t waste time thinking what you’re going to eat) and log off when you usually leave, as its easy to keep on working in the comfort of your home.
There is no reason to change your routine unless of course your kids are home, then you need to work around theirs. Here are a few tips on how to manage this:
- Establishing them with a routine of their own will help you both be more efficient.
- Plan their day in advance including some learning, creative games, free play time, screen time, meals, helping out with house chores and exercise.
- Setting small goals for them throughout the day helps to give you time slots to focus on your work eg build a lego house or prepare a choreography, something that gives them a final result which they can show you.
- Use the screen time for when you have that meeting or high-focus task to do as this is usually the one you’ll have least interruptions.
- Maximise every minute you can to get your work done and be as flexible as you can about the timing. You might find it better to do a portion of work after they go to bed.
- Compromise. Sometimes you might need to move your laptop and work in their room so they don’t feel “alone” or sometimes you may need to interact with them while doing a task which requires less mental power.
Time for a Break
- Synchronise meal times and have them help with the prep using this as quality time.
- Keep your promises! Give your kids some uninterrupted time even if its just short snippets and then get back to work. This gives them something to look forward to after their solo play time and use the clock to indicate when this will happen.
- You will have days when your kids just don’t let you work. Instead of fighting a losing battle give them the attention they need and use their sleeping time to catch up. Then plan a different strategy for the next day… be it different activities, more exercise or different timing patterns.
When something like COVID-19 happens, it shocks our system and tests us on a number of different levels. Employers, employees, entrepreneurs and their families are all forced to suddenly adapt to a (for most) completely new way of working.
There is no doubt that it’s a big challenge. However it’s also an opportunity for each of us to grow and take this as a learning curve to develop our adaptation to change, creative skills, productivity techniques, ability to diversify, resilience building and positive thinking that will all contribute to a future-proof business mindset and life balance.
In times of uncertainty, brain fog is denser than ever and its not always easy to see through the mist to plan the next best steps for you, your family and your business.
An executive coach or a peer support group can help you get through the “fog” and find alternative ways you wouldn’t have thought of alone.
Through UP performance coaching, we are helping our clients get through their situations by coaching them over VC. Vistage Malta is having additional virtual meetings to bring the members together for information sharing, moral support and high-level brainstorming.
If you would like to receive similar support drop us a line: [email protected]