Whether you’re new to working from home or not, having to work from home with children (and possibly partners) takes things to a whole new level…
I know many parents who are looking ahead at the coming weeks of ‘social distancing’ and thinking: How am I going to get anything done?
The restrictions due to Coronavirus are completely understandable but a lot of working parents have to keep working. Particularly, those who are freelance or self-employed who aren’t currently entitled to any income protection.
As somebody who has worked from home for over a decade and launched a magazine dedicated to the subject, there are a few things we can do to help ease the transition and yes, get some work done too!
Ease your expectations
It’s a worrying time and adding to that stress is the thought of not being able to get any of your work done when you have children demanding snacks every half hour or wanting you to find an elusive Lego piece.
Accepting you won’t get as much done is part of the process and then being honest about that with colleagues and clients.
If you’re an employee, have frank conversations with your line manager about your limitations. See if you can arrange flexible hours or work on different projects that are less time-sensitive.
If you have clients, make them aware of the situation and keep them updated about extended deadlines, different hours or delays to such things as postage. Putting this information in your email footers or auto-responders can be a good way to do it.
Most people are understanding when you’re honest but prepared to adapt.
Skew Your Hours
One of the advantages of homeworking is flexibility. Be prepared to get up a little earlier or work after hours when the children are in bed.
How you skew your day will probably depend on the age of your children. If you have little darlings who like to rise at 5 am, you might need to do more work in the evenings. If you have a house with teenagers, early mornings might be your saviour.
Structure is important (but be realistic)
Children tend to do better with a routine, especially those who get anxious. If your children are upset about the sudden changes, reassure them with preparing a timetable together.
A structure will help you set boundaries and establish with your child when you are working and when you’re not available.
A structure is important to avoid the potential chaos but remember that every plan needs to be flexible.
Over time, you will work out what routine works best for you and your family. Don’t try to get it perfect. A loose timetable that blocks out time for work, time for play and time together is fine at first.
Pockets of time
When working from home, I find time blocking really useful. When working from home with kids, those blocks of time might shrink from one or two hour blocks to just 20 or 30-minute blocks.
Look at how you can break up your day and your tasks into shorter periods of time.
Now is the moment to make the most of those small pockets of time when they’re having breakfast or a snack. Those fifteen minutes can be useful to send an email, update some social media or make a quick phone call.
Let your family know about your needs. Don’t underestimate how much children, even young ones, can understand.
Having a discussion with everybody about when you’re going to work and what you need from them helps them feel important and involved.
Children adapt and learn boundaries and will become used to you being home but less available.
If you have an office, some people find putting a sign on the door helps.
If both you and your partner are working from home, organise ‘shifts’ with the children. Ask for help where you can.
Use family mealtimes to come together and talk about the day, about what went well and what you might want to change and ask for the children’s input as well.
Work and play zones
Not everybody who works from home has a separate home office, even those who do it regularly.
You might find you’re confined in a small house or flat where space is minimal.
Try to keep your work area as confined as possible. If it’s the kitchen table, keep to one end and make it easy to sweep the laptop and papers away for mealtimes.
If you don’t have a separate office, ensure there are spaces where work doesn’t go. Keep the living room work-free and create a special area that’s just for play or downtime.
It’s important to remember that your house is still your house and having those distinct rooms or zones helps you separate work from home-life.
Playtime and Schooling
Usually, when you work from home with children it’s because it’s the holidays. There’s no pressure to educate as well.
There are lots of online resources to help with schooling. Older students are able to manage their time and work by themselves and I’d also suggest not putting pressure on yourselves to have every minute planned out for homeschooling.
Remember that they learn through play. Incorporate school work into household chores that help you out as well.
Weighing and measuring when cooking is maths, washing up liquid and bath bombs are science, sorting laundry is colour and counting. (Running up and down the stairs to carry said laundry is PE!)
Screen time is inevitable, especially when you need longer periods to work. But there are lots of things that you can do that occupy your children for longer than a few minutes.
Creative play is brilliant. It teaches them independence and they use their imaginations. Leaving them (safely) to their own devices can be a good thing. My two build dens, fight pirates, play shops and cafés. (I do have to drink a lot of pretend tea but I can still write while I do!)
Lego, jigsaws, colouring, stickers and activity books are useful to have to hand.
Don’t feel guilty about putting on the TV or giving them an iPad. Give them a special ‘movie hour’ when you’re guaranteed some work time.
Remember, we’re all working and muddling through it together and it will take time to establish a sense of rhythm and routine.