Going from an office environment to working from home is a transition in and of itself — throw a toddler or a teenager into the mix and it can become even more challenging. But if you find yourself in this position, like I have for the past two years, you find ways to adapt and create a work environment that is truly unique but also extremely rewarding.
Many parents may have found themselves suddenly forced into my shoes, thanks to the novel coronavirus outbreak sweeping across the globe. But I’m here to tell you that while it’s an adjustment, it’s very doable — and also enjoyable. Everyone’s work style and needs are different, but here are a few tips from someone who has made it work successfully and believes you can too.
Create a flexible schedule
Creating a schedule you can adhere to can help you set some structure in life — after all, striking the ultimate work-life balance is the goal. But don’t be afraid to veer away from the usual 9 a.m.- 5 p.m. routine you’d find in an office because it likely won’t work for your kids. Consider carving out work time in the early morning hours or in the evenings after bedtime. Schedule any work chats or video conferences around naps or during times the kids can entertain themselves or do homework. Get creative and be flexible. Your day may not be as structured as it used to be, but there’s beauty in that too.
Set some structure for your child
Finding ways to structure your child’s day not only helps them establish a routine, but it also helps you carve out some work time. This can come in a variety of forms from independent playtime for little ones, watching a movie for some quiet time, or joining group activities (when we’re not social distancing). If your child is older, they may love hanging out in their room and your challenge may be reducing screen time and opting for other activities. Either way, embracing some structure for their day can help you stick to your plan, for the most part.
Use apps or gear to work from your phone
Being able to work from my phone has been a lifesaver for me. There are times with a child you will not be sitting in front of a computer screen, but your phone is probably just as convenient and advanced, and can be used to stay in the loop beyond just checking emails. The Slack app is my best friend, enabling me to communicate with my co-workers remotely and in real time. Trello is a free app that keeps project management and workflow simple. Google apps like Docs, Sheets and Drive all translate seamlessly from app to desktop. For gear, consider a bluetooth keyboard and wireless earpods if you do a lot of typing or calls. This helps you stay connected while juggling everything your kids need.
Don’t limit yourself to an office
This tip may go against every other piece of advice you’ve read about working from home, and I get it. It’s much easier to have a home office space where work is done and you can leave when work is over, helping you achieve that work-life balance we all crave. But when you have a kid (or two or three) in the house, you may need to have them in your line of sight rather than just in ear shot. I find myself working from my kitchen table or curling up on my couch with coffee because that’s where the action is happening or I’m at least able to keep a watchful eye. It’s about finding new cozy spots to feel productive in your home, while also being able to watch over your kids.
Give yourself some grace
Nobody’s perfect, and that’s OK. Just like at the office, you’re going to have good days and bad days, where you accomplish a lot or accomplish only a little. The important thing is if you gave it your best shot and you did your work to the best of your ability. Also know that sometimes you need to take a break and regroup. If you don’t, your work could suffer and so could your mental state. It’s also important to remember you can’t control everything and it’s OK to let some things to wait.
Make time for your child
While it’s the last on my list, it’s definitely not the least. Be mindful that your child still needs your attention and it’s OK to give it to them — after all, if working from home is new to you, this change is also new to them. Kids have a special way of letting you know (sometimes in a very theatrical ways) when they need your undivided attention. For me, my kid has demanded I color with her or play with blocks. She has even tipped my head up from my phone screen or shut my laptop — yep, sometimes she’s the boss and I need to take the hint. The work will be there and you can come back to it. Obviously, there are things that can’t wait some days, but that’s when you take care of business and then set your phone down or walk away from the computer and give your child the time with you they need.
I’ve found the biggest challenge when working from home with kids is not necessarily work-life balance, but feeling like you gave your work and your child the attention they deserve. If you stay flexible, find unique solutions for working on the go, and forgive yourself for not being perfect at everything, you’ll be proud of the amount of work you can accomplish and the amount of time you can spend with your child. It’s double the responsibility, but double the reward.