With social distancing helping to slow the spread of coronavirus, many families are suddenly finding that not only do they have to work from home, but their kids are at home too.
Schools are closing across the globe, and it’s unclear if they’ll reopen this year at all. Daycares are facing a similar problem. If the thought of working from home with your child seems frightening, you aren’t alone.
If you have older teens, it’s probably less of a concern as they can mostly work on their homework themselves. But if we’re talking preschoolers, elementary, and middle school children — it’s a much bigger adjustment. Kids demand around-the-clock attention—and parenting while juggling conference calls, never-ending emails, and tight deadlines are no joke.
If you’re struggling to stay productive while working from home, these tips may help.
1. Talk with your family
Hold a family meeting to explain how your job works and establish boundaries.
Start with a conversation that working from home means “working.” As much as you or they might like, you can’t hang out. Let your kids know that you have certain tasks that you must accomplish, and you can’t take frequent breaks to help them. Explain that when the door to your office is closed, they have to knock before they come in.
Set up a system whereby you have a ‘do not disturb’ sign, and if this is on the door the children can’t come in – tell them to pass a note under the door or send a text if this sign is up and they need something. This could be handy for phone calls, online meetings and if you just want to focus with no interruptions.
This tactic is best for older kids. Toddlers won’t understand that they can’t always have your undivided attention. If your toddler is fussing while you’re on the phone, end the call and reschedule if you can.
2. Have a schedule
Sticking to a routine can not only help you get more work done but also keeping kids on task.
It’s important to line up your day carefully, with set “office” hours. How many hours do you hope to work that day? When will you return calls? What can you accomplish while your kid is coloring in the next room?
Take 10-minute breaks to check-in, have lunch together and finish work at the same time each day. Have family activities planned for after work – build Lego together, craft or sit down to watch a film.
For those with school-aged kids, they are already used to a schedule if they are enrolled in a traditional school and while you can’t replicate it entirely at home, you can come up with your own that fits into your family life.
If you’re trying to figure out how to engage your kids after March Break, take a look at this COVID-19 daily schedule. pic.twitter.com/ogaBVkvh8q
— Teacher Truths (@ONTeacherSays) March 14, 2020
3. Be flexible
Remember that fixed routine does not always work, especially if you have children and must adapt every day. Working from home with kids isn’t easy, and it might not be possible to get a whole eight- or nine-hour workday done. You may have to start earlier or work later. You’ll also have to roll with the punches a bit more.
If you have to take an unexpected break — just keep track of the time lost and come up with a plan to make it up later. Even if that means working a few hours on the weekend. Acknowledging that things are likely to change really helps.
Read Also: 6 Bad Habits That Destroys Your Productivity
Obviously some jobs will be less flexible when you’re working from home, but most employers will care more about the results. For many employers, they hopefully won’t care exactly when you’re working on bigger projects as long as you’re still answering your emails and calls during established work hours. Given the reason for working at home (the spread of coronavirus), some employers may understand the need for non-traditional schedules.
4. Explain the situation over the phone
Explain to whomever you’re talking to on the phone, Skype or Google Hangouts that your children are at home and that you can’t guarantee every conversation will be interruption-free.
Also, make sure that when you’re speaking with anyone—inside or outside your company—you give them a heads up at the beginning of the call. This way, when an argument about the remote control gets a little heated, no one is surprised at the ruckus.
5. Take breaks
If your kids have schoolwork to do, that’s helpful. They’ll be occupied for some of the time they’re at home. But school probably won’t last all day. And if your kids don’t have school, you probably can’t arrange playdates or excursions. In either case, you’ll need to find creative ways to occupy and keep an eye on your kids.
Start with scheduling frequent breaks in your day. Instead of sitting down and working on a task for three hours, break up your day a bit more. Work for 30 or 50 minutes, then take a 10-minute break to hang out with your kids. You can help them with tasks, or you can have a 10-minute dance party to get the wiggles out and to energize you.
6. Be strategic about screen time
During “normal” times, you might monitor screen time and even limit it. But working from home with kids during an emergency is different. You want to do your hardest tasks when your kids are asleep or distracted by the TV or a tablet.
You’ll also want to make sure your kids have either screen time or some kind of interesting activity to do while you’re taking calls with your boss, a co-worker, or a client.
While you probably don’t want them playing video games for weeks at a time, there’s nothing wrong with letting them have a little more screen time than usual.
7. Have fun activities
Depending on the age of your children, there is a wealth of activities you could plan to keep them busy while you work. No, that doesn’t just mean handing them an iPad or tablet and wishing them well.
Whether this is making sure they keep up with their schoolwork, allowing them time on a tablet or their gaming console or finding an educational TV show to watch. Drawing pictures, writing short stories and – if you’re lucky – tidying bedrooms can also be a way to keep kids busy.
Set aside a few cool toys that your kids can play with, or arrange playdates or special movie viewings. If your children have something to look forward to, they’ll be less likely to interrupt you. You can also try setting up an activity center in your home office so kids feel as if they have their own designated place to do projects while you catch up on e-mails.
You aren’t used to working from home, and they aren’t used to schooling from home! This is a big adjustment for everyone and it’s important to make everyone feel appreciated and special during these hard times.
8. Remember to schedule times for exercise, outdoor time, or both
Kids with too much energy is a ticking time bomb. What kind of exercise routine? That’s totally up to you and where you live.
For those stuck indoors things like stretches, dancing to silly songs, or running around the house (if you have room) are all easy ways to burn energy.
9. Take advantage of naptime
Take advantage of naptime for staying productive while working from home. Whether your kid sleeps for one hour or three, use this time to finish assignments that require your complete focus and concentration.
10. Get help
Do you have anyone who can help with your kids on-site—partner, older kids, family, trusted neighbors?
Or virtually? Think of friends, aunts, uncles, grandparents, babysitters, teachers. These people are amazing resources because you can use them to arrange virtual playdates for your kids. They can talk, read, play games, sing, do dances, and much more.
Read Also: 15 Interesting Websites When Stuck at Home
11. Reward good behavior
Establishing boundaries is just the start. You also need to acknowledge and reward good behavior. For example, if they have sat quietly during your meeting completed their schoolwork or are just behaving well – reward them!
Help them start a quiet puzzle or coloring project, and let them know that you’ll check back shortly. Steer kids toward more calm, relaxing activities, as well as nonviolent, as those can amplify bad behavior and frustration.
Allow TV time, do a fun activity like baking or crafting together or even create a reward chart with treats of your choosing after they reach a target you choose.
This could also work for making sure the household jobs get done – washing up, bedroom tidying, cleaning up their toys, etc.