For working parents, it hit like a tidal wave. School closures. Nursery and daycare center closures. Orders to work from home. Orders to self-isolate (so much for parent helpers, babysitters or nannies).
That first week of working from home may have felt a bit like a vacation. But the longer lockdown enforcements carry on to stem the spread of Covid-19, the harder carrying on business from home becomes.
We need to be honest with ourselves: to admit that the work world has changed over the course of this pandemic, and will likely continue to move in new directions. The gleeful squeals and woeful cries of kids percolating in the background of phone calls or video conferences are the new norms.
Is that really such a big deal? Not really. Remember the endearing BBC News segment when a young child wandered onto international TV during her father’s video interview on North Korea, followed by a baby sibling rolling in seconds later and a frantic mom trying to usher them out? These sorts of interruptions are to be expected. Nuisances tolerated. Accepted even.
Kids have a lot of energy that can easily morph into restless boredom. Not a good thing when you have deadlines to meet or major projects to move forward.
So how can parents preserve as much productivity as possible under these circumstances?
It starts with taking care of yourself, first and foremost.
Education strategist Dwayne Mathews recommends everyone find and prioritize coping strategies. Whether it’s mindfulness, exercise, or putting aside spiritual time, “make sure these coping methods are a part of your daily routine and do not get neglected. It’s really sort-of like the oxygen mask on a plane – you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before you help anyone else.” Sage advice, right?
We also need to recognize that some days are going to go smoothly while others teeter on the edge of disastrous. Here are 15 tips to help parents adjust to the new world of remote working while kids are cooped up at home.
- If you haven’t already done so, set up an office area to separate mentally from the rest of your house. A room with a door you can close helps you detach from your work and serves to reboot your mindset when you open the door and step into your workspace to start another day.
- Agree as employer/employee on how many hours per day will be logged while remote working. That said, given the (coronavirus) reason for working at home, focus on meeting realistic expectations or deadlines over a number of hours worked. And be open to non-traditional schedules (more on that in tip 6).
- The time for time management is NOW; structure and schedules help bring a sense of control. Try to keep the structure of your day as typical as possible. Think of new ways to preserve regular routines and let your kids have a say in the schedule for extra buy-in. Build duties like meals, cleanup chores, and childcare into the schedule so everyone can pitch in. After a few days reassess your plans and adjust if need be.
- If you have a partner working from home too, consider 4-hour shifts in which one of you works while the other cares for kids – or – have one parent work uninterrupted one day, while the other parent spends intermittent time with the kids, and then switch roles the following day – or – arrange short 30-minute to two-hour shifts that rotate.
- Tell other adults in your household what the next day or two are looking like for you, so your needs and expectations are aligned. If you’re under a pressing deadline and need to focus, say so. If you have a lighter workday with more flexibility, offer to take the kids at lunch or for morning or afternoon play to give your partner or other caregivers in the house a break.
- Create work blocks for yourself. Figure out which tasks you do during your workday that demand no interruptions. Chances are you’ll find your best productivity comes early in the morning or after the kids are in bed. So get up early (or work later in the evening) and respond to emails. Added bonus: if your boss sees that you sent an email at 6:30 am or 11:45 pm, their confidence in your work ethic will surely be cemented.
- Take advantage of your kids’ naptimes to work on challenging assignments that require your complete focus. While you’re at it, schedule “quiet-imperative” work-related phone calls for this window of uninterrupted time. Reserve less challenging or low priority tasks for when your children are up and about.
- On the flip side, plan for interruptions. They’re inevitable. Try setting up an activity area in your office with a kid-sized desk where they can pretend-work while you catch up on less pressing matters. Be prepared to hit the mute button during calls for those unexpected outbursts of joy or woe.
- Set boundaries for children, starting with your office or workspace. “Children learn through repetition, which is why your kids want to do the same task or read the same book again and again,” writes Heather Levin for moneycrashers.com “You can use the power of repetition to teach your children what to do and, more importantly, what not to do when you absolutely must be left alone.”
- Let your younglings know that if your office door is closed, they can knock one time and if you don’t respond it means you’re on the phone or deep in thought. Practise makes perfect, so practise, practise, practise.
- Be creative with your nonverbal “Do Not Disturb” messages. If you have an office door, put out a sign, or tie a ribbon to the door handle when interruptions are an absolute no go, outside of emergencies. If you’re working from the kitchen or another common space, some novel suggestions include sporting a tiara, a superhero cap, or a hat of your child’s choice when you’re not to be bothered.
- Block off a period of quiet time play for every day at the same time. Keep a few new or well-loved toys stashed away – bring them out for quiet play during work time.
- Arrange virtual play dates with friends and family.
- Use online activities like yoga, music lessons or jam sessions, zoo visits, virtual Disney rides, doodle sessions and story streaming sites to keep older kids entertained.
- Above all else, resist the temptation to throw on a load of laundry, start the next meal, or put the house back in order during your work blocks. Use them wisely to focus on your most important work.
For a little bit of levity, check out this video from parents in Spain illustrating the reality of confinement with a four-year-old. “Go easy on yourself and manage your expectations,” advises Julie Freedman Smith, co-founder of ParentingPower.ca. After all, this too shall pass.
Bell, Gail & Freedman-Smith, Julie. Tools for the Trade: Home with Kids: Step ONE, Parenting Power, Podcast, March 23, 2020 https://parentingpower.podbean.com/e/tools-for-the-trade-home-with-the-kids-step-one/
Campbell, Deena. 17 fascinating + fun virtual activities to entertain you and your kids during the coronavirus outbreak, Motherly, March 20, 2020 https://www.mother.ly/lifestyle/virtual-activities-to-entertain-kids-during-self-quarantine?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1
Ho, Solarina. Help! I’ve got kids, what do I do? Tips for parents working from home, CTV News, March 16, 2020. https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/help-i-ve-got-kids-what-do-i-do-tips-for-parents-working-from-home-1.4855001
Lea Foster, Brooke. How to Master Working From Home—While Under Quarantine With Kids, Parents.com, March 30, 2020. https://www.parents.com/parenting/work/life-balance/how-to-master-being-a-work-at-home-mom/
Levin, Heather. How to Work from Home if You Have Kids – 9 Pro Tips, Money Crashers. https://www.moneycrashers.com/work-from-home-kids/
Mallafré, Pol & Pazos, Anna. The Reality of Confinement with Your Four-Year-Old, BBC Reel, Video, March 31, 2020. https://www.bbc.com/reel/video/p0885wz7/the-reality-of-confinement-with-a-four-year-old
Patel Thompson, Avni. A Guide for Working (From Home) Parents, Harvard Business Review, March 19, 2020. https://hbr.org/2020/03/a-guide-for-working-from-home-parents
WireCutter staff, How to Stay Sane When Working from Home with Children, New York Times, March 5, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/05/smarter-living/wirecutter/how-to-stay-sane-when-working-from-home-with-children.html