How to Adjust to Working Remotely With Kids

Mother holding daughter and working from home
••• Ariel Skelley / Getty Images

What’s the best way to adjust to remote work if you have children? The COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way people work. Parents are trying to juggle work and family life in the midst of a pandemic. Companies are finding solutions that allow workers to handle business remotely, often while watching children.

School systems, daycares, and babysitters are canceling and closing. Working from home is already a huge change for some workers. Working without childcare is an even bigger challenge. 

“Usually your kids are in school,” says Jill Felska, Director of People and Culture at Limelight Health, provider of cloud-based enterprise software solutions for the employee benefits industry. “Working remotely is a big enough change, but this is a completely new version of working from home.”

The Balance Careers spoke to Felska and to Tania Luna, CEO of Lifelabs Learning, a leadership development company that helps managers, executives, and teams master life’s most useful skills.

5 Tips for Working From Home With Kids

These experts discuss how employees and managers can learn to work at home with kids. Here are five crucial tips that they have come up with.

1. Set Up a Practical Office Space

Your workspace is extremely important. Being comfortable is critical, and so is physically separating work and life. However, it’s hard to separate completely if you live in a small space that is also currently occupied by other family members.

“It can be a little corner of your studio apartment. Negotiate that space: this is work only,” says Luna. “We’re context creatures. We make really quick associations.”

Don’t work on your couch, for example. Instead, work at a separate desk of some kind. This will reduce stress on your home life, including your children.

Any stressful work situation is going to seep into your couch, Luna notes. “Ask yourself, how do you localize work into a specific space, and how do you do it so you’re not distracted? For example, some people use a laptop for work, and only use a tablet for anything personal. Work with your kids to co-create a do-not-disturb sign or even put up caution tape.”

2. Be Flexible About Hours Worked

Parents are coming up with creative ways to get their work done. Felska encountered one couple in which the wife works for about four hours while her husband homeschools their child. Then, they switch. 

The director believes that these kinds of arrangements will help employees live their lives while increasing their trust in their companies. “When you trust people to do their work, that’s when the respect comes back to you," she says

Luna notes that managers could adjust more easily to remote life if they worry about results rather than their employees’ behavior at any given moment.

“Release your need to get butts in seats, and shift the focus more to the business outcome,” Luna advises. “What if you could never know how much time someone is spending working? What if you could just focus on the outcome and the deadline? That’s a good way to lead whether you’re remote or in person, because it strips you of the micromanaging tendency, which is a killer of productivity.” 

3. Create a Structured, Healthy Home Routine

While working from home, it’s tempting to wear pajamas all day, skip the shower, and snack poorly. However, experts say that falling into these habits will weigh on your psyche. Show your kids that you are truly at work.

“It is important to get up and shower as if you’re getting into an office,” says Felska. “It can be fun at first to just throw up your hair and wear pajamas, but eventually you get an icky feeling. You want to put yourself in a different mindset as if you’re going to work.” 

Luna suggests eating healthy, drinking plenty of water, and using your previous commute time to do something positive, such as working out or cooking a leisurely breakfast. 

According to Luna, “Create start-up and wrap-up rituals with your kids that signal that you’re going into work mode or coming home, such as stretching, putting on shoes, or playing a song."

Luna continues, "You can have something that you look forward to at the beginning and end of the day that not only will help you prepare for work but will also provide resilience and stress reduction while we’re in the midst of so much uncertainty.”

4. Define Clear Communication Expectations

Once communication technology—such as Zoom, Slack, or other outlets—is set up, it’s up to managers to define expectations clearly and fairly. You don’t want one person on Slack 24-7 while another employee gets back to you only once a day.

A lack of expectations can be particularly stressful for parents.

“Talk about what type of communications you’re using, and what the expectations are,” Felska recommends. “Outside of meetings, managers should define how long it is before they expect a response. They should set parameters and over-communicate. Speak to the concerns that your team members are having that they may not be bringing to you. ‘What happens if I’m away from my desk for an hour?’ ‘What if my kids are in a fight and I have to figure out the LEGO situation?’”

5. Be Flexible and Forgiving About Life Situations

According to Felska and Luna, now is not the time to micromanage. Managers must be flexible when it comes to employees, especially employees with children. Similarly, employees must be forgiving toward themselves. 

“This is uncharted territory,” Felska admits. “Some days are great. Some days, you wish you were getting out of the house more but can’t. Give yourselves and everyone else some grace.” 

Luna adds that video conferencing might reveal some things that we’re not used to seeing, but that’s okay. 

“Managers should say, ‘You’re going to see my laundry, you’re going to see my kids running around, my dogs, etc.’ I think that face time is much more important than attempting to keep a professional demeanor. Just normalize it.”

Key Takeaways

Set Up an Office Space. Even a desk or table tucked away in a corner will give you some private space to work.

Create a Healthy Work Environment. Set up a starting and ending work routine, so you keep some definition between home and work.

Be Flexible. Flexibility is key to success in working in a crisis. Try creative options for juggling work and family life.

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