If you’ve found yourself flung into managing work life from home with young kids in tow, here’s a quick guide to getting work done during the era of social distancing.
As the COVID-19 crisis changes both our work and home lives as we now know it, many are finding themselves working at home with the added responsibility while simultaneously caring for and home-schooling children. This pandemic couldn’t have been predicted, and the fundamental changes to our lives can feel overwhelming, confusing and at times, insurmountable — especially for parents trying to do it all.
If you find yourself in the situation of playing the role of a professional, parent and teacher all at once — first, be kind to yourself. No one has this situation figured out, and whatever you are doing is the best you can do in the circumstances you have been given.
There’s no one-size-fits all rule with how to manage your child whilst working at home simultaneously. Your stress and productivity levels will likely change with your new workload and responsibilities; it’s not reasonable to expect yourself to produce the same quality and quantity of work you previously would have — one person is only capable of so much at once. However, there are simple tips you can enact to make the balancing act easier on yourself.
At Invoice2go, we’ve been supporting self-employed professionals and small businesses across the world for over a decade — and we’re here to support you now, as you navigate the new challenges which social distancing has presented.
For all the working-for-home-now parents out there, we’ve combined a mixture of tips, tricks and strategies for juggling it all. The list below will help you manage your children while working from home. We’ve divided our suggestions by age groups for easy reading — we know you’re probably multi-tasking even as you skim this article.
Our tips for working from home with young kids in tow, divided by age:
If your child is a baby.
Working from home with a newborn or young baby is never easy for anyone — whether there’s a pandemic happening or not. Facing the challenges of sleep-deprivation, constant care and feeding, you are likely being pulled in many directions — both mentally and emotionally.
For a good work-from-home life with a baby in tow, it’s all about smart scheduling and if possible, support from your co-parent or spouse.
If you have a co-parent or spouse, taking turns can make all the difference. When even picking up a Zoom call without being interrupted by a hungry baby feels virtually impossible, enlist your partner and some clever scheduling to help. If your partner’s schedule is packed during the day, ask your team or clients if they wouldn’t mind scheduling a call or meeting at night, or when your partner is more available to take care of your little one and give you a break.
With or without a co-parent or spouse to help, experiment with different working hours. As a new parent, it’s almost impossible to work straight through a typical 9-5 day without interruptions. It might be much easier to get your work done by harnessing the peaceful hours of the day — whatever those hours may be.
Create a working schedule that works with the baby’s nap schedule, and share it out with your team. Block off regular feeding hours in your Google calendar so that you aren’t doing everything at once and you can spend that time connecting with your child. You deserve to have flexibility as a new parent, and it isn’t unreasonable to schedule “meetings” with your little one. Make sure that you communicate these hours with your clients and team effectively, so that they know when they can reach you and when they can’t.
While it may not seem like it now, but this baby time will go quickly, and while you likely won’t reminisce about those old Zoom meetings one day, the time you spent with your little one will remain a cherished time forever.
If your child is a toddler.
When working at home with a toddler, it’s very likely you’ll require a tag team of assistants and a very good set of safety measures.
Wide-eyed and at awe with the wonders of the world, your toddler may be unpredictable and need eyes on them at all times. Unfortunately for parents everywhere, this curiosity often leads to them sticking their little fingers into things they should be getting into, and “taste-testing” all kinds of objects that are not meant to be food.
The first step to toddler working success is setting up a “safe space” for your toddler to roam and play. Maybe it’s an area of your kitchen where there are no outlets, dangerous objects or stairs. Maybe it’s a baby-gated fortress of your own making in the living room. Wherever you create your toddler’s play zone, make sure it’s a place you feel comfortable letting them roam and explore with their favorite objects, snacks and blankets close at hand.
Once you have your toddler’s play space set up, pick a comfy spot adjacent to it to set up your working area. Put as much time into your space as you do into theirs — making sure that you can do what you need to do, with room for your laptop and other equipment (and their cords) safely out of reach of your toddler.
Similar to working with a baby, working with a toddler in tow requires you to get crafty with your scheduling. The early hours of the morning, evening after-bed hours, and nap time are your most valuable hours as a working parent. Try your best to get through the work that requires your undivided attention during these windows of time and push any meetings into them whenever possible. Plan your meetings and Zoom conferences during the windows where a sleeping little one allows you to give your team and clients undivided attention.
Know that it’s okay to relax on your toddler’s screen time limits during this time of pandemic and temporary work-from-home conditions — and don’t criticize yourself as a parent if you need to put on an episode of your child’s favorite show in order to get something out the door in time. If you have an overwhelming amount of work to get through, it’s more than okay for your toddler to enjoy an episode or two so that you can focus. They won’t mind, trust us.
If your child is between the ages of 4-8.
If you’re parenting a 4-8 year old while simultaneously working from home, quality movies, toys and learning games are your friends.
Our first tip for this age group is to pre-prep and systemize meal times as much as possible. Making pre-bagged lunches or a stack of PB&J in the fridge, which your kids can pull from when hungry will save you from needing to stop an important document or meeting to prepare food for your little one. It’s also important to remind children this age of the importance of cleaning up after themselves — in fact, this work-from-home period might be the perfect opportunity to build good clean-up habits for the future, as you likely won’t have much time to sweep up behind them during the day as a work-from-home parent.
Whilst social distancing, it’s important to avoid large gatherings — however, if you have a friend or relative with similarly-aged nearby, it may be possible to organize safe play dates and take turns in minding the children to get work done. This comes down to your local laws and regulations — so keep updated with what you can and can not do before arranging any play date.
If play-dates aren’t currently an option and you have a partner, we recommend playing tag team and rotating parenting duties, just as you would with a small baby. Whether you switch off hour by hour, or by the half day, playing tag can allow you both to maximize productivity during the time you have without minding your children and schedule meetings when you know you’ll be “off duty” as a parent.
It’s likely that children at this age have lots of things to be excited over — whether they love dressing up as their favorite movie character, an FaceTime or phone call with a friend or relative, or playing imaginary games with their siblings. Make the most of these activities by keeping a list visible in your home — perhaps on a white board or chalkboard — to remind your children of all the fun options they have for play in times when they are bored.
Another method for freeing up space to work is investing in a tub of “quiet activities.” Drawing, coloring-in, building and playdough are all examples of quiet activities which encourage creative problem-solving and imagination. Investing in supplies for a few of these activities and keeping them in an easy-to-reach, low shelf can save you time and energy, as young children can reach for an activity or set and set up their own playtime when they become bored in the house.
During this period, it’s fine to let your child watch a movie during the day or play a safe, educational game online if you need that extra time to finish off your daily tasks. Relax your typical screen time rules for the sake of this being an unforeseen historical event — if you need to get something particularly pressing out the door, your child won’t be harmed by an extra hour online, especially if they are engaged in an activity that benefits their young mind.
If your child is between the ages of 9-12.
The pre-teen era is a particularly fun era for parents — even for parents trying to get work done from home. At this age, you become a consultant for planning your child’s day, rather than a boss.
To avoid the “I’m bored” blues, treat your child like a colleague. Start your day with a breakfast meeting over which you review the day’s possibilities and agenda. Sit down together over cereal or pancakes and make a list of all the fun activities your child could do during the day along with homework and educational activities while you work. After listing these, encourage your child to make it into a nice looking schedule they can stick on their mirror, or on the fridge to work their way through during the day.
Allocate certain areas of your home as ‘fun zones.” This can be an awesome way to keep them entertained — perhaps set up an art zone, a “kid gym,” a quiet reading zone and even a dance zone where your kid can make TikTok videos and send to friends.
Work with your child to make things as fun as possible, whilst giving each other the space to enjoy your separate activities. It’s important to communicate with your kid — let your child know when you will be working and for how long, so they can do their part in being respectful and letting you have space to work, just as if you were in the office.
To keep your child entertained and prevent them from interrupting your work, try creating a makeshift letterbox on both of your doors and ask them to pop anything they want to tell you into your “letterbox.” Once you are finished your work shift, you can read your letters and reply with some in your child’s letterbox.
Adjusting to this “new normal” way of managing work and family life from home won’t happen overnight, but it’s not an impossible mission! Checking in with your work-from-home friends who are parents and share advice — you’ll see that you aren’t the only one finding your footing in this new world.
Learning to switch off from work and transition into your “home self” can be one of the most important parts in chartering this new territory. Whether this works in the form of family board games, walks around the block, or quiet time reading together — discover what it is that works to separate your family time from work and dive into these simple rituals. Whatever you choose to do, know that you are doing great and don’t be too hard on yourself — parents don’t need to be perfect to raise happy, healthy kids.
Remember, whatever you can manage while working from home and raising kids will be just fine. Keep your heads up, Supermoms and Superdads!