Parents who are working at home right now are stuck between a rock and a hard place. We have to care for our kids and also — somehow? — get work done. With schools and daycares closed and many families without their usual caregivers because of social distancing, parents are doing their best to adjust to this new normal. But it’s a struggle. Here, a few ideas for how to get your work done, manage family responsibilities, and not completely burn out in the process.
Make your workday work for you
Everyone’s work and home responsibilities are different. For some people, it’s entirely reasonable to get work done and be present with their children. Others may need to step away and work in a separate space. For a lot of us, it’s a mix of this, depending on what kind of work we need to do at any given moment. Maybe you can answer email while your little one builds a block tower nearby, but you need to make important clients calls in your office while they nap. These specifics should shape your day. You’ll also want to consider when you need and want to be working and what your needs at home are. Do you prefer to wrap up your last bits of work after hours when your kids are asleep, or do you want that time to be off limits? Does your school age child need help logging into online classes? Does agreeing to a set schedule for your whole family help? As much as possible, use the shape of your workday to help you get what you need done at work and at home — or at least most days, fingers crossed.
If you and your partner are both working from home, take shifts
A fairly simple solution to a rather big challenge: one of you works, while the other takes care of your little one, and then you switch. You can work in large swaths of time, like a morning and evening shift, or switch every couple of hours. It might be best for you to have a set schedule every day or maybe you need to be more flexible, adapting to meetings, calls, and deadlines. If your schedule looks different from day to day, just make sure you review it together each week, or even just in the morning every day, so that you’re both on the same page and no one misses a meeting or deadline. This solution isn’t perfect — it can be hard to step back and set a schedule when you’re drowning in to-dos, but many dual WFH parents have found this to be their best option.
Take breaks to recharge and reconnect with your family
If your child is very young, they might have a hard time with you working apart from them all day; they might need some quality time with you throughout the day. Meals can be a great time to reconnect, as can nap time. Find some time to play, or get outside together (if it’s safe to do so where you live). These moments also help to break up your workday and give you a way to recharge — everyone needs regular breaks from their work.
Set clear expectations and boundaries, and ask for what you need to succeed
As much as you’re comfortable doing so, be honest with your employer about your reality at home — maybe you prefer not to take meetings midday so that you can put your baby down for a nap, or you need to ask coworkers to email rather than video call you when possible. Many employers are doing what they can to be flexible and make accommodations for working parents right now, but this is new for everyone, and your employer might not know you’re struggling with something until you tell them. Similarly, you might not know if a change can be made until you ask for it. Be honest with your family about the realities of your job right now too, even with your kids in an age-appropriate way, you might say, “I have to go work in my office during your TV time so that I don’t have to work after dinner.” Ask for help when you need it.
Have a designated work space
An easy way to get into the groove of starting your work day is to actually sit down at a designated work space — maybe this is a desk in the corner of your bedroom, or a home office. If you’re working in a common space, like at your dining room table, it helps to transform that space while you’re working, at least a little bit. Put all of your work things on the table to start your day (laptop, notebook, pen, headset, etc.) so you have everything you need in one place. And at the end of the workday clean it up, to signal to yourself and your family that you’re done for the day.
Give them a sign
It can be challenging for little ones to understand that, yes, you’re home with them, but you’re also sometimes unavailable because you’re working. Children can benefit from a very clear visual marker that communicates when you’re unavailable — something like a handmade red and green “STOP/GO” sign for little kids or a simple “I’m working” note scrawled on a whiteboard for bigger kids can do the job.
Use transitions to your benefit
Clear transitions or rituals can help mark the start and end of your work day and are always useful, but particularly so when you’re missing out on your usual routines. Instead of starting your day by stopping at a coffee shop or walking to the bus, start some new at home rituals. Sit down to work with a cup of coffee in your favorite mug, or end the day by walking your dog or playing a favorite game with your little one.
Dress for success
We’re not necessarily saying that you need to give up your leggings, but clothing is a powerful tool that can shape your mood. And, let’s be honest, it can be so easy right now to just roll out of bed, start caring for your kids, dig into answering emails, and realize it’s lunch time before you even realize you’re still in your pajamas. It can help to get dressed for your work day in a way that helps you feel good, whether that’s cozy sweats or your favorite dress.
Know when you’re off the clock
When you’re working from home, it’s so easy for work to bleed into all hours of your day. If you can, set clear hours when you’re off the clock. Work is important, but you need and deserve time to step away to care for yourself and to be fully present with your family.