The pandemic led many people who hadn’t considered working from home to start. And while some of us may have adjusted to video calls (so many video calls), working at the kitchen table, and a new sense of work-life balance, many have found working from home challenging. Whether you’re sharing a WFH workspace with your roommates or your toddler, your partner or your dog, your parents or your houseplants, everyone is doing their best to adjust to this new normal. But we recognize that it can be 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. And the way everyone works best varies too. Maybe you have to be in front of your laptop from 9-5 or maybe you can work more flexible hours. You might need to help your child with online lessons most afternoons or to give your dog an extra walk every day now that you’re home all the time. Maybe you really need to get away from your noisy roommates — whether they’re your friends or your kids — to write up reports or maybe it’s easy for you to send emails with your loved ones nearby. Whatever these specifics look like for you, they should shape your day.
You’ll also want to consider when you need and want to be working, if you have some say in that matter, and what sort of an arrangement will make you happiest or help you feel your most balanced. 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? Do you want to take a midday break to work out or start dinner? Does agreeing to a set schedule every day help or would you rather allow each day to be more flexible?
For a lot of us, working from home is a challenging balancing act. So as much as possible, think about what works best for you, use the shape of your workday to your advantage, and speak up when you think you would benefit from a new daily schedule.
If you and your partner are both working from home with kids, 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
While you may be able to sit and work, head down in your laptop, from 9-5, that doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Take regular breaks to get up, stretch, and take a breather — set an alarm reminder if you need to. If you live with other people, it can also be meaningful to take breaks to reconnect with them — a lunch break is a great time to step away from work, get a little nourishment, and chat. And if you’re a parent, it’s important to make time to connect with your little one. 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 because you live with roommates and don’t have much private, quiet space available. Many employers are doing what they can to be flexible and make accommodations 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 everyone you live with about the realities of your job right now too. You can even do this with 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.” And 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 separate home office. If you’re working in a common space, like at your kitchen 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 everyone you live with that you’re done for the day.
If you’re home with children, 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 “In a meeting!” note written 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. You might, for example, 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, jump headfirst into the day, and before you know it it’s the afternoon and you’re still in your pajamas. 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.