Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, working from home was becoming increasingly common. However, in the wake of the coronavirus, work from home (or WFH for short) has become the new norm — and a lot of professionals are working from home with kids.
In this article, we’re taking a deep dive into how to work from home with kids, how to create a workspace at home, and how to develop a manageable work-from-home schedule that your whole family can benefit from.
Why is there an increase in work from home parents?
According to research out of Stanford, 42% of the U.S. labor force is working from home full time. The cause of this new “working from home economy” is clear: the coronavirus pandemic.
According to Nicholas Bloom, an economics professor and senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, “The stigma associated with working from home prior to COVID-19 has disappeared.” What’s more, Bloom says that a number of corporations are developing plans for more work from home options beyond the pandemic. In fact, a separate survey indicated that “the share of working days spent at home is expected to increase fourfold from pre-COVID levels, from 5% to 20%.”
Naturally, many of these now-remote employees are working from home with kids. On top of that, many of those children are attending virtual school from home. That means these work from home parents are not only adjusting to new working environments and a work from home schedule for themselves, but they’re also balancing their jobs with their duties as parents, tutors, and classroom assistants to their children.
Common challenges of working from home with kids
The challenges of working from home with kids can vary greatly depending on factors like how many kids you have at home, their ages, and any special accommodations or needs they may have. For instance, a newborn baby or a toddler will likely require more time and attention than a high-schooler, although teenagers present plenty of unique challenges of their own.
Some of the most common challenges facing work from home parents include:
Maintaining a regular schedule can be extremely challenging when working from home with kids. Not only do you have to manage your own time, but you have to manage your children and ensure they’re taking care of their schoolwork, if they’re of school age.
Managing time and a busy work schedule can be even more complicated if your child or children are five years old or younger, which means you must be extra diligent about creating a manageable schedule and having the necessary support systems in place.
Probably the biggest challenge of working from home with children is dealing with interruptions. These always seem to come at the most inopportune times — like when you’re on a Zoom meeting with colleagues, managers, or clients. Even if you’re not in a virtual meeting but are concentrating on a work task, interruptions can derail productivity. In fact, according to one study, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task at hand after an interruption.
Switching from “work mode” to “parent mode”
Another common challenge for work from home parents is switching gears from “work mode” to “parent mode”. This can be tough, even after 5:00 p.m. when most people are typically done with work for the day.
In fact, separating your work life from your home life becomes significantly more challenging when working from home. Work duties and parental duties can easily bleed into one another without the physical separation that comes from working in one distinct location and living in another. This is why creating a designated workspace in your home can be so beneficial for work from home parents.
How to create a workspace at home
The importance of creating a workspace just for you goes beyond the psychology of training your now-WFH brain to recognize work actually needs to be completed in your home. A physical workspace also helps to remind your family that you are, in fact, not 100% available to cater to their every need. Setting down rules on how to get your attention can also help to ensure you get some time to concentrate. A starter project you may even consider giving your child is to make a sign for your office door that you can update with “In a meeting” or “Busy until 2:00” messages.
If creating a physical barrier simply isn’t a possibility (e.g. your kids are too young, you’re the only adult home, etc.), you may instead consider setting up both you and your children in the same room, but perhaps in different corners. One for your work and one for theirs. Many schools are providing online instruction and assignments. Turning half your office into a pseudo-classroom can help everyone stay focused and on task.
Make use of noise-cancellation — for you and your team
We’ve all been in meetings where there is suddenly a siren in the background or other auditory distractions that derail the call. Considering it takes an average of 16 minutes to re-focus after reading an email, reducing the number of distractions both you and your team encounter should be top-of-mind. Now that you and your children have been thrust into the same environment, make use of both a noise-canceling headset and your microphone’s mute button whenever you are on a call. If you’re the only one home, having a video baby monitor available to watch your kids can help you keep an eye on them even if you can’t hear them. If total separation isn’t possible, consider giving the noise-canceling headset to your child (it may help keep them focused on their tasks/entertainment and stop them from attempting to join your meeting).
One handy feature of video conferencing tools like Zoom is a push-to-talk (PTT) option when muting your microphone. Utilizing features like this can further help to reduce background noise and reduce the number of times you have to mute/unmute yourself while on the call.
How to work from home with a baby
Working from home with a baby can be particularly challenging since they require so much time and attention. However, here are a few tips to help you stay productive while tending to your baby.
Take advantage of naps
Most babies tend to take multiple naps throughout the day. If your baby is a napper, you can take advantage of these pockets of time to get some work done. In fact, you may find that tackling your most intensive tasks during naptime is a good strategy, since you know you will have a certain amount of time that’s totally distraction-free while the baby is conked out.
Work when they’re content and calm
Of course, most babies don’t nap the entire day, and you’ll likely have more work than can be done during naptime alone. The second best time to work from home with a baby is when they are at their calmest, typically right after they wake up or after they eat.
Use a baby carrier
Another strategy is to use a carrier that allows you to “wear” your baby while you work. A standing desk setup plus a carrier can help you remain productive while keeping your baby close and content.
Overcommunicate with your colleagues
Nothing spells disaster more than leaving your co-workers in the dark. If they’re unable to get in contact with you to answer questions, collaborate on projects, or get information so they can do their job, the likelihood of something falling through the cracks increases dramatically. Utilizing group chat statuses and clearly defining what hours you’re available can help to let others know what your workload looks like and when you’re available during the day.
To further increase collaboration, consider implementing an online project management tool like Wrike to create a single source of truth for your teams. By keeping all information in one spot and centralizing communication, you can ensure everyone stays well-informed on projects’ and deliverables’ statuses.
Don’t beat yourself up
The fact of the matter is that working from home with kids — particularly a baby — is a real challenge. Do the best you can to communicate with your teammates and managers, create a reasonable work schedule, and be as productive as possible. But also give yourself some grace and try not to get caught up in feeling guilty.
How to create a work from home schedule that works for everyone
Parents know their children’s attention span never seems to last long enough. No matter what project or entertainment you give your kid, you know they’re only going to stay distracted for so long. The good news is you can use this to your advantage to time out your tasks during the day. Studies have shown multitasking is detrimental to productivity, and the advantages of breaking up a large project into smaller ones can also be incredibly helpful. Timing yourself to work on one task at a time should not only help ensure your efficiency, but also help keep an eye on your little ones.
Past individual tasks and daily schedules, creating a shared calendar with project deadlines and milestones can help keep everyone aligned with what needs to be finished by when.
Be (and stay) flexible
We all know something going perfectly to plan almost never happens — especially when taking kids into account. Planning as much as you can will help identify roadblocks and potential issues that may crop up over the next few weeks — but it won’t account for everything. Bake in some flexibility when planning out your time.
Any tools you use to collaborate with your colleagues should be able to handle rapid changes. Dynamically changing due dates on deliverables (and accurately extrapolating that to dependencies) should be something your tools can easily accomplish. This will help to simplify your processes when change occurs.
Wrike can help work from home parents stay on track
The processes that worked for you in the office may no longer work now that you and your team are distributed. Now is the time to look at what your workflow management processes are and see how they can be improved. Doing this now will help to alleviate potential issues from this radical workplace change, better prepare you for future business growth, and minimize familial distractions during the workday.
Wrike’s own remote workforce has been sharing tips and tricks from our home offices all over the world. Additionally, you can take advantage of Wrike’s free trial to learn more about how to manage the future of work.