The COVID-19 pandemic brought about many changes to the way Australians live and work. One of those changes was the rise of working from home (sometimes while looking after children, who were also schooling at home).
As a freelancer with five sons, here are my top tips for making the best of this challenging situation.
12 tips for working at home with kids
Debrief your kids
How much information you give your children depends on their ages, but it’s important that they have some sense of what’s going on in the world so they understand the shift in dynamics. Explain what your family’s new normal needs to look like and brainstorm ways to make the situation positive and productive for everyone involved.
Set up a schedule
Most people thrive on routine, including children. Have clear expectations around daily timetables. Make sure to delineate the school/workday from leisure time so as not to lose momentum. Conform to your kids’ natural routine as much as you can (which is obviously easier if your role runs 9-5). Build in breaks, plan for after-school play, and wind down on evenings and / or weekends.
Get ready for the day
Visual clues are crucial when it comes to creating a professional environment at home. You don’t need to put on a business suit, but you do need to get out of your pyjamas. Kids, too. School-aged children can even continue wearing uniforms if it helps. Prepare whatever you’d normally put in a lunchbox and you won’t have to organize food until afternoon—or go broke feeding kids who think distance education is an excuse to empty the fridge.
Triage your responsibilities
Rank tasks according to their importance, then rank them again in terms of how much attentiveness they require. Do your most important jobs early in the day, when kids are usually at their best. Use the baby’s naps / the toddler’s video / the teen’s study session for work that requires real concentration, and save the stuff you can manage with interruptions and commotion around you for later.
Break up projects
Kids have short attention spans and constant physical needs, so you’re going to have to get used to working in quick bursts with laser focus. Parse your workload out into small, manageable components, and tackle them in stages as time allows.
No matter how well you set up, plan, and communicate, working with kids by your side is not going to be the same as working in an outside office or while a grandparent pitches in with child care. You’ll need strict self-discipline, you’ll have to keep track of your children’s whereabouts and activities even as you attempt to filter out their noise, and you’ll have to accept that kids will only tolerate your distraction if you distract them first.
Adjust your set-up
Teens doing electronic coursework mightn’t mind if you retreat to a home office and close the door for a couple hours, but younger children don’t take kindly to distancing and it’s not a safe option with really young children. Share your workspace, or relocate to a common area. Think of it as hot-desking on an open-plan floor. As an added bonus, having your work easily accessible means you can do bits and pieces whenever the opportunity presents itself.
This is basically parallel play with a professional twist. Get older kids reading, filling out workbooks, or learning online beside you. Little ones can colour or play with LEGO. Model commitment to individual duties and encourage children to follow suit.
Use bribes and rewards
Adults look forward to a morning coffee, afternoon chocolate, or evening cocktail to balance out a hard day’s work; they also get paid for their labour. Don’t overlook the power of a well-timed treat when it comes to buying kids’ patience and cooperation. Offer to play a board game with pre-schoolers if they give you half an hour to finish something up. Let teens muck around on social media during morning tea if they get stuck back into studying straight after.
Limit your reliance on devices
Phones and computers are like a red flag to a bull as far as children are concerned. Shift as much as you can to paper. Kids will be more inclined to leave you to it if you’re writing notes on the kitchen island than if you’re sitting in front of a screen “ignoring” them.
Maximise your time
If you have young children who still nap, do nothing but work while they’re sleeping. Take advantage of any flexibility you have with your hours by getting up a little bit earlier to bang out an assignment, or catch up on tasks later in the evening after the rest of your household has settled down. Accept that the way you used to structure your time probably needs modifying, and tweak accordingly.
If you’re working from home with a partner as well as kids, capitalise on the support you can offer each other. Talk to your partner about taking turns being the active-duty parent, and make sure the kids know who’s in charge so they don’t bother the working parent at an inconvenient time.
No one knows for sure what’s around the corner with the coronavirus for Australian families, but if you’re fortunate enough to stay employed, working from home with kids is manageable in some capacity with a little preparation and a LOT of adaptability!