As COVID-19 continues to spread, companies are taking preventative measures by asking employees to work from home while schools are closing or conducting classes virtually. As a result, many parents are finding themselves at home with kids trying to juggle childcare and productivity.
It’s certainly a big transition to make and many of us may not feel equipped. While there is no perfect or easy solution for all, we’ve outlined suggestions for balancing caring for your family during such a stressful and confusing time, and for trying to maintain your work schedule. If you haven’t already, visit our complete Work From Home Guide.
Balancing work and kids at home
During times like these, it is important to prioritize the health of you and your family. Keeping an open and honest line of communication with your employer can help do so by setting expectations, communicating well and staying aligned.
Here are some additional ways you can balance work and family care while working from home with kids:
1. Over-communicate and set expectations
Work with your manager to set and reset expectations throughout your work from home period as it pertains to your goals and commitments. Many employers are understanding of the difficulty of the situation and may be supportive of your need to adjust your schedule or goals as a result.
If you don’t have one already, you might consider asking your manager and stakeholders for a weekly or biweekly check-in via video chat or phone call. Keeping consistent communication ensures your manager understands the progress you’re making, changes you require and support you may need. Communication is especially important in ensuring a common understanding of the limitations of work from home in addition to being a caregiver.
You may also set expectations during meetings. For example, you might explain upfront that you may need to step away for a few minutes to handle situations that come up, or that a child may walk in and you will step away quietly and return quickly.
2. Practice time management and set a schedule
Block off time as needed for caregiving activities, knowing that not all planned time works out with the unpredictability of little ones. It is completely valid to preserve times throughout the day when you need to be a caregiver. If the option is available, look for opportunities to split time with another caregiver and build your schedule around this.
Communicate to your team and manager which times during the day are unavailable to you. Try to optimize where possible for team syncs and important engagements.
It can help both you and your kids to come up with a basic (and flexible) schedule, perhaps one that mimics a regular school day to maintain consistency. Their schools may even provide an online curriculum.
- 8 - 10 a.m.: Breakfast and inside playtime (no screens)
- 10 a.m. - 12 p.m.: Outside playtime (weather permitting)
- 12 - 12:30 p.m.: Lunch
- 12:30 - 2 p.m.: Rest and alone time
- 2:30 - 4:30 p.m.: Group project (Art, science, cooking, etc.)
- 4:30 - 5 p.m.: Regular evening routine
If available to you, consider taking time off — especially when you need a break.
3. Set boundaries with both work and your kids
Establishing clear boundaries and rules for you, your kids and your coworkers will help everyone understand each other better.
Communicate your availability including when you’ll be shutting down for the day, when you’re taking time off and when you need to be away from your computer throughout the week.
Delegate by taking on what you know is achievable and handing off work you cannot take on when possible. Communicate this with your manager so they understand how you need support.
Provide your emergency contact information in the case that they absolutely need to get in touch with you during an off period. Explain the use cases for your contact information.
Communicate your daily family schedule explaining when you will be present and when you will be unavailable or “at work.”
Find a quiet space where you can have a physical boundary, such as your bedroom, office or even closet.
Work with them to create a sign for your quiet space, such as a thumbs up/thumbs down or stop sign/green light that signals when you should not be disturbed unless there’s an emergency.
4. Take advantage of free resources
In light of the transition, many organizations are offering free resources including online classes, arts and crafts and physical exercises. Here are a few:
- Outschool.com: 10k+ small group video chat classes and free to join
- Teachers Pay Teachers: 3M+ resources tailored to level and interest
- BrainPop: Offering free access to those affected by school shutdowns with 1,000 short animated movies for students in grades K-12 (ages 6 to 17)
- Modulo: Tools and access to learning specialists, free for parents affected by school closures
- Education Companies Offering Free Subscriptions: 1000+ resources compiled by international educators for school closures
- Mystery Science: Offering its most popular content for free due to school closings (K-5)
- Twinkl: Free membership for parents and caregivers due to school closings in Ireland (suitable for parents and caregivers of children in primary schools ages 4-13 in Irish and English)
- Exploratorium Learning Toolbox: COVID-19 science and learning activities and more
- Nasa Kids Club: Resources for parents, teachers and caregivers
- Deep Space Sparkle: Hundreds of activity ideas and free projects
- KinderArt: Art projects for all ages
- GoNoodle: Dance and movement activities for kids
5. Take breaks
It’s important in any job, especially when working from home, and even more so when working from home with kids, to take regular breaks. Doing so can boost productivity and reduce burnout. You might try the Pomodoro Method by focusing for 25 minutes, then taking a mandatory break for five. Try taking a short walk, doing a short exercise video, doing a breathing exercise or other simple activities that make you feel rested.
You can also consider taking some time to call or chat with someone who is dealing with something similar. Doing so is a great way to decompress and stay connected.
While this time can certainly feel stressful and confusing, know that you are not alone. Communicate and set expectations with your employers and colleagues, reach out (virtually) to a friend when you need to decompress, take breaks and set boundaries. Taking small steps like these can help make your time working from home with kids easier.