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Parenting Strategies When You Work from Home

Having trouble convincing those around you that “work from home” means you are in fact working, not sitting around waiting to run errands for them? Even the most well meaning spouse, parent, child or friend can forget that just because your boss doesn’t see you leaving the office, it does not mean you can skip out any time they want you to.

We’ve done some research on how veteran work-from-home parents handle the inevitable pull of family responsibilities with the need to be productive in their work. Below are some of the best ways to be successful in both.

Decide What Works for You

No all remote workers feel the same way about integrating parenting time into their work day. And depending on the work you do, different employers don’t always feel the same way, either. If you are an entrepreneur you may have much more flexibility to carve out personal time during the day than if you are a remote worker coordinating schedules with a larger team.

In my case, the flexibility to pick the kids up, participate in school events, help my parents when they need it and give time to causes I believe in are a big draw to the remote working lifestyle. So I do not mind carving out some time during the day, but have worked with my family to establish that I do still need to get a certain amount of work done each day/week. So my husband knows that if I need to be the one to help chaperone the kids’ field trip one day, he’ll likely be parenting solo part of the weekend so I can make up the time.

Decide for yourself, is your workweek a fluid set of hours that can be carved out at creative times during the week, or do you need to maintain a traditional (9:00ish to 5:00ish) work week.

Set Boundaries

The best way to get your family to respect your work time is to clearly identify boundaries and to communicate them consistently.

Work Space - Establish a consistent work space in your home. Make sure that everyone knows that when you are in this space, you should not be disturbed. If you are a nomadic home worker (I tend to migrate from kitchen table to couch to office through the day), that is fine. But my family knows that when I am in my office with the door closed they DO NOT DISTURB.

Work Time - Equally important is establishing work hour boundaries. If you are taking calls when the kids return home from school, make sure they understand you are not available to them then.

Communicate Your Boundaries

There are many ways to communicate your work status in both serious and fun ways.

Office rules - this is really to help you establish in your own mind what your plan is, as well as communicate to those who will impact your ability to achieve it.

Things to include in your office rules list:

  • Anticipated office hours. Yes, this can be flexible, but it is helpful for you and your family to know that you consider 4:00 PM work time, not ask 100 homework questions time.
  • Acceptable interruptions. This is especially important for the kids, to help them decide what warrants an interruption and what does not. I’m bored = no. I need a snack = no. I started a fire when making my own snack = yes.
  • Dress policy. This is for you. Have fun with it to help motivate you to get into work mode each morning and can help your family see that you are changing from home mode to work mode. Dressy sweats (yoga pants and non logoed tops) works for me, unless I have a video conference planned. Then I go business casual and my family can tell I am off limits.
  • Acceptable equipment use. Can the family use the printer? The scanner? The computer? What happens if they use up all the paper and forget to tell anyone?.
  • Do not disturb indicators. No matter how you do it, you will benefit from a locked door, sign, pillow, on-air light or some other indicator that shows you can not be disturbed. Just ask this dad who was interrupted doing a BBC interview.

Put Kids to Work

Getting your children invested in the work that you are doing can help motivate them to give you the time and space that you need, or at the very least distract them for long enough to give you some time to work.

Create a list of age appropriate "assignments" that you can give your children and explain to them how much their participation will help you succeed in your job. For toddlers, it can be as simple as asking them to draw a picture of a rainbow that you can send to your team to inspire them to be creative with the project they are working to finish. Follow up by sharing the drawing with your co-workers and relaying the gratitude you are sure to receive back to the artist. For older kids ask for their help with simple office chores such as stuffing envelopes, shredding papers (the old fashioned way with scissors) or building a cardboard fort for the dog (keep the canine family members occupied, too). 

Be Flexible

We all have different work styles and work responsibilities. Find what level of office structure works for you, communication it well and include your children in the joys of successful work day.

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