The dog is barking. There’s leftover cake in the fridge. And those shoes you’ve been coveting keep stalking you on social media, practically demanding that you buy them. Distractions have always been an occupational hazard of working from home. Now that schools and daycare facilities are closed because of COVID-19, many WFH parents are adding childcare into the mix, which can raise the distraction factor exponentially. Babies need feeding (holding, rocking); toddlers need constant supervision; grade-schoolers are navigating their classes online. Even teenagers—who don’t “need” you as much—can still interrupt your workday by blasting the TV while you’re on a videoconference with clients or colleagues or having a relationship meltdown when you’re on deadline. On some days, it can make you yearn for the child-free space of your onsite office.
On the bright side, working from home means you don’t have to commute to an office, freeing up time you can spend with your children. It can be fun to take a mid-morning walk or have lunch together, and you’re less likely to miss some of those really cool parent moments. But how to find a working (and workable) balance? To help you make the most of this time while minimizing the intrusions on your workday, we’ve compiled the five best advice articles for parents working remotely.
1. Be Realistic About Your Situation
Working from home with kids around isn’t the most natural work environment. Recognize that and be realistic about what you can and can’t do from home, says Nicole Roder, a freelance writer and mother of four who’s been homeschooling two of her children for the past three years, in a Business Insider guide.
If having kids at home makes it impossible to work from 9 to 5, Roder recommends finding other hours of the day to get things done: “at night, after bedtime, or early in the morning before anyone is up.” And if you can’t carve out enough work hours in a typical day, Roder says, consider taking some paid time off (PTO) from pooled sick or vacation days, or working fewer hours each week if you can afford it. She says she logs 25 hours in a typical week, which helps her avoid burnout.
2. Appreciate Family Time
PBS SoCal suggests parents shift their perspective and focus on the benefits of working from home rather than on the loss of productivity. Parents who work from home get to spend time helping with homework and eating meals with their children, rather than picking them up at daycare or driving them to and from school and extracurricular activities. That makes parents happier people, which translates into more productive work, according to research from the University of Warwick.
That said, the work has to get done, which is why David Callaghan, PBS’s own crowdfunding manager, recommends giving each family member specific workspaces for heads-down work. You might try posting a big, brightly colored schedule, showing everyone’s daily tasks. And let your kids help make it—that can increase their willingness to follow it.
3. Admit It. Working from Home with Children Is Hard.
As much as you may want to be a do-it-all parent, on many days you’ll feel like you’re struggling, says Karen Alpert, a blogger and New York Times bestselling author. In her Fast Company article, “Why Being a Work-from-Home Parent is the Worst of Both Worlds,” she urges parents to admit how difficult it is to work from home with kids.
“Being a stay-at-home mom is hard, and being a working mom is hard, but being a work-at-home mom is the suckiest choice of all,” Alpert says. “It’s not about seeing your kids too much or too little. It’s about ignoring your kid—a lot—and feeling like you’re constantly failing them throughout the day.”
We’re not saying you should give up. But you should cut yourself some slack if you’re feeling like a failure as a parent and an employee. There’s no way that WFH with kids is going to be easy, or perfect. But you may find some solace knowing that others struggle with this arrangement just as much as you do.
4. Communicate with Your Family and Colleagues
Your first instinct may be to put on a brave face and try to power through this difficult time, but hiding your struggles isn’t the best way to approach the situation, according to Ariel Rule, a blogger for the project management software firm Trello, in “A Remote Work Guide for Parents.”
“It’s better to let your team know if things happening at home are preventing you from being as productive as usual, than to pretend like you have everything under control while your output or quality of work suffers,” Rule says. By communicating, you can then “re-prioritize with your coworkers and managers if needed.”
Improving your communication with family members also will help you be more productive in both your personal and your professional life. Rule advises setting boundaries with your kids and letting them know that when you’re in your office or workspace, that’s your time for work; when you’re not, you can play.
5. Take Advantage of Tools
Technology won’t solve every WFH-while-parenting issue, but it can help. Wirecutter, a product review site from the New York Times, has rounded up some of the best tools for work-at-home parents.
Among their favorites are headsets that make it easy to quickly mute yourself—a must-have if a wailing child barges in on an important meeting. Or check out white-noise machines that cover up unwanted sounds when you’re on calls, as well as camouflage distracting noises from outside your workspace. Some products are even simpler, like a baby carrier that allows parents of infants to multitask. So-called babywearing “can reduce crying among infants, and sometimes it’s just the trick to get your baby to calm down or nap long enough for you to complete a call or finish an errand.”
Being a working parent, especially one who works from home with kids around, is a special challenge. But using these strategies and tools can make both jobs a little easier. They also can increase your productivity and satisfaction while helping you find more enjoyment at home with your children. And take heart from the fact that one day, schools and daycare will reopen and your kids can get out of your office.