Career Development

A Guide to Working From Home With Kids

March 25, 2020

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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.

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Balancing work and kids at home

During times like these, it is important to prioritise 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 fortnightly 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. Practise 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 optimise where possible for team meetings 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.

For example:

  • 8am - 10am: Breakfast and inside playtime (no screens)
  • 10am - 12pm: Outside playtime (weather permitting)
  • 12pm - 12:30pm: Lunch
  • 12:30pm - 2pm: Rest and alone time
  • 2:30pm - 4:30pm: Group project (Art, science, cooking, etc.)
  • 4:30pm - 5pm: TV on until dinner
  • Regular evening routine

If available to you, consider taking time off—especially when you need a break.

Related: How to Stay Focused When You Work From Home

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.

For coworkers…

  • 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 details in a case where they absolutely need to get in touch with you during an off period. Explain that your contact information should only be used in specific situations.

For kids…

  • 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 a closet

  • Work with your kids 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 organisations are offering free resources including online classes, arts and crafts and physical exercises. Here are a few:

  • Cool Australia: Offers educators free access to curriculum materials including units, lessons and activities across a range of topics. Also offers a free digital library containing videos, documentaries, images, articles and more to students to help them with their studies.
  • For Teachers For Students: Their free educational resources are available to everyone, meaning registration is not required to download any resources. They have a variety of resources available, including interactive quizzes, games, activity sheets, videos and lesson ideas.
  • Kidspot: Art projects for all ages.
  • ABC Behind the News: News geared towards primary and secondary students. Their free articles help parents explain what is happening in the world to their kids.
  • Reachout.com: Free activities to help kids cope with stress and difficult situations.
  • School TV: A video that helps parents talk to their children about COVID-19 to help reassure and inform them at the same time.
  • Khan Academy: Free learning centre in 40 languages with content for parents, teachers and learners (starting ages 2+ with Khan Academy 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 Technique 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 help you feel rested.

You can also consider taking some time to call or chat with someone who is dealing with something similar. This can be 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 a bit easier.

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