As the COVID-19 lockdown to prevent the spread of the disease goes into full effect, many dual-career families like mine are grappling with working from home while also caring for children during school and daycare closures. This is particularly stressful for those who have young kids and are away from extended family who could help, while employers still expect us to be just as productive during this time as a normal day in the office.
Making the situation worse is the need for young kids to stay away from their grandparents who otherwise might have been able to visit and assist. With those over 60 being particularly vulnerable, families with young kids are having to make do without external help even if they do have older relatives nearby. You can also forget about alternating childcare coverage with the families in your neighborhood. According to pediatricians, even play dates are ill-advised.
As an entrepreneur, mom, and one half of a dual career couple, here are my best tips for working from home with young kids.
1. Inform the key stakeholders of the situation
It is important to inform and strategize with all the people who will be impacted by the new plan. Start with your spouse or partner to understand when they can care for the kids and be sure to divide up the responsibilities fairly. Don’t make one person responsible for too many consecutive childcare hours with no breaks or kid-free time.
Once you’ve aligned a schedule with your spouse, each of you will need to communicate and discuss this with your respective workplaces. This includes aligning with your managers at work as well as internal or external clients who may be impacted by your modified availability.
You’ll need to let everyone know what to expect and when and how they can reach you. Many families are in a similar boat, so you’ll generally find that everyone will be understanding of the situation.
2. Schedule and stagger coverage with your partner
Pull out a blank spreadsheet and add all the waking hours of the day in one column in 30 min increments. Then add side by side columns named for each person in the family. Write out a schedule for your children and what each person in the family will be doing during each hour. This will help clarify who is free to work and schedule meetings, and who is in charge of the kids.
Here are some tactical tips:
- Get up at 5 a.m. and get in two to three hours of uninterrupted thinking/work time before your kids get up for the day.
- Shorten or postpone meetings that aren’t essential during this time. Many people are also time-crunched and will understand.
- Partners who have more control over their schedule should consider doing more of the childcare hours between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.. For example: In my household, I’ll be doing the split shift and working from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m., noon to 1 p.m., and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. My clients are already on board and may actually prefer this schedule for our video meetings.
- Pick a designated area of the home for each person to do their work or leave their work materials.
3. Plan activities to do with your kids while you are not working
It is a good idea to make being at home fun for you and your kids. Plan activities you can do with them when it’s your shift. This not only gives you a break from your laptop, it also lets them get the attention all kids crave from their parents.
Teach your kids life skills while also getting chores done at the same time. Let your kids help meal-prep for the week, fold laundry, or go through the mail. While these might be boring activities for you, young kids love to help with household tasks.
Incorporate just-for-fun things too, such as a craft activity or baking cookies or treats together. You can purchase arts and crafts supplies online with delivery to your house. Let them unleash their inner Picassos by painting and making messy art. Messes will be made, but everything will be cleaned or replaced eventually.
Don’t forget to include some age-appropriate learning activities to help them keep up with their school curriculum. Most schools are setting up a learning plan for kids to continue at home. Do your best to follow the assignments to keep your kids on track.
4. Leverage technology for work, home, and with the kids
One of the biggest challenges with working from home while others are present is managing noise and unexpected interruption.
- Use a headset (with noise-cancelling capabilities) for video and conference calls.
- Use this app Krisp to block out background noise during calls. Not only will it block out noise from your end, it will block out other people’s background noise too. You can tune out your kids and your colleagues’ pets at the same time.
- Schedule some screen time for your kids. Getting through a full day with your kids at home will be hard to pull off without screen time. It’s better to be prepared and deliberate about what you will let them do online or watch on TV. You can repurpose an old device if you’d rather not buy anything new. If you can afford it, you can purchase an entry-level iPad or Amazon kids fire tablet. Add parental controls, delete irrelevant apps, and load them up with kids learning tools. Your kids’ teachers will likely have great recommendations for apps to try.
- Take advantage of free learning subscriptions being offered by education companies.
- During your deep concentration times, turn off notifications and put up a do-not disturb sign.
- If you don’t have time to cook or eat nutritious meals, order delivery to stock up the fridge and freezer. Meal replacement options from places such as Daily Harvest, Pressed Juicery, and Splendid Spoon will have you hydrated and fueled to survive your juggling act.
5. Put the kids in bed by 7:30 p.m.
I don’t think this needs much explanation. By 7 p.m., you’ve had children in your vicinity for 12+ hours already. You may also have worked a full day or with more hours to go if doing a split work shift.
Start the evening routine at 6 p.m. with dinner leading to bath time. By 7:30 p.m., young kids should be in their pajamas and in their beds. If they need a little aid, try playing some bedtime stories or meditation via the “calm app” or something similar.
The sooner they can get to bed, the easier it will be for both parents to rest, work, and wrap up their days. Don’t stay up too late though. If you are doing the early 5 a.m. schedule, you probably want to be in bed by 10 p.m. to get the recommended minimum hours of sleep.
I hope these 5 tips help you stay sane and productive while working from home with your kids. If you have other ideas or hacks, email me and I’ll share them in real time on social media.
Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to be a substitute for specific financial, tax or legal advice. The article is for educational purposes only. Reproduction of this material is not permitted without written permission.