Working from home is a flexibility more of us are being granted by the workplace, but when kids are a part of the equation, it can be a challenge.
While the benefits can be great, they can also come at a cost: not being physically present, for example, can take a toll on working relationships, as can the constant distractions and interruptions that come with sharing a working space with children.
Working from home with kids: a professional challenge
Working from home takes time to adapt to, especially when there are children around, but with some thought and pre-planning, it’s possible to mitigate the professional risks that can come with it.
1. Create and maintain a dedicated workspace
It’s important to separate our working lives from our home lives, and that’s especially true when working from home with kids.
A mental separation for adults
When we mix our working environments with the rest of the home, it’s easier for us to feel as though we’re always at work. A dedicated workspace can prevent the blur between the two, particularly if that space has a door with which to separate the working adult from distractions, and help keep the focus on work, not the kids.
This may not always be possible, but a pair of noise-cancelling headphones can work just as well to create a mental space that is conducive to workflow.
A physical association for kids
It’s not just for the adults to whom the separation matters. Having a clear home office where mum or dad will be working while they’re at home it’s one way to establish a clear boundary for children.
In cases where a door between the primary caregiver and the child isn’t viable or appropriate, maintaining separate work and play spaces within the same room can still create a distinction and space for the adult to work while the child plays.
2. Set your work hours and stick with them
Kids need routine, and so do we, particularly if we’re working at home with them. It’s much more likely that that conference call in the morning will pass without interruption if they know that at lunch time, mum and dad will be able to focus their attention solely on them.
Maintaining business hours doesn’t necessarily mean 9-to-5. If there is space for it within the work-from-home arrangement, organising the day around the hours that are most conducive to productivity and flow can even increase productivity.
Having business hours will also help: - Maintain that physical separation between work and home lives - Create a clear beginning and end to the work day - Provide set hours during which colleagues can get in touch – and when they can expect a response
3. Set realistic expectations early
It’s important to set expectations early on: for colleagues and for family. Being upfront on the challenges and/or limitations being faced at home can help our teams to work with us to either work around, or work more efficiently with, the distractions and interruptions that can come with working at home with kids.
Not only that, teams with a high level of trust are higher performing than those that do not. Being open and honest with teammates creates a space for them to do and be the same.
Children need to have clear expectations of their days too. Explaining to them – in an age-appropriate way – that you need to focus on your work will help them know what is expected of them as well.
4. Begin the day with a family meeting
It’s often not enough to explain just once to children what’s expected of them, so beginning each day fresh is a good opportunity to: - Set the day’s expectations - Explain the day’s schedule - Foster a sense of togetherness
This conversation between the children and the caregivers can be structured in whatever way works for the individual family members; over a family breakfast, for example, can knock two birds with one stone for busy parents.
Setting up the day by meeting together as a family can also provide a touchstone for children in which they feel secure and supported. This is particularly important if working from home is new to the family unit and is shaking up set routines, providing a space for the kids to feel heard.
5. Let go of perfectionism
Kids will be kids. Interruptions are inevitable. It’s fine to hold ourselves to high standards, as long as they are reasonable, so when the distractions do occur, we are in a good state of mind to get ourselves back on track without letting the guilt overwhelm. Having the opportunity to work at home with kids is great, but it’s going to be a bit messy sometimes – and that’s okay.
Being able to spend more time at home with the kids is a wonderful opportunity to which many people aspire. But the real work begins once granted the opportunity, so it’s important to begin with a clear set of expectations. As a family unit, it is possible to maintain productivity and professionalism at home – together.
If you’re looking for a role that can provide more flexibility, Robert Half can help.
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