Great! You’ve got your home office all set up or have found a nice spot on the couch to plug in your laptop. You sit down and log on ready to take charge of the day and be super productive.
You start to draft your first email of the day when…
You hear, “Baby Shark do do do do do do…” blaring from upstairs.
You get hit in the side of the face by a well aimed nerf dart.
You’re on a video conference and your kids keep knocking at the door of your office or even better they come bursting into the room in their underwear and start yelling that they need a snack.
Your amazing stay at home husband or wife, whose job is likely even more exhausting than yours, asks you to watch the kids for a little while they go on a quick walk.
Your kids start fighting over which episode of Daniel Tiger they want to watch.
You suddenly realize that working remotely isn’t all rainbows and unicorns, and people who do it as their daily work strategy have some very unique challenges to overcome to remain productive. Especially if you are in a situation where you are having to be the primary caretaker and work at the same time. Having young kids that can’t care for themselves as much levels up the difficulty even more.
These are some thoughts that may start creeping into your head. Or on the flip side, “My partner is working remotely now, why can’t they help out with the kids a little more?”
Resentment, anger, and frustration can start to build and the environment in the home can get tense. Everyone who works remotely has different demands from their bosses, employees, coworkers, and clients so everyone’s experience will be different, but there are some ways to maximize productivity and also create a unique experience for your family while you are at home or closer to home. If you don’t have kids but have a roommate, just replace the word 'kids' with 'roommate' and more than likely you can apply it just as well.
One of the first things to do is get your mind right. A proper mindset going into working remotely will go a long way.
Go into your day with the mindset of “I get the opportunity to work remotely” instead of “Ugh, I have to work remotely.” How to approach this in your own head will shape the experience that you and your family have.
You get the opportunity to work and still be able to quickly run out to the living room when your son or daughter is taking their first steps, or hug your partner after getting out of a stressful meeting, or take 10 minutes in between emails to read your kids a book and snuggle them on the couch. How cool is that?
In a year's time, how will your family speak of the time you worked remotely?
“Yeah, my mom/dad worked remotely, but they were always angry and yelling and stressed.”
“Yeah, my mom/dad worked remotely, and that was such a fun experience to have them around more.”
The choice is yours.
Things will most certainly be different, especially while your transitioning, so don't expect it to be the same as if you were working in the office. Be patient and continue to adjust your techniques and routines until you find a good rhythm as a family. Try not to slip into the mindset of “My family is distracting me from working.” Know that you are the one being distracted and take some ownership over that. You are likely disrupting the routines of your family in this transition as well.
When your kids disrupt you, remember that they just want to spend time with you. That’s a good thing! Try to be grateful that you have a family who loves you and wants to hang out with you.
Get your mind right first and the rest will fall into place.
Many of the struggles with working from home or remotely can be dealt with in a positive way by holding a weekly family meeting. This is especially important if you are transitioning from working out of the home to working in the home. It will create a space to get on the same page and create some boundaries, manage expectations, and make a successful experience for all. Some agenda items for this meeting could be:
Try not to approach this meeting not from a place of, "Here is how its going to be and you better follow my rules: or else." Instead, approach this meeting from a place of collaboration and cooperation to set up a family routine that will work for everyone. The more clear everyone is on the expectations, the more successful this experience will be.
Leaving for the day:
In the morning when it's time to go to work, it's easy to just get up and go to wherever you are going to work. Sometimes this might be in close proximity to your family. I find it is important to leave for work the same way you would if you were heading into an office. Give your family all the hugs and kisses and I’ll miss you's that you would normally do to let them know you are going to work and not just going to the next room to hang out and relax. Remind your kids of the next time they will see you that day. This will give the perception of, “Okay, they are leaving for the day, and I will see them again at this time.” This can help minimize the amount of times they barge in on you.
If you have young kids, it can be helpful to physically walk out of the front door like you used to and then sneak in the back door and head down to your office. Or have your partner distract your kids while you come back into the house and get to your work space. That way, they think you are gone and you can be productive.
Know what you need to get done each day:
Distractions are inevitable when working remotely, but you can make sure that you are feeling productive and getting what you need to do by spending some time each morning to write down the 3-5 most important things you need to get done for the day and time block them. This is a good practice even if you are not working remotely, but it can really help you best utilize your time in between distractions.
The early morning is gold for productivity:
We all know that when the kids wake up, the house becomes a bit of a circus. Along with establishing a morning routine of self-care, you can be extremely productive working remotely if you get up a little earlier than you're used to and pound out a couple of things before the chaos starts while it's still peaceful and quiet. Yeah, you may sacrifice a little bit of sleep, but there is something about being productive first thing in the morning that helps set your day up for success.
Connect with your family
On the flip side, make sure you spend some time with your kids and family before “leaving for work.” And when I say 'spend some time,' I mean really spend some good, quality time connecting with them. Close the laptop and put the phone away: ask them what they are excited about today, or read a book on the couch together. Kids crave connection and if you are able to spend some serious, undistracted time being present with them before work, they will likely spend less time barging in and trying to hang out with you.
There are obviously times when you have to make a phone call or be on a conference call where you really can’t afford to have a kid come barging in. Let your family know when these times are each day, and even put it on a shared family calendar or on your office door if necessary. If your family knows the schedule ahead of time, you can likely get ahead of the interruptions. Don’t expect your family to know your schedule if you don't communicate it to them.
Bonus tip: It's 2020, and there are an increasing number of people who work from home part or full-time. During more extreme conditions like a pandemic, the majority of people in your meetings may be working from home. Let’s stop kidding ourselves that there will never be a time where a kid is heard crying or yelling in the background.
Preface your meeting with, “Just a heads-up, I am working from home today and my family knows I am in a meeting, but you know how kids are. I want to apologize in advance if there are any interruptions during this meeting.”
Most people will understand this, and obviously you want to try to get away from the noise rather than hosting your meeting from the kitchen table during breakfast, but if something happens it happens. Excuse yourself from your meeting temporarily, deal with the situation kindly, and move on with your meeting.
Ending your day
One of the hardest parts of working from home or remotely is checking out mentally from work and getting back into being a parent, spouse, or roommate. You no longer have a commute to prepare yourself to come back into home life, so it's important to create a routine before walking back into your living room.
There is nothing worse than having a parent present physically, but absent mentally. If this context switch is challenging for you then when you are done for the day, log off and spend a little time doing something that is not work-related. Maybe it's reading a book, listening to a podcast, or just breathing deeply and closing your eyes for a couple of minutes. My personal favorite is to think of all the things about my family that I am grateful for. That way, when I enter the room I am ready to love on my family and leave work behind.
In closing: working remotely with a family at home can be tough, but it's one of the greatest opportunities that we have as parents. It can be a wonderful experience or a terrible one; the choice is yours each day. Some days are going to be better than others and that's okay. Enjoy the extra time with your family and the significantly shorter commute to work!