This week my three-year-old son came down with a fever and cough, and I had no choice but to self-isolate while I kept him off nursery. Working from home with kids is not an unusual occurrence for me; it’s why I moved into freelance in the first place as I wanted to be in control of my time. But it was obvious I needed to know how to effectively work from home with children present full-time.
I’m self-employed; taking time off work is not an option. Client understanding only takes you so far when their businesses are in danger and this sort of thing was never in my thinking when I considered what sacrifices I’d have to make having children.
Then the news dropped that schools and nurseries are due to close indefinitely to help limit the spreading of coronavirus pandemic, and this would become my daily life trying to write while a toddler climbs on my head. This week has been a great insight into how working from home with kids can be.
So three days into a Paw Patrol marathon (Thank you Amazon Prime), the first two days were full of cuddles and undertaking work was possible. We’ve now progressed into the “still snotty but energy levels returning” zone and in the last 5 minutes my son has dropped a fire engine on his foot twice. So it seems we are now in a place of what ‘normal’ life could be.
I am lucky that as my son is not of school age, so homeschooling is not required, especially as it appears I don’t qualify for any Government grants as it stands. This will at least allow me some time to help my clients through this challenging economic period.
My tips to help to work from home with Children
Children come first
When you are trying to concentrate, the last thing you need is a little person shaking your laptop screen. But their needs should come first. I tend to work on the more manageable little tasks which suit 5-minute concentration bursts. I then prioritise the longer tasks for nap time, or after he has gone to bed. Either way, I always work around his needs. If he wants anything, I will always put him first. This can be extremely challenging during clients calls, but I find they are often understanding.
Children need stimulation and not stare at the TV all day, but it is near impossible not to rely on screen time to keep them entertained. But you’d be surprised what happens when you turn the television off. They will entertain themselves with toys and in other manners. Also, it is good for your mental health to take breaks, so use these times wisely to interact with your kids. You need to finish (or at least pause) work in the afternoon to spend quality time with them.
If possible, always try to go outside at least once a day. In good weather, there is no excuse. And fresh air works wonders for counteracting cabin fever and stress levels. You also need to replace the exercise from the commute to work. Also, interacting with another human being is incredibly important, even if it’s just babbling. A good nights sleep is essential all round.
Create a working environment
Get dressed, both of you. This behaviour creates a working mindset. And when you change back into nightwear, you should mentally switch off and detach from work. The same applies where you work in the home. If my child was older, I would definitely convert my garage into an office space to have a clear separation.
If you have a dedicated space, both you and your children can respect the boundaries it creates. Granted, it is not always possible if you live in a small environment, but working at the kitchen table is also vital for posture and back support. You should also never work in bed to ensure it’s always mentally associated with sleeping.
Balance your workload
My client base gets tremendous value from me as I continuously worry they could seek services elsewhere. So I work my socks off for them. But if you are doing unpaid work for clients while working from home, it’s even more apparent that you are directly taking this time from your kids. You should track your time for clients, and consider dropping the demanding ones who do not return value for your time.
You may also want to contact your client base to see which ones are struggling. You might find it is of mutual interest to agree on a contract change for support mode until things recover. It’s better than continuing working and risking unpaid invoices.
If you are not freelance or self-employed, then speak to your manager if you are unable to complete your workload. The expectation is on you to finish it all, so failure will be seen negatively and well as induce a nervous breakdown. All businesses should have a parental leave policy for unexpected childcare needs. You should be able to take unpaid leave rather than to be forced to work from home with children if it’s not possible.