Work From Home Tips For Parents

Work from home experts and newbies weigh in on the new reality for many parents

A New Reality

A new reality set in for millions of parents across the country this week. Working from home. And not just wearing pajama pants for your Zoom meetings and then streaming Netflix for the rest of the day, or a ‘snow day “work from home”. This is real working from home; while your kids are also at home remote learning, and oh yeah, while there’s a public health crisis unfolding all around us. Since my work from home experience has been limited to the occasional as-needed basis, I reached out to some veterans and some other newbies to get some tips and tricks and to see how other parents are handling their new reality.

So, what does working from home look like in the COVID-19 era? According to US Census data, about 8 million US workers work from home, but I imagine that number will rise sharply due to the coronavirus outbreak. As a marketing associate for Beech Acres Parenting Center, my job involves writing a lot of words, crafting inspirational stories from the hard work our service providers do for families in the community, manage 7 social media channels, and more writing. Lots and lots of writing. Essentially, the vast majority of my work can be done from home.

Technology like laptop computers, mobile phones, and high-speed internet coupled with software like Microsoft Teams, Google Docs, and Slack make working remotely a breeze. But working from home is not just about the technology to be able to do so, it’s about having the right mindset, establishing a routine, following a schedule and building in time to take breaks.

Tips From Work From Home Veterans

Liz Wharton has been working from home for nearly a decade. As a Senior Project Manager responsible for keeping teams organized and projects on-track she has learned the do’s and don’ts of working from home. In a blog post on working from home, she recommends staying connected with colleagues regularly using available technology. “Facetime/Skype are your friends,” she says.

Staying focused and avoiding distractions are key to remining productive while working from home. Liz recommends, “Put your workspace in a section of your house where there are not too many immediate distractions, i.e. television, kitchen, laundry. Yes, you are home, and yes, you get more flexibility, but don’t let distractions of housework and media destroy your productivity.”

Finally, she says burnout can happen at home too, make sure you are mindful of taking breaks and focusing on self-care. “If you feel trapped, take a break and take a step outside for a few minutes. No phone, no noise. Breathe in and take in the nature around you. Ask for help if you are feeling overwhelmed or down. Remember you are not alone!” Having a fuzzy dog around can be an adorable distraction but it also gives you the motivation to take frequent breaks and get outside for some much-needed fresh air and social distancing.

Chris Beiting, a video producer and product manager for an education company, has been working from home on and off since 2009 and full time since 2014. He recommends establishing a routine and getting dressed for work. “A routine is important, Chris says. “In order to get into the work mindset, I have to get up, get showered, and get dressed for work. Now, I don’t mean wear business casual or a suit. But I need to at least not work in my pajamas.”

Like Liz, Chris recommends remaining focused and avoiding distractions. “The trick is to have a dedicated work area,” Chris said. “I’m fortunate enough that I’ve usually been able to have a dedicated room in my house to set up a home office – but even if you don’t, it’s important to set up space. Don’t work from your bed. It’s setting you up for failure.”

Chris’ reality changed a bit thanks to COVID-19. Now his 2nd grader is working from home too. “My daughter has never known her dad to not work from home. When she’s been sick or just off from school most of the time she will be here with me anyway.” Ruthie is used to the work from home routine and armed with her trusty Chromebook she’s ready to learn from home like her dad. “I need to be mindful so she’s keeping up on the tasks that her school has given her,” Chris said. “Thankfully she’s 8, so there is some self-sufficiency.”

Chris’ additional tips include:

  • Creating a specific workspace
  • Getting dressed for work (trust me it mentally prepares you for the day)
  • Keeping your pets close to avoid getting lonely
  • Taking advantage of technology to stay in touch
  • Creating a daily “to-do” list
  • Listening to music

Finally, Chris said to lean into your strengths of love, humor, perseverance, forgiveness, perspective, and importantly, hope. “It’s easy to get down with what’s happening in the news. Hours seem like days with all the doom and gloom. Don’t let your fears and worries redirect on your children. They can know you have worries, but it is up to you to let them know that no matter what happens, you’re a team and you will get through this together.”

Both Liz and Chris stressed the importance of keeping to your schedule, not over-working, and ending your day at your normal time. “A common problem when working from home is working harder and longer than normal,” Liz said. “It’s all about discipline and schedule.” Chris echoed this sentiment. “It’s important I end the day at 5 pm,” he said. It’s easy to get into the mode where you’re always working. And it’s even more important to have that division when working from home. So, I do my best to stop at 5 and not work evenings or weekends — unless there’s a deadline or things need addressed that can’t wait, of course.”

A Work From Home Newbie Juggles Work and Parenting

Mike Melchers is a work from home newbie like me. A district sales manager for a global leader in safe, sustainable electrification, Mike is used to traveling the country and meeting with directly with customers. COVID-19 is re-writing their playbook. Literally. “In my current role, I am expected to lead a sales team that regularly interacts with customers on a face to face basis,” Mike said. “While we are only 1 week into a 100% remote work arrangement, we are preparing a “Remote Work Playbook” for our team to outline new priorities from training, to digital customer interaction.”

Mike is fortunate to have a dedicated home office with a personal laptop, a work laptop, and a large screen in the middle, which he can connect to whichever laptop he is working on at the time. He works in hour long “chunks” of time which allows for scheduling meetings, calls, and necessary breaks. Like our work from home experts Liz and Chris, Mike understands the importance of routine and avoiding the allure of distraction. “I still try to get up at the same time, shower, dress, etc to keep my morning routine,” Mike commented.  “I often read news for 20 minutes in place of my normal drive time when I would be listening to news/podcasts. This is a good “buffer” between home and work to prepare for the day.”

With three daughters, constantly breaking news, and other distractions around the house, Mike says it is critical to remain focused on his tasks and his customers. “It can be difficult to avoid distractions in a work from home arrangement,” Mike observed. “When I notice myself getting distracted by TV, kids, Twitter, etc I try to refocus on work by either turning off my phone or personal computer, and putting it out of reach.” Mike says being at home with his three daughters has a big impact on working from home. “At ages 4,6, and 9 there is a broad range of educational needs and attention span. The 9-year-old is somewhat self-sufficient, however she still needs a lot of help with complex concepts before she can complete her assignments. The 4 and 6-year-old both need almost constant help with focus, schedule, and individual attention.”

Mike’s best tip for other work-from-home parents? Agree upon a schedule, write it down, and try and stick to it. “Ours is hanging on our wall and the kids know each day what to expect,” Mike said. “It’s also great for parents because it takes those decisions out of your day for “what to do next”. Download our COVID-19 Action Plan

Self-control and perspective are two strengths valued in the Melchers family. Those strengths and an intentional approach to situations as they arise are helping them navigate this uncertain time. “We always teach our girls that we can’t control what other people say and do, but we can control how we react,” Mike said. “This teaches them to internalize what has happened, think about it, and plan their reaction.”

While Mike’s wife works in a hospital and has a front row seat to the unfolding health crisis, the family is positive and are taking this time as an opportunity. “I’m choosing to look on the bright side and enjoy this time with my kids. It’s very likely the only time in our lives that we will have complete dedicated time with each other with no sports schedules, practices, dance classes, and the normal chaos of life. We’re choosing to do things as a family that bring us closer like family jogs, game nights, and cooking together.”

A Busy Mom Trades Travel For Working From Home

Katie Doviak usually travels for her job, so working from home is a new experience for her and her daughters. She stressed the importance of maintaining a routine and a clean house. “I try my best to maintain a regular routine which helps minimize the distractions that could impact my work,” she said. “For me, I get distracted by the clutter in my home. It is important to make sure that my house is in order, I schedule time in my day to make sure dishes are done, laundry is folded and toys are picked up. If I start my day with an organized mindset, allow for time to keep the clutter at bay, I find that I am less distracted and able to focus more on work.”

Katie also stressed the importance of being flexible. While juggling being a parent, employee and teacher can be difficult; you can’t do everything at the same time. “If possible don’t try and cram everything from your normal workday into 8-5,” she said. “If there are things you can do in the evenings once the kids go to bed that will make the next day less stressful do it. There are a lot of things in everyone’s workday that don’t really matter when you do it, as long as you do it.”

Finally, Katie reminds you that you are not alone. If your kid pops up in your Zoom meeting, it’s ok. “Remember so many people are in the same boat and will understand if you are on a phone call and they hear your kids in the background.”

My own children are 11 (seventh grade) and 16 (a junior in high school) so they are pretty self- sufficient. They developed a balanced schedule based on the COVID-19 Family Action Plan and are working hard. Sure, Animal Crossing for Nintendo Switch just came out so they probably aren’t working as hard as their teachers would like, but a fun distraction from homework and the news is welcome.

As we enter another week of uncertainty, with more cases of coronavirus reported, more closures and shelter in place orders, and even less toilet paper and cleaning supplies, we are likely to see more and more people working from home for an extended period of time, all while taking care of their children. It can be overwhelming. But as we’ve heard from experienced and inexperienced work from home parents, you CAN succeed with a little planning, lots of intentionality, focusing on your family’s strengths and taking time now and then for a break.

Need help reassuring your kids about coronavirus? We’ve got you covered with tips from Dr. Chris Bolling.