Of all the distractions that may affect remote workers, children tend to be the most persistent and insistent when it comes to demanding attention.
While FlexJobs recommends that remote workers plan for child care while their tikes are little to ensure the proper focus on work, the average remote employee will have to find ways to stay productive while their children are in the house during the occasional snow day, school holidays, or after-school hours.
Here are a few suggestions to help you stay on task while working from home with kids:
Set ground rules and follow through.
It’s best for your employer if you set up a regular work schedule, communicate it to your team, and stick to that plan every day. It’s also good for your children. Make sure they understand when you’re “at work,” perhaps by posting your schedule near your home office and in the kitchen. For smaller children, use more obvious visual cues. Explain that, during work hours, you are not to be disturbed unless it’s an emergency. And then clarify that asking for a snack or telling on a sibling are not considered emergencies. If you set these expectations and stick to them, your children will get used to the rules and likely learn to follow them.
Create physical boundaries.
This advice comes from a New York Times article, which recommends that you set up your home office in an area that has a door you can close. You also should consider creating a stop sign of some kind that you can place on the door when you’re in a meeting or otherwise need to concentrate.
Do a few test runs.
To ensure your children understand what is and is not acceptable while you’re working, take the time to practice some likely scenarios. Make a game out of it, and they’ll probably remember the lessons…eventually.
Be prepared with activities.
If you know your children are going to be around and looking for something to do, get a variety of options ready in advance. “It’s a daily ritual for me and my oldest son on the days when school’s out: I either provide him with a folder of fun-filled educational activities or assign him some of my simplest tasks, such as filing and organizing the endless piles of papers on my desk,” says an article from the Simple Dollar. “If your children are at school for a portion of the day, but you still have a few additional tasks to complete when they arrive home from school, ask them to join you at your desk to read their favorite book or do their homework. That should buy you 30 minutes to wrap up your work for the day.”
Take advantage of nap time.
If your little one is a dependable napper, catching a few Zs at a predictable time every day, plan to use those precious minutes wisely. “Keep in mind that napping habits change frequently,” advises an article from Verywell Family. “Don’t schedule important phone calls or figure on meeting a deadline during the nap time. Because of the unreliability of nap time, I suggest planning non-essential, usually non-work tasks for nap time, i.e. resting, household chores, reading, etc. If you do get some professional work done, then that’s a bonus.”
Invest in a high-quality headset for conference calls and meetings.
This may be a bit expensive, but it’s likely to be one of the best investments you make in home-office equipment. “In our testing, the best wireless and USB headsets have excellent noise-cancelling microphones and easy-to-access mute buttons to block unwanted sounds,” the New York Times article says. “They won’t stop your children from making a ton of noise, but they will keep everyone else in that meeting from having to hear it.”
Be flexible and stay calm.
This is perhaps the most important advice of all when working from home with kids. If you’ve been around children, you know the only thing predictable about them is their unpredictability. Expect to be interrupted at inopportune moments and to be dragged into occasional “emergencies.” If you can keep your cool and adapt quickly in those situations, you’ll greatly reduce the time required to recover from the interruptions and get back on task.