Working From Home With Kids When Coronavirus Has Shut Everything Down. The World Health Organization has declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. Things are changing quickly every day, and most of us have seen our typical routines turned upside down. More and more workplaces are allowing or requiring remote work, while school and daycare closings and “social distancing” restrictions mean that whole families are suddenly spending a whole lot more time at home together.
That means many working parents are facing an unprecedented situation: working from home with kids and without access to the camps, babysitters, playdates, and even Grandma-dates that you might normally rely on to get through a school break or a snow day.
It won’t be smooth or perfect, but there are a few strategies you can use to make your new situation a little easier. We have real-world tips from remote workers who’ve balanced career and children in close proximity to help you through this difficult moment.
1. Get Creative With Your Schedule
If you have another adult home with you, consider a split schedule. “Our entire family was housebound for 15 days last winter when there was a polar vortex in Wisconsin,” says Melanie McKay, a scheduling manager for Kaplan Test Prep. “At the time our kids were two, six, seven, and nine. My husband and I both had to work from home and school was canceled. At the beginning of each day, we decided who would be the ‘on point’ parent. That person would work at the dining room table, feed the kids, and suggest activities for ‘bored’ children while the other parent worked in a different room.”
Of course, it may not be possible to get all your work done during regular business hours if you’re also on duty with the kids. “One way we maximized work time was by working odd hours,” McKay says. “I worked before the children were awake. My husband and I staggered work times during the day, and one of us worked in the evening when the children were in bed.” You’ll also need to take meetings and deadlines into consideration. Which ones can be shifted around, and which are cast in stone?
Whichever time slots you end up working, there will be an adjustment period as you retrain your mind to focus during your new “business” hours. You may enjoy mornings, but getting up at 4 or 5 AM to work is different from getting up early to exercise. So set yourself up for success. Pick out tasks in advance and then gather all of the tools and information you’ll need to complete them. Your tired brain will thank you later.
2. Be Up Front With Your Boss
You might need to make adjustments to your work schedule in order to watch your children. Before you do, talk to your boss or HR.
Begin the discussion by contextualizing the news. Remember that this isn’t your personal situation, it’s a community issue. Convey this point tactfully by stating the facts in a straightforward way. It’s also always good to come into this kind of conversation proactively with a clear action plan, says career coach Melody Godfred.
So for example, Godfred suggests you might say:
“As I transition to working from home, I wanted to share that I am also responsible for my three kids, who I will be homeschooling for the time being due to school closures. I am creating a schedule that I will share with you so that you’re aware of when I will be available or unavailable for calls or collaboration. I am absolutely committed to maintaining the level of excellence you expect and will remain in close communication with you so you’re clear on how I’m meeting our goals. I appreciate your support and look forward to navigating this together.”
3. Stick to a Routine
Maintaining a daily routine will help everyone stay occupied and manage some of the anxiety caused by this big change. Go ahead and write out a schedule (including which parent is on primary kid duty if you’re trading off) and pin it to the wall or the refrigerator so kids can refer to it throughout the day.
“The kids had a list of things to do each morning (dress, brush teeth, empty the dishwasher, read for 15 minutes), and we steered them toward different activities each day such as puzzles or fort building,” McKay says.
With some schools closing for a month or more, you’ll want to build in “school” time every day, too. (Bonus: School time can equal pockets of work time for you.) If your kids’ schools have set up remote learning, follow the plan and use the resources provided by their teachers.
Just resist the temptation to have a screen time free-for-all: “Rationing screen time was an important part of my child engagement strategy,” McKay says. “They knew that those were the only two hours that they would get to watch screens all day, so they focused on the show and let me focus on work.”
Juggling work and childcare is an intense but survivable experience. Many remote workers successfully navigate this reality every day. While your situation is different from families who regularly work at home while taking care of children, you can build a temporary structure for your temporary circumstances. With a little bit of planning, lots of discussions, and an adaptable attitude, you’ll be able to better weather your COVID-19 stint at home with the kids.
Our award-winning coaches at the Ignite Your Potential Centers offer a complimentary 25-minute phone session to help you if you have any questions about how to working at home with your kids. We are home to the #1 San Francisco career coaches and Los Angeles career coaches, let us show you how we earned that praise.