Amid the expansion of safety precautions regarding COVID-19(also known as the coronavirus), businesses and organizations across the country have taken drastic measures to keep their employees safe. For us who are organizing and movement building, this has meant juggling the safety of our teams while also throwing down to advocate with our people.
It’s important to note that working remotely is an amazing benefit for working parents and caregivers. However, it takes some intentional and specific crafting to make it an optimal situation for you and your family.
The work doesn’t stop and the baby’s naps are short, so, let’s cut to the chase, shall we?
Here are some tried and true ways to conquer working from home with your kiddos.
1. Make your schedule work for you.
The best part about working remotely is the flexibility in your schedule. This proves to be a HUGE benefit for parents and caregivers. No one is going to judge you for slipping out of the office to take your child to the pediatrician or a family member to an appointment. What’s important is that you make sure you notate this on your calendar.
You can also adjust your schedule to align with your family’s needs. For example, if you prefer to get up early before typical working hours to crank out some work before your little ones wake up – Great! This allows you to spend mornings with your kiddos or attend to the morning routine of a loved one before shifting back into work. As a new mom, my favorite way to structure my schedule is to frontload work in the mornings before my 1-year-old hits the ground (literally) running and then wrap up my day responding to emails and Slack messages after he goes to bed.
2. Pomodoro method it out!
For those of you who are unfamiliar, the Pomodoro technique of maximising productivity refers to a process where you work on one task for 25 minutes and then take a 5 minute break. After a series of 4-5 tasks in this way, you take a longer break of 10-15 minutes.
I have found this EXTREMELY helpful when working from home with my one-year old. It gives me multiple opportunities to give him some undivided attention while also giving me a dedicated rhythm to get things done. Five minute breaks are great for getting the baby a snack, changing a diaper, refilling a sippy cup, etc. You’d be surprised how much you can get done in five minutes! On days when he might be fussy or need more attention, I might dedicate one of my 25-minute task blocks to build block towers or take him on a walk around the neighborhood in the wagon.
3. Reserve certain days and/or times for quality time with the children.
If your schedule permits, choose a chunk of time that is reserved for you to spend quality time with your kids. This might be starting your work day early on Fridays so you can wrap up earlier in the afternoon to begin your weekend! Or you take a longer lunch on Wednesdays to prepare a meal together.
Whatever this looks like for you, take the time if you are able and try to make it consistent so the children can anticipate your special time together.
4. Anything that requires hyper-focused attention should be scheduled during naps, meals and playtime.
Working on a big project? Writing a proposal or a grant? These are perfect things to do when your children are still sleeping or enjoying a meal. Oftentimes this leaves you in a quiet house with no little ones to ask you for a snack! Naps are a bit harder to predict and aren’t applicable for older children but its good to save a quick task that isn’t time sensitive for those quick snoozes.
5. Implement a creative “busy” system that everyone can understand!
Communicating to your family when you need to work “uninterrupted” – whatever that means – can be a game-changer in being able to maintain your quiet home office space. You might consider letting your family pitch in to help create the system and it could be something your teenagers use while they are working on school work or making a new TikTok!
At my house, we use a red-yellow-green light system. Red means I am on an important call or super focused on something, yellow means people can come in if they need me but I prefer to stay focused, and green means come and go as you please! My one year old doesn’t get this system yet but his dad does and it has been a much nicer way to communicate when I need alone time to work!
Take them. Often. This time is really tough on all of us so taking time between your calls to check in on folks can make a world of difference. Try to schedule your meetings for 45-50 minutes, when possible, so that you are able to have 10-15 minutes between meetings to play with your baby or fix lunch for the teens. You’ll be surprised the difference those short breaks can make!
7. Make meal time as easy as possible!
Whether you are caring for a small child, a crew of teenagers or a family member, everybody eats! Depending on your schedule, breakfast might be an easy routine to maintain, but lunch gets a little tricky. You might want to think about scheduling a slightly longer lunch that grants you time to feed the crew.
Since I have a little one that often is demanding my attention around meal times, prepping food while he’s ravenous is a challenge. I’ve started to prepare his lunch the night before or in the morning during breakfast so I only have to warm it up. This allows me to quickly feed him and oftentimes I am able to get a bunch of work done while he eats!
Sidenote: Why do toddlers like to throw food on the floor!? Try putting a towel or other material underneath your kiddo’s seat to catch all the chicken nuggets and broccoli, making your clean up easy peasy.
8. Snack caddy in tow.
Create a small caddy or box with a sampling of the snacks you’re offering each day/week. Put it somewhere accessible where the kids can get a snack for themselves as needed. If you have teenagers, you might want to offer them all of their snacks at the beginning of the day and let them ration throughout the day to avoid consuming your entire pantry! For toddlers, its a fun way to give them some autonomy over their day and a task to do that they can feel responsible for!
9. Let them say ‘hi.’
Though your little humans don’t have email addresses and Zoom accounts, consider them a part of the team! On your lap or in the background playing, it’s all welcomed.
Try not to apologize for their little sounds, having your children present is a part of changing the stigma around work productivity while parenting!
10. Get team members to pitch in on an info share about caring for the kids or have kids entertain each other!
If there are other caregivers on your team, think about taking turns sharing a best practice that works for them when it comes to caring for the children. We have a #caregivers channel on Slack that serves as a place for us to vent(let’s be honest, there’s a LOT of venting), share ideas for maintaining a healthy work-life balance, and brainstorm solutions to creating a more inclusive space for parents in our workplace.
You might invite coworkers to record a video of their storytime to share with other parents or have older children read a book to smaller kids via Zoom. This generation is full of social media pros! Maybe have your kids record a “Youtube” to send to the other children.
11. Be gentle with yourselves and with your kiddos.
We are going through what is proving to be a major life transition for both adults and children. For our kids, they are not only experiencing the disruption of their day-to-day routine, but are also absorbing the stress of their caregivers and isolation from their peers.
We are juggling so much and might not be able to keep up with all of the distant learning homework or teaching our 1-year old their ABCs. Whatever you do in this moment, be sure to breath. Be gentle with yourself and your children. Be transparent with your team about what you are managing. And remember: You can only do one thing at a time.
12. GREAT headphones FTW!
What better way to tune out your kid singing Baby Shark(when will it end?!?!?!) than a nice pair of noise-cancelling headphones?! If you are able to invest in a pair, I totally recommend doing it. Getting a Bluetooth headset with a microphone allows you the hands free experience multitasking with kids sometimes requires while also providing you a quiet space that can go with you anywhere!
If you can’t get your hands on a pair of amazing headphones, try out Krisp, an app that cancels incoming and outgoing background noise.
13. Put ‘em to work! Introducing: the Kidtern!
What better content creators than the world’s youngest crew of social media influencers!? A lot of us caregivers are not as social media-savvy as our kiddos. Let’s face it, some of us have TikToks and no CLUE where to start. This is a perfect time to lift that screen time restriction a bit and let your little ones loose on creating some digital content for your organization or campaign! If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right?
Let your kidterns show off their digital skills with some creative photos, videos and other short content. Best part is – you can pay them in snacks!
14. Be easy on yourself with your screen-time rules(for now).
You might not be able to manage giving your kids a deep, enriching educational program while juggling your work. And its OK! If you need some quiet time or an uninterrupted work block, feel no shame in letting your kids binge a little on a favorite show if it means productivity for you!
PRO TIP from our friends over at MomsRising: Use the sleep timer on the tv so that it automatically turns off after an hour or two.
15. Explain it to your kids!
It might be hard at first for them to understand that you are actually working while you are at home, especially if this is a new thing for you. Have a family meeting to let them know about this shift and how things might change at home for a while. Be intentional about bringing your little ones along for the ride.
When I found out my son would be home from daycare for 30 days due to school closures, I began thinking about how to prepare him for the change in his routine and schedule. Okay. Let’s be honest. First, I panicked. Then I planned. We took time on Saturday and practiced having a “working lunch.” We sat together and worked on our laptops, talked on the phone and then had some lunch. Afterwards, we had some outside fun in the sun before naptime. I think having buy-in, preparation and participation from your familial unit is a true key to success when working from home!
Whatever you do in this moment, just keep doing the best you can.
Over to you – what are some things you do to juggle work and caregiver responsibilities when working remotely?
Naima enjoys writing about remote work culture, digital organizing in an online-to-offline engagement model, and racial and gender equity and inclusion at United for Respect where she is the Director of Partnerships and Strategic Projects. On the side, her interests are in music, craft cocktails, food and all things Royce Saint(her awesome, perfect and super cute son)!