Tips for Surviving Work & Children in the Virtual Office

People often wonder how I work at home so effectively with three children. It isn’t always easy, but once you discipline yourself and your family it’s the best of both worlds. It’s more challenging for the youngest, who is 3-years old. She doesn’t always understand like my 11- and 14-year old do. Here are some tips that have helped me survive the balancing act.

Set boundaries and stick to them

Our rules are pretty simple:

  • Door shut = Mom is not here.
  • When Mom is on the phone, don’t interrupt unless someone is bleeding or the cat is on fire.
  • When Mom is in the middle of typing a proposal, wait until she stops before you speak.

Simple enough rules that everyone, including my husband, can understand.

Communicate

Make sure you’re sharing your day with your spouse and your children. Don’t expect your family to know when you’re under deadline and have three people demanding deliverables. They’re not in your world and can’t be expected to know what you’re trying to manage. There is nothing worse than not communicating and finding out you have to do a presentation in the car with the kids in the back seat because your husband also has a big meeting and needs a quieter environment. Bribery works really well here.

Establish a routine for yourself

It’s important to have a routine so your children know when you’re available to them and when they need to stay clear. In our home I stagger 10-15 minute breaks throughout the day. If you give your family a chunk of quality time it usually means less interruptions later. There are many times I can’t take time to interact and I pay for it later by having everyone parade in begging for attention. No one wins here—especially me. I end up with my hair on end and at least one drama-queen freaking out in the corner.

One of the great advantages of working from home is that you lose the commute. That commute time averages about ½ hour each way to and from work, and about the same time for dropping off and picking up kids at school. Use that extra time in the morning, while the kids sleep in, to get some of your own work done so you can be available later in the day for your children without compromising your job.

Establish a routine for your children

Kids thrive on routine. Disrupting their routine, by suddenly pulling them out of school and their social activities is destabilizing, so the sooner you can involve them in a new routine that follows the timeline of their old routine, the better. If their teachers have provided online course work, that’s perfect—set up their day to do their courses in the order they did them in school. For younger kids in particular, this can be very comforting: first they do spelling, then reading, then math, then a 15 minute recess, and so on.

As parents, most of us feel intimidated taking on the role of ‘teacher’, especially if we’re also trying to work during ‘school’. Give yourself a break. Your kids have made it this far through most of the school year, and as long as they’re spending time on each subject each day, they will likely stay on track. For older kids, there are many online curriculums that can accommodate upper level learning.

After ‘school’ allow your kids to chat with their friends via video chat, if possible. This can go a long way in helping them feel less isolated and that gives you some uninterrupted work time.

Create an ongoing family project

During mutual breaks throughout the day, or in the evening after work and school, gather the family to work on a huge jigsaw puzzle or Lego structure. Or spend some time on a family video journal where each person talks about their day and how they feel about the current circumstances. This family time, outside of work/school can be invaluable in calming nerves and reducing conflict during the day when you’re least able to deal with it. A shared project also bonds the family, especially after rough days. In years to come, these are memories that will remind you of all you’ve been through together.

Have a sense of humor

Let’s face it, you may hear my dog barking in the background, my girls giggling like fiends, or even a shriek when the toddler isn’t getting her way. Obviously this is something you’re challenged with constantly and want to avoid. When it does happen, you have to roll with it. Most coworkers and clients understand and think little of it. I’ll never forget being on a business call thinking I was on mute and the little one running in very proudly telling me she went potty on the potty chair. Definitely got a chuckle!

Stay professional

Even though you may be brushing your daughter’s hair or throwing in a load of laundry while on a conference call, you must always stay professional with your clients and make your activities invisible to them.
There is an art to balancing your work and home tasks and when it’s done well, both your clients and your family will reap the benefits. Give them both the time and attention they deserve and they will appreciate your dedication in the end.

Further Reading

Working From Home: Tools and Tips

 
 
 
 

By Jennifer Barrier, ETMG Client Services Manager