Laura Spawn, CEO of Virtual Vocations shares her experiences telecommuting over the last 13 years with her three children home much of the time. Spawn built her business, completed her degree, and homeschooled her children for three years, all while her husband went through his professional training as well. She shares her insights and how she managed as her children have grown from infants to teens.
Working from home with kids is certainly not ideal, and can be more difficult the younger they are. Right now, many Americans and people around the world have no choice but to do just that. Rest assured, there will most likely be a few more comical moments when kids join in their parent’s work day, like this one. While it’s not the easiest situation, you can be successful telecommuting with kids at home and make it work.
Having worked from home for the past 13 years myself, I’ve lived through the various stages of the ‘work at home mom’. When I started Virtual Vocations, I had a 2 month old, a 2 year old and a 4 year old, I was also taking online classes full-time to earn my bachelor’s degree, and my husband was in school full-time, on-campus during the day, as well. It was hard and felt like way too much a lot of the time, but we did it, and you can, too.
Read on for some of the ways I handled working from home with kids during various ages while my kids were younger, and even now that they are teens. Not all of these are ideal for every situation, and some of them certainly add more to our plates as parents and working professionals in the way of prep work and creativity, but they have certainly helped me accomplish more than I thought I was capable of over the years with three children at home.
1. Work During Your Peak Productivity Hours
While most of us are at work for 8-9 hours a day, research has shown that the average person completes the majority of their work in just about 3 hours a day. I know for myself, when I am really focused and ‘in the zone’ on a project, I can still only sustain that intense focus for 5 to 6 hours max before I am done. When forced into a telecommuting role, especially during a high-stress situation, keep this information in mind: your peak productivity will last for just a few hours a day. Work with your employer to get most of your high-priority responsibilities done during the hours you are personally at your best.
2. Create a Set Schedule Including School and Work Times
During dramatic changes in routine, one of the most calming things you can do for yourself and your family is create a lot of structure. Sit down and create a schedule, with hourly time slots, one for each family member outlining what they will be doing during the day, during what times. Post everyone’s schedules in a community area of the home, so there is no confusion about who is doing what, when.
Include on the schedule work time, TV time, school time, gaming time, chores, meals, exercise, and anything else you can think of that will help ease the feelings of uncertainty and not having control over the current situation. PricelessParenting.com has a Family Schedule available for download, as well as many other helpful charts, and even Boredom Busting Activity ideas.
For those times you are working during the day and need tips for keeping your kids happy and occupied without you, here are some ideas that have saved me during various ages and stages of my children’s lives.
Working from Home with Babies and Toddlers
Unless you have a partner or older child at home to help with your little one(s) while you get some work done, there aren’t a lot of options while telecommuting with tiny babies or toddlers that will allow you to get into that deep state of focus and productivity while they are awake. The good news is, with young children, they still nap, so you’ll want to take advantage of that throughout the day. This post by FlexJobs gives some great tips as well for working home with babies and toddlers.
3. Work while they sleep
I am a morning person by nature, so my schedule looked like this when my children were especially young:
- 5:00am – Wake
- 5:30am – Respond to emails and messages
- 6:00am – Complete top priority task
- 7:00am – Break for kids getting up – Get ready for the day
- 8:00am – General household tasks, prepping dinner as much as possible, laundry
- 11:00am – Kids nap or quiet time – Work video meetings or phone calls, complete second high priority task for the day
- 1:00pm – Kids up and lunch
At this point, I’ve used my most productive hours as a morning person to complete 3.5 hours of focused work, and have spent time with my children, as well as gotten in some household tasks. Note: If you are a night owl, flip the schedule so your 1.5 hours of peak productive work are from 9:00pm – 10:30pm, rather than 5:30am – 7:00am.
The afternoons are generally when most of us feel the ‘slump’, so getting up and moving, doing a quick 15-minute workout, or taking a power nap can help you face the rest of the day!
If you have infants or kids under 2 years old, they may take a second afternoon nap, in which case, you are good to go for getting another round of work in for the day to finish up your third high priority task and anything else left undone, as well as to plan your top priorities for the following day. If your children don’t nap a second time, let them watch an hour of TV, use an educational website, or if they are infants, break out the baby swing or let them have ‘tummy time’.
- 3:00pm – Second nap for the babies, or an educational show or website – Finish up your third high priority task and any other projects planned for the day that are not completed
- 4:00pm – Family time, prep for dinner and next day, general household tasks
- 8:00pm – One more hour of work (only if needed), or plan the three highest work-related priorities for the following day
4. Talk to your boss about the necessity of an open, flexible schedule
During a time of crisis or emergency, your boss or manager should be able to trust you to get your work done, on your own schedule. Chances are, if you have an infant or toddler, they will dictate your schedule much of the day. Luckily they are pretty cute, and most managers don’t have a problem with added flexibility as long as you are able to complete your work.
5. Set a timer for yourself to take a break and play with your little one
It may seem strange that this would be a ‘tip’, however, my last baby was extremely happy and content to sit in his swing or bouncer for hours. Looking back, I wish I had held him more and not used quite so much of that time to get work done. Setting a timer will help you not only get up from your desk or table to stretch and take a break, but will also make sure you get enough of those much needed snuggles with your little one!
Working from Home with Kids Ages 4 – 11 Years Old
At this age, kids are usually in school, or almost there, and they are able to handle playing on their own for short periods of time. But, when they are home all day with mom or dad, they enjoy attention and interaction, which can make it difficult to get work done, especially when you are trying to telecommute. Here are some suggestions for getting through a few of the crucial work hours while keeping your kids happy.
6. Video scavenger hunt
Ask a grandparent or family member to guide them on a video scavenger hunt throughout the house, asking them to locate specific objects, or take them on a tour. They can also just chat with them and ask about their day or keep them company by video as they clean up their room or play area.
7. Set a visual timer to ‘play solo’ with a clear break with mom or dad at the end
Setting a timer on the microwave or a kitchen timer is a great way to give kids the ability to see when you will be done working. They will play by themselves much longer when they can ‘count down’ to the time they will have your attention next. Repeat often throughout the day.
8. Daily ‘Get the Mail Outing’
Make this outing special, it’s an opportunity to get outside, take a deep breath and look around. Getting the mail is generally a fun activity for people of all ages, if you receive junk mail, let the kids open it and make it a challenge to create some type of collage or cryptic message with the contents.
9. Unique online live classes
Aside from the usual educational websites out there focused on lesson plans and worksheets, consider having your child ‘attend’ a live class, where teachers are extra-innovative and offer classes in small groups with unique themes. Outschool.com’s teacher Aaron Potsick, offers classes similar to escape rooms and mysteries to solve for kids of various ages.
10. Create an activity box
Since you can’t really run out and buy supplies during an emergency such as this one, you’ll want to use what you have around the house. Get creative, and your kids will catch on to that creativity and come up with ideas themselves. Here are a few to get you started:
Working from Home with Kids Ages 12 to Teens
Telecommuting with tweens and teens at home is most likely the easiest of age groups to manage, especially in an unexpected emergency situation. Keep in mind that they will want to have thoughtful, adult conversations about the situation, and may be feeling extra stressed, even if they don’t seem like it, so be sure to be open and sensitive to their needs.
Teens will be more likely to want to hang out on Snapchat, Instagram, or Discord with their friends, spend hours gaming or watching Netflix. Here are some ‘screen-light’ activities they may just take you up on if they get bored enough. (Chore time and helping with younger kids’ school activities could be a way to ‘earn’ screen time as well for younger teens.)
11. Text a chore
I’m sure the last thing your teen wants to do right now is chores, but, we are all in this together and stuck at home, they’ve got to help out. Having them organize the pantry, clean out the car or even clean their room isn’t too much to ask. For minimal interruption, have them text you a photo of the completed assignment.
12. Cook a gourmet lunch or dinner
If your teen enjoys cooking, consider letting them figure out what is for dinner, complete with a full place setting and written menu for fun. Consider giving them a special ‘ingredient’ they will have to use when creating their dish.
13. Let them help you work
Teens can be very willing to pitch in and help with tasks that make them feel like they are ‘adulting’, because they are! Anything they can do from online research, to editing forms, basic data entry, or other non-confidential busy work can give them a chance to spend time with you, understand what you do on a daily basis and help keep them occupied.
14. ‘Bored’ game tournaments
Break out the board games they loved when they were little. Candyland, Operation, Concentration, or any other family board games are great to take them back to a time when they were a little more carefree and full of the giggles. It can be surprisingly comforting, even for adults to ease some stress with games played as children.
15. Send them outside for fresh air and exercise
If your teen is missing their daily gym class or after-school sports, set them up with an app like ZombiesRun or other gamification exercise apps. They are great for working out on your own, but interactive at the same time for teens that are used to group activities.
16. Have them help their younger siblings with schoolwork
As long as they aren’t too close in age, teens are great at helping their younger siblings with homework, and now is the perfect time to have them practice their own basic education skills by taking on the role of ‘teacher’ for a subject or two during the day while you are working. Remember, they may be even better at it than you are, since they’ve grown up with the common core standards.
17. Let them catch up on their sleep
Here we are, back at letting your ‘baby’ sleep so you can get work done. We’ve gone full-circle from hoping they’d stay asleep during nap time as a toddler so you could work, to just not ‘waking them up’ for the day, so you can get work done in peace and quiet for a few hours. Teens are notorious for staying up late and dragging themselves out of bed to make it to school still half-dressed in their pajamas. Give them some space and let them sleep in while they can, just a little.
As a seasoned, telecommuting parent, I can say that I know it is stressful and overwhelming when you’re working from home with kids, especially when you are thrown into it due to an emergency and unprepared. But, rest assured, it’s possible, you can do it.
Remember the first two essentials: 1) Work during your peak productivity hours, and 2) Create a schedule that is clear to the entire family. In an emergency situation, you will no doubt have to quickly adapt and figure out your family’s specific needs, but an organized day and clear expectations surrounding when you will be working, and when you won’t, are absolutely needed.
Laura Spawn is the CEO and co-founder of Virtual Vocations, one of the leading online job boards focused exclusively on remote jobs. Alongside her brother, Laura founded Virtual Vocations in February 2007 with one goal in mind: connecting jobseekers with legitimate telecommute job openings. With Spawn as CEO, Virtual Vocations has helped more than two million jobseekers in their quests for remote work over the last 13 years by providing a database that houses more than 20,000 current remote job openings at any given time and offering jobseekers a number of tools to aid in their job searches, including exclusive e-courses and downloadable content, and resumé writing services.
In her free time, she loves to spend time outside — gardening, working in the yard, hiking, and exploring. She also spends a lot of time reading, some time playing the piano, and most of the time parenting, and she runs a blog about minimalism, where she describes how her family “embraced a simpler lifestyle, with fewer belongings, more experiences and a much more intentional way of living.” Spawn lives in Oregon with her husband and three children.