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Work-From-Home Hacks for the Busy Parent

Work-From-Home Hacks for the Busy Parent

Remote work arrangements due to COVID-19 are dragging on, and in some cases, becoming permanent. How are work-from-home parents juggling their new responsibilities? What work-from-hacks are they using as they seek to be parent, teacher, housekeeper, cook, and money earners? What tips do they have for keeping all their balls in the air while still getting everything done?

Being pulled in a million directions at once affects the productivity of many newly remote working parents. Without a quiet office or workspace—far, far away from the kids—challenges arise professionally and parentally. Now that everything is taking place at home, adjustments in the layout and use of spaces are necessary to accommodate. In addition, how the household usually runs needs adjustments, including establishing new boundaries and implementing new workflows. Below are work-from-home hacks from real parents as they struggle to achieve a workable ‘new normal.’

Rely on Teamwork

Taking a team approach to implement changes is a useful strategy, as well as a way to involve the kids and help them feel that they are part of the solution. Work-from-home hacks include clear communication and addressing the needs of each member of the family (no matter how small). This can improve and smooth household operations. Working together is also a bonding experience and offers no end to teachable moments.

According to Marty Basher, work-from-home (WFH) dad and organization specialist with Modular Closets:

“It’s essential to talk openly to your kids about what you need to accomplish each day working from home and what’s expected of them. Make sure they understand that your job requires you to get a certain amount of work done each day, and you need their help. Make signs for your office door/space that lets them know when you can talk to them (such as “do not disturb”) or create a hand signal (thumbs up—okay to talk or thumbs down—you’ll have to wait a minute). They need to know that you’re not always going to be able to be interrupted every time they come to you.”

WFH mom Linda Chester, author of the Health Hour health and fitness blog, also advocates a team approach:

“For me and my family, a healthy division of tasks is what helps us accomplish everything we need to do. Just make sure to sit everyone down to confer to them about their availability and what they’re willing to contribute. Teamwork is just as important in the family as it is in workplaces.”

Establish Functional Spaces

Functional spaces for parents and kids enable both parties to complete tasks with a bit of separation.

Once your family is on the same page, identify what the space needs are for each member of the household. Parents need somewhere to work, kids need somewhere to play and study, and everyone needs somewhere to relax.

Make an Office Space

Finding a quiet spot to work is a necessity to complete your professional to-do list. “While it’s tempting to set up shop at the dining room table, it’s probably not the best set up for being productive,” says Basher. His work-from-home hacks include, “If a separate room is not an option, try to choose a quiet corner or even convert an extra closet to an office set up so that you have a permanent home for your work-related items.” He also advises, “Make your home office a space you want to spend time in.”

You may need to make simple alterations to your office space to turn it into a den of productivity. As a WFH father, Kenny Trinh, Managing Editor of Netbooknews, finds it tough managing his job and two kids. “Both of them are still under 10 years old which makes it hard to stop them from playing and running around in the house.”

To solve his noise dilemma, his work-from-home hacks include the application of improvised soundproofing to his work area. “It didn’t require any fancy or expensive purchases since I used egg cartons and simply taped them on the walls. Then I painted it over with black or white to maintain a professional aesthetic.”

Setting up a separate office space customized for your use can be invaluable in maintaining your work-life sanity. Mom, certified family therapist, and manager of parenting blog, The Centered Parent, Hayley Gallagher shared:

“When it became clear I would be working from home for the long haul, we transformed the storage room that we called “the office” into an actual working office, complete with a door that actually shuts. This physical boundary has done wonders for work-life balance. When I step out of that office, my workday is done.”

Make Kid Spaces, Too!

Kids need dedicated spaces too. Full-time WFH mom, Kelly Stanze, Manager of Marketing & Communications for KURU Footwear, suggests that kids (and their parents) may benefit from having a variety of spaces. Stanze shares workspace with her husband, who is currently working from home due to the pandemic. “We are pretty much homebound since I’m considered medically fragile. Our son is 20 months old, so we are definitely in the thick of it with a toddler, the pandemic, both of our jobs, and just the current situation.”

Her work-from-home hack is to have unique “zones” in the house that offer different experiences, activities, toys, and views.

“Being able to simply move myself, my computer, and my toddler to another room can totally change a mood. We have a playroom, his bedroom, and an open area on our lower level all set up as different environments, and if we get “stuck” in one area, we can move to the next.”

School-age kids also need spaces dedicated to learning. While many kids might not find it too exciting to be setting up a school space at home, Shakira Polite, Marketing & Strategic Partnerships for Brooklyn Braised and founder of non-profit Black Bravado, came up with a way to make it more fun for her daughter.

“To ease my 11-year old into the changes of virtual learning, I played up how fun it would be to work together! We redesigned her bedroom and my workspace together.” Polite also included her daughter in her daily activities. “We scheduled zoom meetings/classes but also coffee/teatime and lunch every day. This helps to structure our day while also allowing us to step away from our laptops.”

How to Handle Chores

Chores are an integral part of bonding and getting things done for work-from-home parents.

With family members at home together most of the time, the state of your house can get chaotic. This can leave you with a heavier chore list than usual. Important work-from-home hacks here include giving yourself and your family members a break. Keeping everything clean and tidy in well-used spaces is futile, and almost certain to result in burnout and frustration.

Sneaking in a chore here or there during the workday may seem like good idea. However, Basher advises avoiding that if you want to remain productive at work. Instead, his work-from-home hack is to:

“Designate three small chores a day. With so much on your plate already, why add to your stress by thinking your house must be pristine at every moment of the day? By keeping to three maintenance chores a day, you can prevent your house from falling into complete shambles until your next day off when you can spend hours tackling bigger to-do items.”

Of course, all members of the family should contribute no matter how young. It is never too early to teach kids how to contribute to the household. Stanze even gets her 20-month-old son helping with chores. “We have pets and a large garden and letting him ‘help’ with chores we had to do is a practical way to stimulate him with something we needed to do anyways. He helps us feed the dogs, water the garden, and pick weeds; when we’re done with the task, he’s burned some energy and is more able to entertain himself while we work.”

Follow a Schedule (As Much as Possible)

Many WFH parents need a schedule to create order and stave off chaos. By scheduling important tasks and assigning times for completion, parents and kids will both know what’s on the day’s agenda. Without a schedule, Basher warns, “Days blend together in a sloppy mess of boredom, temper tantrums, and lack of sleep without the structure of traditional work and school for families unused to staying home 24/7.”

Developing a schedule helps accomplish necessary tasks and enables you to customize the schedule for your family. Don’t try and mimic what you were doing before COVID-19. Instead, design a schedule that fits your lifestyle and takes into account your current circumstances. A well-planned schedule should reduce stress and uncertainty, not set up unrealistic expectations. Work-from-home hacks here include scheduling family breaks and rest times. And if there are two parents at home, try switching out childcare duties so you can allow the other partner time for focused work and meetings.

Sean Nguyen, dad and Director of Internet Advisor, describes how he and his partner make things work.

“Honestly, we genuinely just try to do as much as possible while he’s asleep. Before 7 am and after 7 pm, and during nap time is peak productivity, all systems go for us. If one of us has a super important meeting, we try to schedule it when we know the other partner is free. That way, someone is always there to distract him. What I learned early on is that “hoping” your kid won’t embarrass you during a video call is basically asking for it. One minute, he’s playing quietly on the floor while you’re on call, and the next, he’s taking his pants off behind you. Ask me how I know.”

Don’t Forget to Schedule Time for Yourself!

Even in the rush of the day, WFH parents need a break. Stress and uncertainty can weigh you down and cause fatigue and depression over time if not addressed. Schedule “date” nights (or mornings) when you can enjoy some couple time. Also, schedule some alone time each day to help you relax and process the day’s events. These times are essential to help you recharge and refresh. Clinical psychologist and respectful parenting therapist, Nankia Coor, tells her personal story:

“When I emerge from a day of seeing clients online, I am immediately greeted by my energetic four-year-old. Pre-COVID, there was a 30-minute transition between my work role and my parenting role as I traveled to and from the office. Without that transition time, I soon realized how hard it was to quickly switch out of work mode and be present with my child.  So I practiced what I preach: I started setting a timer at the end of my workday for 20 minutes of quiet time, where I take a break from both talking and ‘doing’ and engage in peaceful downtime. It took my child some time to get used to this new limit, but it’s now a part of the routine. She does her own thing while I recharge my batteries, and then I’m a much calmer and kinder mama for the rest of the evening.”

Remember That Every Parent Struggles at Some Point

Regardless of your situation, perhaps the most important thing to remember is that you are not alone in your struggles. Every parent flounders every now and then. And remember, if you or someone you know is in crisis, seek help immediately. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to reach a 24-hour crisis center or dial 911 for immediate assistance.

Do you have any work-from-home hacks as a parentConnect with Virtual Vocations on FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn to share your advice. We’d love to hear from you! 

iStock Image: LightFieldStudios, monkeybusinessimages, ferlistockphoto

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