Idyllic visions of harmonious family time and productive work are quickly swept away after a day or two of working from home. Continuous distractions and the constant tug-of-war between the work that must be done and the family we love make working from home extra hard work.
Learning how to manage work at home and family life is a process. The famous video of Professor Robert Kelly conducting a live interview from his home office shows that even the most professional professionals struggle with the reality of balancing family life with work.
Prepare Your Home & Family for Work
Taking some time at the beginning of your work-at-home experience to prepare your home and family is a valuable investment. A little bit of effort will go a long way toward preventing added stress on yourself and your family.
Communication is as essential for work-family balance as it is for success in business. Clearly communicate your needs. Talk openly about the challenges of working from home. Understand the needs of each family member.
Recognize that your family will have to work together to make it possible for you to work from home effectively. It’s a team effort. Instill a sense of collaboration from the beginning.
Create a Separate Workspace
Ideally, you can set up a home office in a separate room with a door. Realistically, for many, that extra room doesn’t exist. Even so, set up a dedicated workspace that’s off limits to the kids.
Not only will a designated workspace protect your documents and work technology, it will help you establish healthy boundaries. A cloud phone system is an affordable way to keep your personal number separate from your work.
Set up tools to minimize distractions. Good quality headsets with a noise-cancelling microphone can improve your video conferencing and work phone calls. Create a sign you can put up when you’re in a meeting so your family knows not to disturb you.
Plan & Prioritize
Manage expectations – your own and your family’s – by planning ahead. Establish priorities and figure out the best times to complete specific tasks.
When you have meetings scheduled, let your family know in advance and prepare an activity to keep children occupied during that time. Try to plan meetings and tasks requiring extra focus during times when your children are sleeping.
How to Balance Work & Family
Accept that working at home simply will not be the same as working at the office. You and your family will have to learn flexibility and make adjustments – sometimes very quickly.
A key to balancing work and family is adaptation. On a day when the kids seem to need more care than usual, for example, you may need to set your work aside for a few hours. Give your kids some undivided attention, take care of their needs, put them to bed earlier, then work in the evening instead.
It may seem contradictory to say you need structure while emphasizing adaptation. But you do need both!
Establish and keep a routine. Structure lets your family know what to expect and when. Predictable rhythms keep things running smoothly.
Set up some ground rules – for yourself and your family. Determine working hours and stick to them. Set goals, hold each other accountable, and help each other achieve them.
Be fully present in whatever activity you’re engaged. Multitasking isn’t as productive as we’d like to believe.
When you’re working, minimize distractions. Don’t check social media or watch the TV. Work time is not laundry time.
Outside of your established work times, give your family your full attention. Leave your phone at your desk and focus on your loved ones.
You’ll be better equipped to manage work and family when you’ve taken care of yourself. Prioritize self care. Stay hydrated. Exercise daily. Get fresh air. Do what it takes to get a good sleep. You know all this, so be disciplined and do it.
Practical Tips for Working at Home with Kids
Partners and pets can all create challenges to work-at-home productivity, but children require extra strategic measures. Here are a few practical tips for working at home with kids:
- Rotate toys – Store toys in a rotating cycle. Every few days (when the kids seem to be lacking inspiration), swap out the toys for a new batch from storage. It will keep your little ones interested.
- Give the kids a break – You need work breaks. Your kids need breaks, too. If they’ve been making solid efforts to leave you undisturbed and to be quiet while you work, give them an outlet. Let them be noisy for half an hour. Allow them to make messes and be creative with paint or sand or playdough.
- Shift work – If your spouse is also working from home, trade shifts, if possible. This will give the kids the benefit of continual adult supervision and each parent hours of focused work time.
- Rewards – Plan a reward for accomplishing a specific work task. Let your kids know you’ll all watch a movie together or eat a special snack when you’re done a certain project, for example.
Managing work at home and family life is not for the faint of heart, but it can be a real gift. Enjoy the little moments – the kid jokes, your baby’s firsts, eating together.
Relationships are what life is all about. It’s worth the effort!