Health and WellbeingWFH: 7 practical tips for working at home with kids

WFH: 7 practical tips for working at home with kids

Working from home has its ups and downs, but balancing it with family life can be a major challenge. Julia Tierney, CEO, Hive Learning, gives you 7 practical tips for working from home with kids.

As schools and nurseries close this week, many of us are facing another major challenge that affects our working lives and our personal lives equally.

I’m aware that I write this post from a place of privilege – that the Hive Learning team and I are fortunate to be able to work remotely, where that’s not a possibility for others – and that I have a partner who I can share childcare with, while for others that’s not a possibility too.

But in the spirit of helping our communities as much as we can as we all figure our own unique way through this, I wanted to share how we’re approaching juggling childcare and work with our team at Hive Learning, and some of the tips for everyone we’ve developed in response to Covid-19 for our Resilience Works programme.

How we’re approaching Covid-19 for working parents 

For parents who can work from home, there’s no doubt this next period is going to be really tough. I know this because I’m attempting it myself (and I write this with my daughter making a den under my desk where she has been happily playing with a torch and music box for the last hour – top tip!).

But in all seriousness, as a people leader whose business is likely in a time of crisis, there’s also a real tightrope to walk between doing what’s best for your people and what’s going to keep your business alive.

My view is that ultimately it’s your people that will keep your business alive, so if you do what’s best for them – and give them the conditions to give work their best shot – they’ll do their best work in return.

Here’s a snippet of how we’ve told our team to manage the situation. Our policy is:

Be honest, do what you can to make it work, but family is first priority. All we ask is that Hivelings treat us fairly back, and agree a plan that’s most likely to reflect what they can give the company right now, with their manager. Then be smart about prioritisation and over-communicate that plan with everyone around them.

We say:

Work as flexibly as you need to

If you can share the childcare load with someone and work flexibly to cover your hours, do whatever you need to do and just be open about your timings with those around you.

Try to find the least stressful solution for you

If you have childcare commitments that you can’t offset by giving work back some of your free time in the evenings for example (an exhausting prospect we appreciate), then maybe you drop a day or two for this period and do 3 days over 5 or similar. Speak to your manager about it and we’ll figure out a solution that’s best for you.

Try to enjoy some extra family time

We’d love you to try and make the most of what could be a stressful situation! Enjoy lots of cuddles, playing games and spending time together. You’ve got our full support to work as flexibly as you need to make it work, just be as open as you always are so we can help make it as stress-free as possible.

Speaking of making it stress-free, here’s a few practical tips we’ve been trying out from our Resilience Works toolkit – for you and your team to use.

Working from home with your kids

Overcommunicate at every turn

Make sure the people you’re working with know when you’ll be online and offline (it’s okay if this changes quickly – just be transparent).

If you’re on a call, be honest and upfront if you think you’re likely to have a visitor appear on screen! We’ll all try not to make it happen, but little people don’t live by our rules and it’s bound to happen at some point.

People know this isn’t an ideal situation so we’ll all try to be forgiving – but giving people you’re on a call with a heads up you may need to jump off for a bit at the start is a good way to set expectations (and hopefully will mean you’ll have something to laugh about together!).

Likewise, if you haven’t opened up much about your kids before at work, this is a great chance to start. As an added bonus, showing vulnerability should encourage your teammates to be more open with you in return — a crucial foundation for psychological safety.

Bonus: If you haven’t seen this video before, it’s well worth 44 seconds of your life and is guaranteed to bring a bit of joy into your day!

Carefully structure your day so you can try and get into deep work mode

Deep work isn’t easily achieved with children around, but there is a huge cognitive cost to switching tasks frequently. Even the small inefficiencies of multitasking between two different things can cost up to 40% of your productive time, according to the American Psychological Association.

So here are a few tips to try to bake some deep work time in, even with the kids around.

One of our teammates who has already had a few days of working with her little ones around said she quickly figured she was more productive if she could get a longer 2-3 hour block of undistracted time to work, rather than tag-teaming with her partner throughout the day. That’s not always possible, but if you can make it work, you’ll see the benefits.

To that end, be strategic in managing your diary with your partner’s diary in mind. Obviously you can’t control the timing of every meeting, but do what you can to carve out your no-distraction time and conference calls in slots when they can easily be the kids’ go-to person.

And finally – this one is always important, but with less time to get work done, it’s even more critical – don’t let yourself get distracted by emails or other “surface-level” work during your precious no-distraction time — use this time to do your most important and demanding work of the day.

If you’re struggling to get into the zone after being with the kids, you could try the Pomodoro technique to help you get going quickly.

Set boundaries with the kids (if you can!) 

This one obviously won’t work for toddlers, and there is no guarantee they’ll listen, but it’s definitely worth attempting with older children and teenagers!

Clearly explain the situation you’re in, and set boundaries of when and how you can be available (even if you have a dedicated caretaker in your home).

This could be a really valuable teaching moment for the kids if you frame it as a way for them to help you and the whole community get through the crazy and unusual situation we’re in. Remind them we all have a role to play to help others through it, and this is how they can help.

If you can, create a physical boundary too by working in a separate room — this helps younger children make the connection that you’re in work mode, and will mostly help you get into the right mindset for work too.

Try using a visual signal to show you’re not to be disturbed, like a stop sign you can put the door, a ribbon tied to the doorknob, or even a small “be back later” sign with a clock indicating when you’ll be free. Be clear on what they can do to get your attention (like a single knock), and what’s off-limits.

Most importantly, take a deep breath

We might be in it for a while yet, but this won’t last forever. Try to keep that perspective when you’re in the thick of it and you feel like your kids are going to drive you insane.

When the worst happens and your child makes a cameo in a client call, make a joke of it and shake it off swiftly. We all need a bit of comic relief right now!

Try and take the time to enjoy a few extra cuddles and a lack of commuting time.

Remember that the stress of all this uncertainty is taxing.

Right now we all need to be a bit kinder to ourselves, and more patient with those around us. Make an effort to start on it today.

This post was a combination of our own internal experiences and content from our digital toolkit for surviving and thriving in uncertain times, Resilience Works.

If you’re looking for a way to bring your team together in a social platform while helping them stay strong, we’re offering a fast start package that can get you up and running in 48 hours. Just drop me a line if you want to chat more about it: [email protected].

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