Working from home: top tips for working with your family at home

Many people are finding themselves working from home for the first time, or with more family in the house than usual for a working week.

Maintaining focus when working from home can be challenging at the best of times and with all your family at home, it can test your focus to the limits! Here are some top tips for keeping productive whilst balancing family life during isolation. 

Working from home: with your partner

Set boundaries: Don’t pretend it doesn’t bother you when your partner broadcasts Skype meetings (or watches TV) while you try to answer emails. Also, don’t passive-aggressively work in the bathroom to hint that you’re not happy with the noise in the living room. Turns out a simple “Could you put on headphones?” is an effective way to get someone to, you know, put on headphones.

Designate private areas: Set up clear and separate areas for you each to work in your own way. Work out what works best for you. If one of you needs the radio on whilst the other needs peace and quiet – separation is probably best. If you like similar work environments carve up the dining table so you can work together. If you will need to take part in web meetings, set up a meeting space where you can have uninterrupted quiet. 

Come up with a schedule together: Sync up your work breaks to enjoy some quality time together in between the work. Share meals, take turns cooking and cleaning up, take a coffee break or agree a time to switch-off and plan a joint activity for the evening. Knowing when your next break is can help keep you focused on completing the task at hand motivated to get the job done before your break. 

Working from home: with toddlers

Get up early: The best way to work when your toddler is around is by getting as much done as possible when they aren’t. This means setting an alarm an hour or two before they are up for the day.

If you do your best thinking in the morning, tackle your largest projects sans distractions during this time. But if you’re not a morning person, getting up early can still be useful. Have a cup of coffee and use this time to organise yourself, respond to quick email requests, and plan out the rest of your workday.

Take Advantage of Nap Time: Enforcing a nap time each day is not only important for your little one’s health and development, but it’s also critical for you. If you can, encourage a long nap of two to three hours in the afternoon.

Encourage Independent Play: Independent play is important for toddler development and should be encouraged. For working parents, independent play can give mum or dad some much needed time to get work done. Busy bags are a great way to entice your toddlers to play by themselves. They’re exactly what they sound like: bags of simple activities designed to keep toddlers busy.

Give Your Toddler Undivided Attention: In these unprecedented times, take advantage of the benefits they offer. Leaving work behind physically is not possible, and it can be tough to let it go mentally as well. But if your toddler is trying to get your attention, chances are, they’re not going to stop until they succeed. Put your to-do list aside, log off the computer, and give your toddler the attention they need and deserve.

Set boundaries and make sure there are plenty of work-free times throughout the day. After all, the biggest perk of working from home is spending time with your toddler – so make sure you take advantage of it.

Working from home: with kids

Start off on the right foot: No matter how many tasks are on your to-do list, its important to create a schedule that includes time for your kids – ideally prior to hunkering down. Give them some undistracted time (no phone in your hand!) before you need to work.

By doing this, you’re giving them the attention they need to feel seen and secure, which should help prepare them to play more independently when you need to focus on work. Eat breakfast together, offer them your undivided attention and then set some clear expectations about the day ahead.

Adjust your schedule: If your job doesn’t require you to be on the clock at specific times, consider adjusting your schedule to work when your children are sleeping or less active. Doing your hardest work first is a good strategy for anyone, it allows you the freedom to be more present and feel like you can step away for an hour or so when the kids wake up and make breakfast.

Set up your workspace and set some boundaries: Even if you don’t have a home office, it’s important to establish a defined work area at home – and to let your kids know that when you’re in work mode, you’re not to be disturbed. Ideally, look for a quiet corner of the house where you can set up everything you need to work through your tasks as efficiently as possible. 

Prevent boredom for your kids by mixing things up: Kids of all ages appreciate having something new and different to occupy them, try a toy rotation to keep them immersed in play. Take a few minutes to sort through their toys, organising them into separate bins, then keeping only a select few out for them to play with.

The idea is that having fewer toys encourages deeper play. Guide your kids toward activities that don’t require your assistance or constant supervision.

Reserve some activities for special occasions: Got an important Skype meeting or rushing toward a deadline? Have some back-pocket activities at the ready that your child loves and can occupy them for 10 to 15 minutes. 

Embrace healthy screen time: No one will send you to parent jail for allowing your kids to hop on a tablet for a while – especially if you’re directing them to fun and educational resources. There are plenty of sites and apps that encourage physical wellness with an array of free activities, such as free games that teach maths, spelling and music skills.

For school-aged kids whose classroom routines have been disrupted, stay on track with learning resources. Many museums offer free virtual tours and zoos have camera feeds to watch the animals. 

Working from home: with pets 

Create A Separate, Pet-Free Work Space: The best way to ensure your pet isn’t going to put a kink in the flow of your workday is to keep them in a separate area. Yes, it’s nice to be able to cuddle your pet while you are listening in on a conference call, but doing this tells them they can get your attention whenever they want. Setting up a separate workspace is great, not just for you and your pet, but also for your work-life balance in general. It helps makes you feel like you aren’t actually living in your office.

Keep pets occupied: If animals are bored or anxious, it can lead to destructive behaviours like chewing, marking or scratching around the house. To avoid an interruption to your workflow – like stopping to scold your pup for chewed up shoes – make sure they have plenty of physical and mental stimulation for when you’re hard at work.

Give your pet some attention time: Be it taking your dog out for a nice walk, having cat cuddles on the sofa or teaching your pet parrot some funny new phrases, make sure to make time for your pet. Give them your full attention in some of your breaks to make sure they are feeling the love and they may be better able to keep themselves distracted whilst you’re on your work conference.