5 tips for working from home with kids
Working from home is a flexibility more of us are being granted by the workplace, but when kids are a part of the equation, it can be a challenge.
While the benefits can be great, they can also come at a cost: not being physically present, for example, can take a toll on working relationships, as can the constant distractions and interruptions that come with sharing a working space with children.
Working from home with kids: a professional challenge
Working from home takes time to adapt to, especially when there are children around, but with some thought and pre-planning, it’s possible to mitigate the professional risks that can come with it.
1. Create and maintain a dedicated workspace
It’s important to separate our working lives from our home lives, and that’s especially true when working from home with kids.
A mental separation for adults
When we mix our working environments with the rest of the home, it’s easier for us to feel as though we’re always at work. A dedicated workspace can prevent the blur between the two, particularly if that space has a door with which to separate the working adult from distractions, and help keep the focus on work, not the kids.
This may not always be possible, but a pair of noise-cancelling headphones can work just as well to create a mental space that is conducive to workflow.
A physical association for kids
It’s not just for the adults to whom the separation matters. Having a clear home office where mum or dad will be working while they’re at home it’s one way to establish a clear boundary for children.
In cases where a door between the primary caregiver and the child isn’t viable or appropriate, maintaining separate work and play spaces within the same room can still create a distinction and space for the adult to work while the child plays.
2. Set your work hours and stick with them
Kids need routine, and so do we, particularly if we’re working at home with them. It’s much more likely that that conference call in the morning will pass without interruption if they know that at lunch time, mum and dad will be able to focus their attention solely on them.
Maintaining business hours doesn’t necessarily mean 9-to-5. If there is space for it within the work-from-home arrangement, organising the day around the hours that are most conducive to productivity and flow can even increase productivity.
Having business hours will also help: – Maintain that physical separation between work and home lives – Create a clear beginning and end to the work day – Provide set hours during which colleagues can get in touch – and when they can expect a response
3. Set realistic expectations early
It’s important to set expectations early on: for colleagues and for family. Being upfront on the challenges and/or limitations being faced at home can help our teams to work with us to either work around, or work more efficiently with, the distractions and interruptions that can come with working at home with kids.
Not only that, teams with a high level of trust are higher performing than those that do not. Being open and honest with teammates creates a space for them to do and be the same.
Children need to have clear expectations of their days too. Explaining to them – in an age-appropriate way – that you need to focus on your work will help them know what is expected of them as well.
4. Begin the day with a family meeting
It’s often not enough to explain just once to children what’s expected of them, so beginning each day fresh is a good opportunity to: – Set the day’s expectations – Explain the day’s schedule – Foster a sense of togetherness
This conversation between the children and the caregivers can be structured in whatever way works for the individual family members; over a family breakfast, for example, can knock two birds with one stone for busy parents.
Setting up the day by meeting together as a family can also provide a touchstone for children in which they feel secure and supported. This is particularly important if working from home is new to the family unit and is shaking up set routines, providing a space for the kids to feel heard.
5. Let go of perfectionism
Kids will be kids. Interruptions are inevitable. It’s fine to hold ourselves to high standards, as long as they are reasonable, so when the distractions do occur, we are in a good state of mind to get ourselves back on track without letting the guilt overwhelm. Having the opportunity to work at home with kids is great, but it’s going to be a bit messy sometimes – and that’s okay.
Being able to spend more time at home with the kids is a wonderful opportunity to which many people aspire. But the real work begins once granted the opportunity, so it’s important to begin with a clear set of expectations. As a family unit, it is possible to maintain productivity and professionalism at home – together.
From both a retention and recruiting perspective, telecommuting programs make good business sense.
Not only can they provide organisations with a recruiting and retention advantage, but they are also quickly becoming a business necessity.
In a time when thousands of workers who have rarely worked remotely find themselves logging on from home, companies without a formal telecommuting program may be wondering how they can launch one.
Here are a few key tips:
1. Get in touch with your legal experts
Before you begin offering employees the chance to work from home, make sure your telecommuting program won’t become a legal minefield. Legal counsel should review any telecommuting programs to make sure the company stays in compliance with employment laws.
Issues to consider include complications with workers’ compensation matters and state overtime regulations, as well as the matter of individual responsibility for company property used off-site.
2. Ask managers to share feedback
While general approval of a telecommuting plan for your company must come from business owners or upper management, individual supervisors should be invited to play a role in designing the specifics.
Managers know which job functions are most suitable for telecommuting, and therefore, are in the best position to customise the program for their teams.
Questions they might consider when evaluating roles include:
- Is this position really suited to independent work?
- Does the job require a lot of face time that videoconferencing alone can’t support effectively?
- And what impact, if any, would there be on our teamwork, and even our organisational culture, if several employees telecommuted regularly?
3. Invest in the right technology
At the heart of successful telecommuting programs, you’ll find workers using the latest technology tools to their advantage. Slack, Google Hangouts and Skype for Business are some of the platforms that telecommuters can use to keep in touch throughout the day. And file-hosting services like Dropbox, Google Drive or an in-house system can support their collaboration and information sharing in real time.
4. Set equal standards for remote work options
Managing telecommuters can be tricky. Telecommuting employees need to feel confident that their manager believes they will work as hard as they would in a regular office, including keeping similar hours and maintaining productivity.
When it comes to quality and deliverables, there should be no difference between the work an employee produces at your office or while they’re telecommuting.
So, set equal standards for on-site and off-site professionals in areas such as client service, office hours, and response times for emails and phone calls. You also might want to set “core hours” when all employees are required to be accessible.
Make sure to help telecommuters and other remote employees feel like they’re part of the team. Make an extra effort to keep telecommuters in the loop on company and department news.
Also, bringing your whole staff together can help to build camaraderie and team spirit. Try scheduling at least one big videoconference on a quarterly basis using a group-friendly platform.
How to manage a remote team — especially if you never have
As ever more employees around the world who have rarely — if ever — worked remotely find themselves logging on from home, managers face a daunting challenge in helping their teams maintain effectiveness while adapting to an unfamiliar work arrangement.
However, telecommuting is a perk you need to implement thoughtfully as it can lead to a loss of productivity and sense of disconnection amongst employees. Leading a team that doesn’t get a lot of face time (especially if it’s something they’re not used to) is a tall order.
How do you create an engaged and cohesive group when everyone is scattered across town — or in different countries? How do you build camaraderie, foster a positive workplace culture, and provide leadership and support from afar?
It’s not easy. Fortunately, the following strategies can help you manage a dispersed team and keep everyone feeling productive and connected.
Make communication a top priority
If your team members have different schedules and work at various locations, you need to make sure pertinent information is easily — and frequently — communicated. Otherwise you risk having a disjointed and unproductive team.
Communicating expectations; setting up processes for documenting and sharing; and making sure staff feel confident with their technology, tools and resources are all key for a seamless transition to the home office.
That includes providing context for every project, which means having background on a project’s history and who on the team is responsible for what. Contextual information should be documented in a central location, like a Google Doc, Teams site or wiki that all team members can access. Other basic information, such as project timelines and people’s work schedules, should also be current and available.
A simple online calendar app, for example, can help ensure that everyone on your team, from the telecommuter to the on-site employee to the temporary staff member, can easily share and view the latest schedule details in one place.
No matter the technology you use, everyone needs to be on the same page about how the tools work and why they’re being used — and be open to emerging communication options. Don’t be afraid to try out tools and then retire them. The best way to ensure everyone stays connected and productive is to find what works best for your team, and sometimes that requires trial and error.
Keep in daily contact, but don’t micromanage
When creating a calendar for your team, set times for when everyone will meet (virtually) and when you’ll check in with team members individually. Also, let your staff know how and when they can reach you throughout the workday. After all, off-site employees won’t be able to swing by your office to ask questions or get feedback.
The bottom line: Never let a telecommuter or remote worker feel like they’re on an island. Aside from the department and individual meetings you schedule, try to connect with everyone at least once a day via instant message or email. Even better, pick up the phone for a quick call. Speaking with someone to discuss the details of a project or convey an important message is often more effective — and efficient — than typing out the words. It’s also a way to build personal rapport with colleagues.
However, be careful not to micromanage. Telecommuters need to feel confident that their manager believes they’ll work as hard as they would in a regular office, logging similar hours, hitting deadlines and maintaining productivity. If you’re unnecessarily checking in several times a day just to see how things are going, your employees may feel like you don’t trust them.
Make time for face-time
While it’s important to bring your entire team together on occasion, video conferencing is the best solution considering close contact isn’t recommended at the moment.
Seeing everyone’s face helps people feel closer together, regardless of where they sit. Watching everyone’s mannerisms as they speak, laugh and listen helps the team get a good sense of each other’s tone, communication styles and sense of humour, and can help everyone understand each other better when communicating by email and text.
Also, seeing your workers — even if virtually — helps you (and them) feel more connected. And it helps avoid miscommunication when giving feedback, because they can read your facial expressions and body language. So before you dial the phone or write an email, ask yourself if sending a video chat invitation is the better option.
Emphasise work-life balance
Providing flexible work options, like a remote arrangement, is not only a great perk for your employees but is also a way to establish a culture of work-life balance. Being able to work remotely and avoid a long commute are benefits that can give your team members greater control over their lives. That, in turn, can increase their job satisfaction and loyalty.
In times like the ones we currently find ourselves in, the ability to work remotely can mean greater peace of mind for workers who may feel anxious about riding on public transit, working in busy office buildings or even unknowingly getting someone else sick.
However, it’s easy for dedicated professionals to become workaholics when they embrace the telecommuter lifestyle. So encourage remote employees to practice good time management. Set your own start and stop times, and have telecommuters do the same. And make sure you respect their schedules. Refrain from contacting workers outside of office hours, when possible. And don’t expect a response while they’re offline.
Master these strategies now to ensure future success
Telecommuting will only continue growing in popularity — and perhaps become a necessity under some circumstances. As a manager, it’s essential to help every on-site employee, telecommuter, remote worker, freelancer and consultant on your team feel connected to each other, their work and the organisation as a whole. Your commitment to fostering team spirit and cohesiveness can increase morale and productivity. It also helps you prepare to be an effective leader of tomorrow as the global working world gets ever-more intermingled.