What to expect when you’re working from home with children around – Guest blog by Claire Nicoll, from Work Best

Claire embraces and advocates for flexible working. She has worked from home since before home working was trendy! Having achieved great work in remote or home-based roles, and worked flexibly on different projects, Claire has a wealth of experience on what makes flexible working work in all its many forms, both for business and individuals. Believing that more work can be done flexibly for the benefit of business and staff, Claire set up Work Best to share her experience through talks, workshops, training and writing to help more companies benefit from agile ways of working. Here Claire talks through ideas and provides tips on working from home with children around…

Working from home with the kids is not an easy task and needs to be considered carefully. My kids are now 10 and 13 and I’ve worked from home since before they were born. This means I’ve lived through all the stages of their development and seen how it impacts work. As we move into a period of time where more people will be trying to work from home, possibly for the first time, with kids around as schools close, I’m taking the opportunity to share some of my experience to help others.

It’s important to bear in mind that these are unprecedented times, and while much of the advice that’s out there about home working is very valid, we are in unchartered waters as people are being thrown into home working quickly and kids are in the mix too. For the vast majority of the time that I’ve worked at home, my kids have been in a child care setting such as nursery or school. However
there have also been many occasions where they have been at home and I’ve needed to work, such as school holidays, inset days, school strikes, illness and unforeseen circumstances. Even now, when they are a bit older, I still plan my day to get my “chunky” work done before they return home at the end of their school day, as I know that interruptions are inevitable!

Here are some overarching considerations for all if you anticipate having to work at home with your children around:

This situation is new to you, your children and your employer. Expectations of what can be achieved need to be managed. While we are aiming to keep business going it will NOT be business as usual immediately…There needs to be a settling in period as families and employers’ transition to the new norm. As with any transition, it will take a bit of time. So, be patient with yourself, your kids and your employer.

Being kind to yourself, as the parent, is very important… If you try to please everyone and try to do everything (work, parent, teach, run the house) you will quickly get exhausted, be unhappy, get irritable and everything goes pear shaped. You will not achieve it all so PLEASE don’t try too. It’s important to allow realistic time for the key tasks and be honest with yourself about what can and can’t be achieved. Focus on what is really important and remember that this might be different to what you would consider important in normal circumstances.

Setting priorities is essential… What must be done? What would be good to get done? What can wait until a bit later when things have either settled down or gone back to normal? This needs to be thought about in terms of what’s important for your family, and what’s important for your work. It will be different for everybody. For me, I have 2 growing, hungry boys so it’s really key that they are fed regularly! Sounds obvious and a bit daft, but if I’m trying to “just get a bit more work done” and they’re waiting for lunch, I’m really not going to achieve very much! So, I make sure they know when our meal times are and work around that. During school holidays, they make their own breakfast whenever they get up, then I prepare lunch at 1pm and dinner at 5.30pm. This helps schedule the day.

How much can you expect to work with children around, depending on their age?

I’ve grouped by age and this is based on my experience. You will know your kids best in terms of what they need and what they are capable of. These are guidelines that you could test out in your family and see how you get on:

0-5 year olds

The baby, toddler and pre-schools years. I’m not going to lie – it’s tough to get work done with kids of this age group around. They’re into everything, want a lot and need a lot. You may snatch the odd 10 minutes quiet time here and there, but it is hard to keep focused when this age group bring lots of distractions. I can remember trying to get work done when my boys were this age and it was
exhausting. Trying to pacify them while responding to emails or write a report meant I didn’t do a particularly good job of either task.

The key here is knowing your child, being realistic with yourself as to what you can get done and monitoring your own energy levels. If you know they will have a two hour afternoon nap and you’re fresh enough to concentrate in that time, plan for that and work. But you may be like me, and need the nap too! Sometimes I could get through a fair number of emails with their favourite DVD on in the background but that wasn’t guaranteed. Mainly, if there was essential stuff I needed to get done in the day, I would try and arrange for someone else to look after the kids – a grandparent, friend or partner. If that wasn’t possible, I would aim to get up a bit earlier and do some work before they woke (I know kids wake up times can be unpredictable!) or get some work done after they are in bed, praying they would settle quickly! As this is generally recharging time for parents of young kids, it’s key not to try and do too much.

5-9 year olds

At this age, children are more independent and able to occupy themselves for longer periods of time. They can generally watch a full DVD without getting bored and play computer games; screen time is beginning to occupy them. Other activities will also take up their time, my oldest son used to occupy himself by building hot wheels track structures!

While they may be able to occupy themselves for an hour or so, they are still not at the age where you could get a usual full day’s work done. I discovered that if their needs were met first, then they were happier to occupy themselves while I did something work related nearby. For example, getting kids to wait until the afternoon for an activity they are excited about is just not going to happen, so we’d visit to a play centre, park or similar in the morning, then they’d be more likely to settle down with a DVD in the afternoon, leaving me free to work on my laptop.  Other options could be a walk to the park, playing in the garden or giving them your undivided attention for a few hours with games or crafts at home. When they’ve had a good chunk of your time, they are more likely to be happy to let you get on with some work for a while.
Beware though, you may still get asked “have you done your work yet Mum?” after 10 minutes!

10-15 year olds

Working from home does get easier the older they get – thankfully. Children from 10-15 years tend to understand why you need to work, and the plans you put in place to create time for them and time for work. However, they do still have needs that require your attention. Help them to meet these needs then you can get on with some work effectively.

Things that have worked for me include:
Having a clear routine for the day without being too rigid. For example, we have agreed times for meals, and I get on with work when they are feeling laziest and I am feeling freshest – for us that’s the morning!

Have a plan for the week. I note this all down on a weekly planner. It doesn’t need to be too detailed but on a typical half term, I will usually work for a full day on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Then Monday’s, Wednesday’s and Friday’s are the days where we go out and do
something. This helps ensure they let me get on when I do need to work.

Make sure they’ve got what they need – be it food, new batteries for the Xbox controller or know exactly when their best mate is coming around, get these details sorted otherwise you’ll be constantly pestered!

Above all, this period will end. It will be hard at times and we’ll all get frustrated with our nearest and dearest. This is to be expected and we need to support each other as much as possible. Your children are part of your team too so look after them, be patient and do the best you can!

Thanks for reading my guest blog on BabaBaboon.


**You can learn more about Claire here.

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