Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents are working from home without access to camps, babysitters, playdates and/or help from grandparents. They must complete required work tasks with their children in close proximity; juggle conference calls, deadlines, kid’s needs and housework. This can have a huge effect on productivity! Don’t panic! The following are some tips to help those working at home with their children present.
Create a flexible schedule: Decide how many hours a day will be dedicated to working. Stick with this commitment but be flexible as to when those hours will occur. It may not be possible to get all your work done during regular business hours. It’s okay to work after dinner while the children are watching TV, in the morning before they arise or at night when they’re in bed. Make sure to include breaks for food and movement. If you have another adult home with you, work him/her into the schedule.
Plan breaks and downtime with the kids: During scheduled breaks, play with the kids, preside over schoolwork, go outside and/or set up video calls with distant family members. Give the kids your full attention so that later you can focus on your work. If children have time with you to look forward to, it may help them play independently while you are otherwise employed. Ensure that you have time to yourself to help keep your patience and energy level high.
Establish a routine: Contrary to the belief of many, children often thrive on a simple routine. It helps them stay occupied and manage anxiety. Write out a list of “things to do” each morning (dress, brush teeth, empty the dishwasher), afternoon (tidy room, free read, play with a sibling, screen time) and evening (bathe, brush teeth, put away toys). Even toddlers benefit from a routine, though you’ll need to guide/assist with their activities.
Plan for interruptions: Designate a specific area as your work zone and use it consistently. Have the children make/decorate a do not interrupt sign and clearly explain its purpose. Establish and explain clear guidelines for when interruptions will be tolerated and when they will not (when on a conference call, when you post the do not interrupt sign on or near your work station). Use noise-cancelling headphones to block out clamour and serve as an additional visual cue that it’s not time for interaction. Hit the mute button during unexpected disturbances! If your toddler cannot understand/adhere to the guidelines, end the call and reschedule if you can. Try scheduling your kids a standing virtual playdate with a friend or a weekly chat with a relative to provide you uninterrupted work time. Provide positive reinforcement when kids abide by the guidelines and meaningful consequences to children who repeatedly overstep the boundaries.
Give kids choice: Post lists on the fridge containing snack choices kids can make themselves and activity choices for when they’re bored. For younger children, prep and leave snacks on the counter or a low shelf in the fridge. Consider setting up activity stations for children to choose from (playdough on a garbage bag, board games on the floor, crayon/scissors/glue/paper on the kitchen table, beads and string on the coffee table). Kids are more likely to play independently if they have a choice.
Simplify domestic duties: If household chores threaten to overwhelm you, simplify them. Use the slow cooker. Order from a meal service. Assign age-appropriate cooking and cleaning tasks to the children. Wash the floor less often and forget the dusting for a while!
Be realistic: It’s almost impossible for you to accomplish what you used to! Let old expectations go. Do required tasks first. Forgive yourself for unproductive days.
Relax screen time: Be grateful for access to technology! Set clear guidelines regarding how much time your child can spend on their device. Use screen time apps to decide what sites are allowed and for how long. On a particularly demanding workday, let the kids have more than their usual screen time.
Be gentle with your kids! They need attention. The situation is hard for them too. Be gentle with yourself. You’re at home, trying to work and parent during a crisis!
Juggling work and childcare is intense and complicated. You will survive! You’ll get better at it. Realize that your situation is unique and adapt as needed. Assess, plan, discuss and reassess. It won’t be easy, but it’s manageable to work from home with your kids present.
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