I don’t usually share much about my personal life on this blog (after all, it’s a tech blog), but with the recent developments with COVID-19, I feel like I have to write this article.
You may not know this, but for the last 5 years I’ve worked full-time as a remote software developer, most of the time from home. Also, my wife and I homeschool our 4 daughters, which are right now aged from 10 to 2 years old.
I believe this gives me a pretty good perspective on a situation that many people are going to experience for the first time this week. So, without further ado, here are the tips:
1: Have a dedicated “work” space
This one is crucial, whether you have kids or not. Having a dedicated space for work helps you get in the “work” mindset in the morning, and also helps you leave “work” at work in the evening so you can go back to your family and be fully present mentally.
Adding kids into the mix makes this even more important, as it allows them to see easily when you’re available and when you’re not. It also allows them to go on with their lives without disturbing you (too much). Having a space with a door that closes is key for this.
If you’re doing this on a temporary basis and don’t have a spare room to dedicate to work, I’d suggest you setup your work space in a room your kids don’t use during the day, such as your bedroom. This doesn’t work as well for the mental separation aspect, but it will help your children understand that you’re at work.
2: Follow your usual routine
Again, this is one of the regular tips that remote workers in general should follow that becomes even more important when you have children at home. Having a regular routine will help you not feel like a slob that doesn’t do anything all day, of course, but it will also signal to your children that life goes on as usual.
3: Have a primary caregiver
This one is a very personal decision, but in my family’s case, I’m the primary breadwinner and my wife is the primary caregiver. This means that I’m working in my home office during the workday while my wife takes care of our kids and educates them.
If that’s not an option, you might want to look at re-arranging your schedule so you have a solid chunk of “work” time while your children are busy with something else (like sleeping).
4: Educate them
This one seems obvious, but people often ask me how I keep my kids from disturbing me while I work. As with every other behavioural / etiquette issue, this simply comes down to education. Tell your children to stay out of your office when you’re working, and remind them of the “rule” if they still come in.
After 5 years, they still come into my office from time to time, especially when it’s time to eat. I let them know if I’m going to be on an important call ahead of time, and they’re pretty careful when they know it’s important to me.
5: Get good headphones
Let’s face it: there will be noises in the house. Having a good pair of headphones will help you stay focused on your work and will increase your productivity. If you like listening to music while you work, they don’t need to be noise-cancelling, but they need to block at least some amount of sound. A good pair of “closed” over-ear headphones (I have a pair of these) will keep most distracting sounds at bay.
6: Encourage autonomy
When parenting in general, the more your kids can do on their own, the less you have to do for them. If your children can’t do anything in your house on their own while you’re busy, you’re in for a bad time. Now would probably be the time to teach them how to make a few basic snacks, put on a movie, dress up on their own, etc.
If you have an older child who can do some of these things, he/she can teach the younger siblings, thus reducing the workload of the primary caregiver.
It is very possible to work from home with kids in the house. It’s totally normal to have some issues at first; as with any change, there is an adaptation period to go though.
To help with this kind of transition, I’ve decided to add a new service offering to my freelance practice: I can be your remote work consultant. If you or your company is currently transitioning to remote work, hit me up at emile.cantin at gmail.com and tell me if I can do anything to ease the transition.