Working from home with kids has become the standard for many remote workers. When I started working from home, I was one of the few I knew who primarily worked remotely. Moving to remote in 2020 was not much of a transition for me and those at my company. However, transitioning to becoming a parent who worked from home was a profound change. In 2014, I had my first and only child and took time off from work. As many parents feel, I was conflicted about leaving the workforce.
When my daughter was about a year old, my company asked if I would return to work for a client in Pennsylvania. I wanted to accept the offer but was concerned about managing my work-life balance with a young child. My daughter was delightful (and still is) but had tons of energy and kept us on our toes. The offer was to work part-time and included travel twice a month.
While the offer was appealing, I declined, primarily because of the frequent travel. Someone suggested I take my daughter and hire a local babysitter at the client site. Uhm, no thank you. Being a working parent at home is hard enough, never mind at an away game! That offer was followed up with no travel and work during my “off hours.” I loved that, but I had NO “off hours.”
Ultimately, my company and I found a way to make it work with me working 100% remotely. I quickly learned that working from home with a child presents a unique set of challenges, with childcare at the forefront. I soon hired a nanny to care for my daughter while my husband and I worked. Fast forward about a year, and our nanny unexpectedly had to return to Ireland. She did not show up for work one morning with no advanced warning. And I had an important client meeting scheduled to present my months-long project! I had to think fast to come up with a plan.
With my work-from-home routine disrupted, I needed a bulletproof strategy to get through the meeting. Note: I can not take full credit for the idea I outline below. Years ago, I read an article written by a Mom who successfully managed a radio interview with her young child in the next room. I took from that and tweaked it. This experience was super nerve-wracking but did lead me to discover the ultimate hack of how to successfully lead a meeting with a highly active, unsupervised young child in the house.
The following strategy is particularly effective (and necessary) for children who do not enjoy TV yet DO enjoy getting into loads of mischief. The goal is to create a Theme Park of Distractions, which includes various fun and safe items to buy yourself some uninterrupted time.
These stations should start at a home base. The obvious choice is the TV, but I knew I had to get more creative to avoid interruptions during my presentation. The key here is that the trail of items must be far more interesting than the usual shenanigans you pull out at restaurants and long car rides.
This lineup gave me about 55 minutes. Your mileage may vary.
It has been a few years since I have had to go to the lengths above to keep my daughter out of my office. Working remotely with school-aged children is much more manageable. There are still many challenges (looking at you snow days); however, there are ways to set yourself up for work-from-home success with children. Here are my top tips for creating a kid-friendly home office.
Notably, pre-pandemic work-from-home was less family-friendly than it is now. Covid-19 changed things for the better for parents working remotely. When the world was in lockdown, more patience was given to those working with children at home. Rescheduling a critical meeting due to childcare issues is far more acceptable today. However, patience might be waning several years later as companies reverse pivot on working from home. If so, don't forget to stock up on the Twizzlers!