Working from Home with Kids: Tips and Tricks

Kristin Sullivan
February 7, 2024
Woman working from home with kids while they curl her hair and apply makeup to show how crazy things are

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.

Going Back to Work from Home

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.”  

Work-Life Balance... at Home

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.

Theme Park of Distractions

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.     

  1. Disney Plus or Netflix is your babysitter now. Forget everything you have read about kids and screens. That kind of research has no place here. Put on a movie or series that you know your child loves. Calculate how long this will last and work backward from there.  
  2. Drawing Station. Ten feet from the TV, place a fun new coloring book with washable crayons or markers. Extra points for a pack of graph paper and pencils for your future solution architect to draft diagrams.
  3. Snack Bowl. After the drawing station, set a giant bowl of goldfish salad. Mix different types of goldfish crackers together with chocolate and pretzels.
  4. Stickers. Next, leave a sticker album with lots and lots of stickers. Choose stickers you will not mind finding on your fridge or elsewhere. Hit up Amazon for goo-gone, just in case.
  5. Candy Buffet. Lastly, leave a candy buffet at the bottom of the stairs or hall to your office. This is your last shot, so dig deep here and use your best judgment based on your experience.   Fill a big basket with Twizzlers, M&Ms, and colorful candy your child loves.  
  6. Wrap-up Presentation. When finished presenting, find that mute button. You only have a few minutes at best.  
  7. Take Feedback on Mute. This should coincide with when your child has exhausted the trail of distraction and bursts into your office.
  8. Unmute As Needed. Briefly unmute to agree with all feedback and suggestions. Now is not the time to get into a long discussion. Agree and move on. You can face the consequences later when your child is off your lap.
  9. High-Five your Kid. When the meeting has adjourned, give your child an enthusiastic high-five! You just made it through one of the most ridiculous things you’ll do professionally.

Top Tips for Home Office Organization with Children

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.

  • Create a separate working space. You are more likely to get interrupted by your kids if you do not have a dedicated space.
  • Keep it quiet. Soundproof your office as much as possible. I have an inexpensive door sweep weather strip that helps block noise.
  • Invest in a good set of noise-canceling headphones. 
  • Establish a routine. Maintain a consistent work-from-home routine. Create a schedule and take breaks when needed. 
  • Take a break. Take one of those breaks to greet and connect with your child when they walk in the door from school.
  • Set boundaries. Lock your office door and add a "Do Not Disturb" sign when you absolutely cannot be interrupted. Hide all bobby pins.
  • Over-communicate. Maintain regular updates, check-ins, and follow-ups with your team. Update colleagues when you unexpectedly need to be out of the office for a child-related issue.
  • Maintain a toolbox of distractions. Keep things on hand for when your kids are unexpectedly home for the day. Tweak the Theme Park of Distractions outlined above, as needed.
  • Have patience with yourself. Balancing work demands and family is challenging for everyone!

Working from Home with Kids Post-Covid

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!

Kristin is a seasoned software professional, with over 26 years of invaluable experience in the software industry. Her multifaceted career includes a wealth of hands-on experience across various cross-functional roles, including business analysis, product management, project management, and product training. Kristin has a proven record of accomplishment in project and team management on highly complex enterprise projects. Her extensive industry knowledge spans financial services, banking, non-government organizations (NGO's), and manufacturing.
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