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It can be a challenge to work from home, especially when you first start out. There are so many distractions – and not all of them productive! There’s laundry to be done, and – oh boy! – the t.v. is free so I can catch up on my DVR’d shows, my dog really needs to go socialize at the dog park, the bills need to be paid …. The list is endless because there are always chores that need to be done. That just comes with the territory of being an adult. The trick is figuring out how to ignore the noise and focus on being a productive remote contributor for your employer. However, that is a bit harder to do when there are children, especially young children, in the mix.
As a long-time telecommuter, I have worked from home with babies, toddlers, school-age children, teenagers and young adults. Babies, of course, are the most challenging to work around because they require the most hands-on attention. Daily naps and early bedtimes helped to a certain extent, but I still ended up putting in many weekend hours when my husband could take over as primary caregiver. Toddlers are a close second because – you guessed it – mobility and tantrums become factors. Try participating in a conference call when your two-year-old is having a full-blown meltdown!
Your children’s needs will evolve as they grow and these changes will impact how you build flexibility into your day. Once my boys started school, I found myself with a six-hour window to work uninterrupted during business hours. Making sure I stayed focused and productive during those six hours allowed me the freedom to step away in the afternoons for pick up, homework, after school activities and meal prep. During the evening, I could then step back into work mode for 2-3 hours (or more as needed) to finish up the day’s tasks.
With three boys of widely varying ages, it took several years for me to find a comfortable, consistent work-from-home rhythm. During that time, there was a great deal of trial and error until I found a system that worked for me, my family and my employer. Here are some of the key points I found it useful to address.
#1 Evaluate your technology. Is your home office equipped with tools to help you maximize your efficiency and communicate with colleagues? Is your hardware and software synced with what everyone in the office uses? Find out what apps your colleagues use to stay in touch and make sure you understand how to use them. Spending some time up front to become proficient with the tools you need to be a productive contributor will not only ease the transition to working from home, but will also show colleagues and management that your commitment and willingness to do whatever is needed to be successful in your new role.
#2 Explain it to your kids. Children don’t always understand why their parents have to work, particularly younger children who require more attention. However, a simple explanation that Mommy and Daddy work hard to make money to take care of their family is easily digested by kids as young as preschoolers. In addition, following through and ‘working hard’ sets a good example and transmits important values like responsibility.
#3 Organize your day. Anyone with children knows that a schedule can go sideways at any moment. Ideally, however, organizing your day to a certain extent helps you plan out tasks, allot the time needed to complete them, and measure your productivity. For example, I start out my day checking in on my social media accounts. I do this over breakfast and a cup of tea after taking my youngest son to school. I follow this routine consistently because it needs to be done and checked off my list. If I leave this task until later in the day, I’ve found that I can easily get caught up in the ‘social’ aspect, which takes time away from other responsibilities. A quick check during breakfast, and I’m done with social media for the day.
#4 Organize their day. Your kids need structure, too, especially if they’re home with you all day. Planning depends heavily on your children’s interests and the flexibility in your workday. When my boys were young, I arranged trips to the park or signed us up for classes with the park district in the mornings. I took advantage of the fact that all three of my boys were high energy early risers who tended to crash after lunch. This schedule gave me a window to work during business hours while they napped. Structuring our days – and having good sleepers! - was essential for me to be able to be a successful remote employee.
#5 Control the controllables. When you’re a parent, you understand that not everything is under your control. Focus on what you can take control of and let the rest take care of itself. For example, make sure you have a dedicated, functional workspace, preferably with a door if there are toddlers or pets in the house. Create a professional space so piles of kid stuff are not visible when you join your colleagues on a Skype call.
#6 Take Mom breaks. It’s important for both of you that you take breaks during your work day. Your kids get that connection and attention they crave and you get to disconnect from work, even if it’s only for a few minutes. Stepping away from work to run around or be silly with your kids, attend to a meal, run an errand or pick up school age kids is invigorating! I know when I work breaks in, even today, I come back fresh, more alert and energized. Productivity goes through the roof!
#7 Keep the childcare. This may sound counter-intuitive for those who work from home in order to avoid the need for daycare. However, depending on your job, it may be prudent to use daycare or a sitter part-time until your children reach school age. (This is where grandparents come in really handy – it can be a challenge to find affordable part-time daycare.) If your job is demanding, requires long hours, or involves you being on the phone for hours out of the day, having a couple of scheduled blocks of dedicated work time during the week can go a long way towards facilitating productivity and relieving some of the stress associated with a high-octane position.
#8 Show your commitment. When working remotely, be sure to make a point of showing your colleagues and your manager that you are committed to your role and the organization. You can accomplish this by maintaining a schedule, emailing first thing in the morning, communicating professionally, responding to emails in a timely manner, completing tasks on time or before they’re due, and being flexible with call times when you work with colleagues who live in other time zones. Small tactics like these demonstrate the positive attributes of a hardworking employee and team player.
#9 Work in the office. This recommendation depends entirely on your distance from an office, or if there is an office. Some companies use a fully distributed workforce, so visiting a traditional office isn’t an option. If you work for one of these forward-thinking companies, be sure to attend the conference calls, video conferences or virtual events that apply to you. It’s important for remote employees to stay connected to their colleagues and show they are actively involved with the company.
If you live near an office, plan to join your colleagues for monthly meetings, annual town hall events or social outings. It’s just as important for your colleagues and manager to stay connected with you as it is for you to stay connected to your organization!
Conclusions? Working from home is a coveted perk for many parents and caregivers, but it’s not easy. However, with time, patience, hard work and perseverance, it’s possible to learn how to balance responsibilities and succeed as both working parent and remote employee.
Stacy LeFevre writes about work-from-home opportunities, current events and anything else she finds interesting or frustrating for Onlinesurveysbyajbc.com, the online arm of A. J. Baron Communications.
A J Baron Communications has been in business since 1994. Over the last two decades, AJBC has evolved from providing virtual support services to small businesses and independent contractors to developing and executing internal research projects for companies of all sizes. AJBC also consults with organizations interested in starting or improving a telecommuting program and consumers seeking traditional work-from-home employment or legitimate paid survey opportunities. For more information about AJBC or work-from-home opportunities, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest or learn more here.
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