It’s 1pm; Johnny’s had his nap, both children are fed, you’ve picked at their leftovers – time to put your feet up. Or not, if you’ve opted to work from home!
This may be your regular working pattern, or you may have negotiated flexible working terms for the summer holidays as many people are being granted permission to work from home, allowing them more flexibility and a solution to the ever growing costs of childcare.
Working from home with kids works well for some people; however, it’s not ideal for all.
Everyone needs to try it for themselves and decide if:
a) They work well from home – not everyone does!
b) The ages and dispositions of their children are conducive to working from home – not all of them are!
c) They are productive – again, not everyone is productive away from their desk, but others are more so!
For many employers, the notion of working a strict 9 to 5 has changed, and they are looking for output volumes rather than ‘face time’ – not the iPhone app; rather, the amount of time you spend in front of your employer. You may find that your employer is happy to accommodate an altered working pattern over the summer rather than have you off for long periods of time.
There will be stages in your child’s development that allow you more time to focus on the tasks at hand, and other stages that they need much more of your time and attention. The summer months can prove difficult, especially if the weather is nice and the kids want to be outside. In the long run, you will have to decide if combining work and childcare works for you and then find a way to implement it.
From our experience working with mums and dads who combine work with childcare, we have a few suggestions:
Schedule your time:
Remember you are doing two jobs, so schedule things accordingly. If you have small children about the place, things will take longer to complete so set realistic deadlines to avoid disappointing your boss and letting down your team.
Just as you have set hours in the office, designate set hours in the day that you are going to dedicate to work, give yourself built in breaks depending on the age and needs of your child. It may take your child a short time to get used to a routine and it may take you even longer – but it’s important to develop a working routine that you can stick to. Think about when they need to be fed, when they need a nap or when they are energetic, and build your day around that schedule.
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For example, schedule telephone calls during nap times and block out feeding time if they are on solids. If you’re breastfeeding, you might find you’re proficient at multi-tasking and you can tackle your inbox – or you might decide that it’s you and baby time. If you’re working on something that needs total concentration, it might mean scheduling in a period of time in the evenings when you can focus and your partner is home to handle any child-related emergencies.
And make sure you schedule enough time at the park to tire the little ones out for a few hours in the afternoon. When it comes to your child, remember that spending time entertaining themselves is not a bad thing: in fact, it can be a very good thing.
All of these decisions are up to you. No two people will feel exactly the same – so – step back, assess the situation and determine what works for you.
Use your parent networks and if you don’t have one, it’s time to start building!
Trading children for a few hours is a brilliant way of having an afternoon of quiet time to focus on the task at hand. The other parent will be happy to help, especially if they know they can call on you when they need a hand. This is easier as your children get older. If they are still quite young, you might need to find someone flexible enough to come to your home.
Know who you can call in an emergency and who you need to make plans with in advance, and ALWAYS reciprocate – you don’t want the relationships to be one sided.
Having part time childcare might be part of your plan, be it an Au Pair who is in the home with you – attending to your child while you work – or a family member who takes your child a few hours a day.
Even if you have family who can step in in an emergency, have a back-up plan in place for when you have a last minute meeting, or an outstanding deadline. Things don’t always run smoothly but if you prepare for worst case scenarios, then every day is a lot less bumpy! Have Emergencychildcare.co.uk in your SOS contact list.
Be honest with yourself and those you work with. Once you’ve got a schedule that works – explain it to your boss or line manager – let them know that you’ve put time and effort into finding a way for this to work for both of you. If you’ve scheduled a call and your child wakes up, don’t try to pretend you’re in the office – tell them you’re working from home and Johnny has woken up early. Try to carry on with the call – however, if the situation becomes too much, ask to rearrange the call. It will be more productive for everyone.
When your child is old enough, explain to them that Mummy is working, or that mummy needs to make a telephone call. Give them a task and explain that you’ll engage with them once the call is over. A word of advice – this won’t happen right away and you need to remember to go back to them every time you’re off the phone. Essentially, you’re training them to understand the times when you are available and when they need to entertain themselves.
Don’t forget your conversations at home, be honest about how you are feeling. Are you coping, or do you need help? What would help lighten the load? Remember only you know how you’re managing – don’t expect others to be able to read your mind.
Remove the roadblocks
Make sure you have an area of your home that you can set up as an office – as your children get older, it will be easier to explain that Mummy is working if they associate you working with a particular location – even if it is a corner of the sitting room. Setting up your office in a location where you can glance up at the room and observe your child will allow you to work with the knowledge that you’ve got an eye on the situation.
Before you start working from home, think long and hard about everything you’ll need. How do you access your company server? Have you set up a VPN to your office? Do you have the right equipment, do you need to provide it or does your company? Is your software upgraded? Will you have an office mobile or are you expected to use your home telephone?
The more you’ve thought of in advance, the more likely it will be smooth sailing when the day comes.
Entertaining your children while you’re working
Every child is different and you’ll need to find things that are of interest to your child. For example, if your child likes trains then find activities that include trains – if they’ve declared they are too old for a doll, don’t expect their Barbies to entertain them for a long period!
When finding activities that your child can do self-sufficiently, think about the amount of supervision they need. Activities like painting are not ideal when you don’t have a watchful eye on the artist!
Generally you want to think about activities that take a longer period of time, so that you can focus for longer. And you want to get them focused on one activity at a time – if you put all their toys in front of them at the same time, they will be bored in no time; if you slowly introduce toys or activities as the day progresses, you’ll hold their attention for longer.
Drawing – Whether you find print outs on the internet that they can colour in, or you challenge them to copy the greats. Have them do drawings for specific people and take a break to walk to the post office.
Building – This can range from wooden block to Lego or arts and crafts. Set challenges, such as ‘how tall can you build the tower?’ or ‘can you build a house with windows this week?’
Space – Build a fort together or let them set up their own office – this is a good way for them to have a place to go when you are in your office. Let them decorate it, and make sure they are aware it is their space.
Puzzles – Whether they are old enough for 1000 pieces or 10, or prefer word searches or matching pairs, puzzles have a way of taking over an afternoon! Just remember doing the same puzzle over and over again can get boring for an older child so surprise them with something new every now and again.
Challenges – If you have older children who are internet-savvy, set them challenges and get them to help you where they can. You might set them a task that helps you – e.g. counting columns on a spreadsheet, or adding numbers – you may have to double check, but feeling like they’re your helper will keep them busy!
TV/Movies – Don’t be afraid to use this as a treat when you need a solid period of quiet. Be careful not to fall into the trap of using the TV as your babysitter
Games – These are easier if you have more than one child as they can play together, or you might find games on electronic devices. Again, we suggest that you limit the amount of time spent on these and save them for when you need silence!
Are you working from home with kids? Let us know how you manage it by commenting in the box below.
Author: Kristen Harding, parenting and childcare expert for Tinies, the UK’s leading childcare agency.