Best Practices for Working at Home with Children

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By Jaimie Hutchison
These suggestions and guidelines offer you some direction on where to start. We are all in this together and every situation at work and at home is different. These are not suggestions to do all of these things, but rather to consider what may work for you. We need to work together with compassion to decide which priorities are valued. It is time for us all to dig deep and practice a level of flexibly that we have never had to exercise before.

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The WorkLife Office hosted a webinar titled "Best Practices for Working at Home with Children and Preparing for Childcare Family Arrangements" with Jaimie Hutchison to discuss the information below.  You can click here to view the recording (Requires MSU NetID, includes transcript).  If you are already logged into Spartan365, you'll see the video embedded on this website below.

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By Jaimie Hutchison

These are challenging times. The MSU WorkLife Office will be providing resources to help you navigate this first in our lifetime situation. The best practices provided below are provided as tips to get you started. As each family and work situation is different, please work directly with your supervisor to prepare the best plan for your work and family situation. Also, for those of you who cannot work from home due to your position, it is crucial to communicate with each other to create a plan that works best for your team. We are here as a resource if you need us.

  1. Be realistic: Children see us as parents first. When we are home and they are home, they will demand a lot of our time. We can use best practices and strategies to be as effective as we can, but it is not going to be the same as if we did not have children to attend to and care for. This is perhaps the ultimate test of work-life fit.
  2. Communication between supervisors and staff will be crucial: Set realistic expectations, show compassion for each other, know that everyone is trying their best in these trying circumstances.
  3. Supervisors: Communicate with your staff on what the priorities are and keep in mind that for many parents who have children at home, there will be extra demands on them. Please do your best to be flexible during this stressful time.
  4. Understanding: Some employees may not have internet access or the technology to work from home. Having communication about what the needs of the staff are and what is realistic to accomplish is key. Not everyone has the same access.
  5. Have a talk at home: Adults and children old enough to understand should sit down and talk about what each person can do to help other people. Talk about boundaries and how this is a new situation for most of us. If there is more than one caregiver who is able to be with the children, discuss how can you divide your time in order to each attend to your responsibilities at home and at work.
  6. Practice some drills: To minimize the risk of outbursts during conference call, Zoom meetings, or remote teaching, practice how-tos. It is not guaranteed, but it is worth a try. Example: If your parent is on the phone when you walk into the home designated workspace, do you run up and talk to them, or do you have a seat and wait quietly until they finish the call? (age appropriate of course!)
  7. Create boundaries: As mentioned in the beginning of this article, children will always see you as a parent first. Setting boundaries about when you are working is a positive step. Create a visual sign that shows you are working. Some people have signs up that say, “Stop, in a meeting” or they have a red cup out when you are working meaning do not disturb unless it is crucial. Others may be on their laptop in shared family spaces, so they wear a baseball hat when they are working, which means please do not disturb. This will help with children old enough to notice the symbol and who can be independent, cared for by an older child in the home, etc.
  8. Offer incentives: offer 30 minutes of a board game, time on the tablet, a walk around the block, or other incentives to reward good effort for what may be a very new experience where everyone in the family is working together in a new way.
  9. What if I have younger children who don’t understand boundaries yet? Take advantage of sleep time. For those with younger children, sharing on and off times with any other trusted adult is key when possible, and working around nap times and sleeping baby schedules can be key to accomplishing work.
  10. Block out the noise: If you have a quiet space where you can work, you will be less distracted. If not, or if you need to keep a close eye on things, consider wearing noise cancelling headphones. This can help you focus and still be present when you need to be.
  11. Free your hands: Babywearing can be a great way to keep your baby close and rocked, while your hands are free to work.
  12. Flex schedules: It is quite possible that you will be able to focus most after bedtime. Consider working with your supervisor to flex your schedule to attend to emails and work product after 7 or 8 at night after the children are sleeping. You may get more done then and have the time and concentration to focus. Splitting our attention between children and work is a real challenge, depending on the age and needs of the child.
  13. Create a to-do list: Prioritize what really needs to be done for work. What are the critical tasks that need to be done? How and when are you able to do these things? Click here for tips about how to keep your children occupied while at home.
  14. Are you an early riser? Maybe time before the children get up is the best time to work. Consider getting up early to get some things planned for the day before the children are awake.
  15. Take breaks: Are your children very persistent about wanting your time? Take a break and give it to them. These are unusual and challenging times; you have to prioritize each person in your home as stress levels are higher than ever for all of us.
  16. Work on the weekend: This is a time to consider every flexible option for work. Do we need to work less hours each day for seven days? Do we have time on the weekends that may allow us to get things done? This falls within the category of flexible work. Consider what is best for you and communicate your needs with your supervisor.
  17. Be compassionate to yourself: This may be a time when our children have more screen time than usual, or where we take a step back from being so accessible to everyone. We are all human. At the end of the day, we are all doing our best. Please see the article about managing stress in unusual times.
  18. Information on remote work and flex work can be found here. Some of the steps outlined, like a trial period, will not be feasible in this situation, but the general guidance may be helpful.

I hope these suggestions and guidelines offer you some direction on where to start. We are all in this together and every situation at work and at home is different. These are not suggestions to do all of these things, but rather to consider what may work for you. We need to work together with compassion to decide which priorities are valued. It is time for us all to dig deep and practice a level of flexibly that we have never had to exercise before.

The MSU WorkLife Office is here for you. We are available via Teams, email, and phone. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you need it. Please follow the MSU WorkLife Office Facebook page for more updates.

References:

DesMarais, C. (2013, August 14). Get more done: 18 tips for telecommuters. Inc. https://www.inc.com/christina-desmarais/get-more-done-18-tips-for-telecommuters.html

Dowling, D. W. (2017, September 14). How to work from home when you have kids. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2017/09/how-to-work-from-home-when-you-have-kids

Levin, H. (n.d.). How to work from home if you have kids—9 pro tips. Money Crashers. https://www.moneycrashers.com/work-from-home-kids/

Martin, A. (2017, December 13). 17 strategies to survive working from home with children. The Simple Dollar. https://www.thesimpledollar.com/make-money/17-strategies-to-survive-working-from-home-with-children/

Miller, N. (2016, September 14). Working from home with kids: 21 tips from our remote team. Buffer. https://open.buffer.com/integrating-work-family-21-tips-working-home-kids/

Oliver, M. E. (2018, September 5). Working from home with children: Tips to make it work. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/on-parenting/working-from-home-with-children-tips-to-make-it-work/2018/08/30/026242b4-9462-11e8-810c-5fa705927d54_story.html

South, R. (2017, June 18). Working from home 101: The complete guide to remote work [+infographic]. CakeHR. https://blog.cake.hr/working-home-complete-guide-remote-work/

Williams, J. C. & Multhaup, M. (2018, April 27). How managers can be fair about flexibility for parents and non-parents alike. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2018/04/how-managers-can-be-fair-about-flexibility-for-parents-and-non-parents-alike

Wirecutter Staff. (2019, March 5). How to work from home with children. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/05/smarter-living/wirecutter/how-to-stay-sane-when-working-from-home-with-children.html


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