Working parents have their hands full and then some. Many parents turn to remote work in hopes of an easier lifestyle and better way to blend their personal and professional responsibilities. And while working from home can and often does reduce stress (thanks to time and cost savings, among other things), it doesn’t eliminate it completely, as remote work may come with its own set of challenges.
Since it’s not always so simple managing both career and family life from the same venue (your home), we thought we’d share some advice to help working parents navigate the unique double duty of telecommuting while raising children.
Read on as we identify some of the most common obstacles that remote working parents face, followed by proven strategies to help working parents overcome the challenges of being accountable to both your boss/clients and your family/personal responsibilities when working from home:
Challenge: Kids’ needs don’t work around deadlines.
As a parent who works from home, your very location will predispose you to being on the front lines for family-related matters big and small. If you’re trying to accomplish work with small people in the house and you’re the only grownup, it goes without saying that your professional projects are vulnerable to getting kicked to the curb at any moment, overshadowed by more pressing matters like someone’s skinned knee or hungry belly.
If you’re holding out for naptime, imagining that as the magical hour or two you need to complete a report that’s due before the end of the day, you can’t necessarily rely on that time materializing—your child may choose not to nap today, or won’t do it in time for you to get the job done.
Solution: Prepare multiple layers of backup plans.
Just because you’re the one at home doesn’t mean you have to always personally be the one on the hook to deal with every childcare need or unexpected family mini-crisis. By planning ahead and being strategic, you can insulate yourself with reinforcements on your care team and have people to rely on if you get in a pinch with a deadline.
While not everyone can afford to pay a sitter every time they have a project due, you can get creative here with swapping time with another parent to watch their child in exchange for watching yours, enlisting willing family members to help you out, or even using childcare facilities at your gym for a few hours while you finish something up. (Many fitness centers, including certain branches of the YMCA, offer this type of childcare service to members.) The important point here isn’t what you have waiting in the wings to help you meet your deadlines, but that you identify help before you need it, and have more than one option to consider as your childcare backup.
Challenge: I see dirty dishes.
One advantage of working in a company office is that you’re blissfully freed from dealing with any responsibilities on the home-front while working. This is not the case for remote workers, who have chores all around them from the moment they get out of bed in the morning until they go to bed at night.
Solution: Learn the art of selectively ignoring chores.
There’s no way to sugarcoat this advice, and it may be hard to stomach for those who were neatniks before they became parents, but something’s got to give. If you spend half your morning between nine and noon doing the breakfast dishes, tidying up your kitchen, and making sure every toy gets put away perfectly in the playroom, then you’re seriously curtailing the amount of time you have to work (not to mention your focus).
Learn to temporarily put on blinders to housework during your working hours, just as you would need to do to get to work on time in a corporate office.
Challenge: Work from home feels more interruptible.
There’s mom working away in her home office—the door is closed, but everyone knows she’s in there. Knock knock knock—“Mom, do you know where my stuffed unicorn went?” The very fact that you’re on the premises as opposed to “at work” in an offsite office makes you infinitely more likely to be interrupted by family members, who aren’t respecting your time in the same way that they would if you were miles away in a meeting with your boss.
Solution: Explain, set, and enforce boundaries around your work hours.
It’s great on one level to be in close proximity to family during your workday, and certainly one reason why many parents initially decide to work remotely. But unless you value your own work time and protect it in the same way that you would in a traditional office, no one else is going to do so. Before you begin working from home, sit your entire family down and explain what it means when your office door is closed. Explain the importance of talking quietly near your office, and enlist help in planning in advance as much as possible for any needs. (For example, making sure older kids have lunches ready to grab from the fridge so they don’t need to interrupt you to make food when they’re hungry.) This strategy obviously won’t work with very young children and you’ll need to use the backup plans mentioned above for help with them. But you can still mitigate many potential project derailings by being firm and clear about your work-time boundaries, and ensuring that your family members understand that your work from home is “real work.”
Remote jobs can be a lifesaver for parents, but for the best chance of success for the whole family, it pays to plan ahead. Make sure that you have the support and understanding you need in advance to get both of your important jobs done right.
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