For most of us whose jobs have suddenly shifted from our offices to our homes, we’ve only had about a week to try to adjust to juggling childcare, homeschooling (well,”homeschooling”), and working from home. We’ve talked about mistakes to avoid when working from home before, and over on Corporette we’ve discussed how to work from home effectively, but the situation that working parents now find themselves in is uncharted territory for all of us. Have you found any strategies for how to work from home when school is closed? How is it going so far, and how are you holding up? Has your employer been understanding about the difficulties you’re facing? (Alternately, is your kids’ school still open? How do you feel about that decision?)
One of the most irritating things I’ve seen over the last week is the negative reaction to moms who are venting about being with with their families 24/7 — specifically, the hot takes from single people who don’t have kids. I keep seeing the same hypothetical questions: “Why would you marry someone you don’t even like?” and “Why did you have kids, then?” Ugh. Most working moms are seriously stressed right now as we try to balance parenting with doing our jobs and teaching our kids (or at least keeping them busy) — not to mention worrying about the pandemic itself … and the economy … and for some of us, our jobs. So, readers, go ahead — vent away! (Also, check out last week’s recommendations from Kat and Corporette readers on how to deal with anxiety through laughter — some great ideas for TV shows, books, and more.)
Here are some tips on how to work from home when school is closed:
Split Up the Day with a Spouse or Partner
If your spouse is also working from home (and isn’t constantly on phone or video calls), plan ahead and divide up each day so that each of you gets blocks of interrupted work time. Otherwise, it’s far too easy for the default parent to take on more than their share. This arrangement also helps if you only have one place in your home that’s suitable as a home office — either a separate room or another secluded space — because the two of you won’t always have to share (clearly not an ideal situation for phone calls and video calls). Carving out discrete times for each of you for exclusively parenting and exclusively working can help avoid resentment between the two of you — just don’t expect it to work perfectly.
How to Work From Home When School is Closed: Know Your Priorities
If you suddenly feel like you have to compress eight hours of work into far less than that each day, you’re not alone. The regular productivity advice becomes all the more important now. Each morning, make a list of THREE THINGS that you absolutely need to (and can) get done with the time you have. Be mindful of the tools you need for the job, as well as the energy required, and what may stop you.
For example, if you wake up before your kids (or have shifted your sleep schedule to do so), but wake them up if you move around too much, this is the ideal time for reading in bed, responding to emails with your phone, or reviewing someone else’s work. (Some of the tools we mentioned in our advice on how to cut down on printing at home, like the Kindle and the app Good Notes, might be helpful here; Kat’s always loved her Bluetooth keyboard for this kind of work also.) On the flip side, if some work is far easier with “desktop/full office setup tools” such as dual monitors, numeric keypads, and a printer for frequent printouts and revisions, then you may want to prioritize that work when you do have unfettered access to your desktop.
Be Strategic About Screen Time
If your kids have schoolwork, try to coordinate those tasks with the times of day that they’re usually the most agreeable and the least tired (which for many is often early to mid-morning). This will involve some guesswork, but at least it gives you a basic structure for the day. Also, aim to give screen time during the time periods when being interrupted by your kids would be the most inconvenient. (We all remember this viral video.)
If you use PCs at home, you can use Microsoft Family to either schedule screen time or to dole it out (or not) as your kids request it. (It’s not perfect, and it can be glitchy at times, but it’s a big help.) You can also set app and game limits and content restrictions, which includes the option to allow certain websites. If you have a child who doesn’t do well with transitions, give them a couple of reminders before it’s time for a break from screens (“15 more minutes of screen time!”, “Only 5 more minutes left!”).
Don’t Forget Naps and Baths
In addition to screentime, your kids may have other periods where you can reliably get work done. Naptime is obvious, if you still have nappers, but bathtime is another one, assuming they’re old enough that you don’t worry about them drowning or slipping. (If you have young kids and you’re the default bathtime-parent, and your partner is taking on the task for the first time, give them our tips to make bathtime easier.)
Take Advantage of Free Online Educational Resources
It can be hard to avoid feeling guilty about giving your kids too much screen time (even in the midst of a pandemic — OK, at least in the beginning stages of one), but these educational sites and shows can at least teach your kid something while you enjoy some uninterrupted, or semi-uninterrupted, time to get work done. Check out Common Sense Media’s list of the best sites, apps, and games for kids from preschool to 13+, along with these links:
Free educational sites (and free trials):
- Scholastic’s Learn at Home
- Khan Academy
- The New York Times Learning Network
- ABCmouse (for kids 2–8; one month free)
- Adventure Academy (for kids 8–13; one month free)
- Crayola Create & Learn at Home
Ebooks and TV shows
- Audible has begun offering free audiobooks for kids (for desktop, laptop, phone, and tablet — and in six languages).
- Use the Libby app to borrow ebooks and audiobooks from the library.
- Free children’s ebooks are available on Project Gutenberg.
- The blog Homeschool Hideout has rounded up educational shows/videos on Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, YouTube.
Lower Your Standards
I’m pretty sure that no working mom is currently getting all her workouts done, constantly eating a healthy diet, serving her kids balanced meals daily, getting enough sleep every night, wearing non-pajama clothing at all times, and being a model employee. Actually, I’m 100% sure. Maybe you’ve made one of those pristine, color-coordinated schedules for your kids — you know, the ones that are all over the internet now — or maybe you never will. Maybe you threw yours away after Day 1, when you realized a typical day would be more like this. In general, what has really helped me is hearing other working moms’ experiences — whether from talking to friends on the phone, seeing “real” posts on social media, or reading essays like this one from The New York Times.
Do you have any tips for how to work from home when school is closed? Is your spouse or partner working from home too? What has been the biggest challenge? How are you dividing responsibilities?
Further Reading on How to Work From Home When School is Closed:
- 13 Parents on Navigating Child Care Right Now [The Cut]
- A Guide for Working (From Home) Parents [Harvard Business Review]
- Working at home during the coronavirus crisis with kids underfoot? Here are 9 ways to cope [CNBC]
- Coronavirus Triple Duty: Working, Parenting, And Teaching From Home [NPR]
- “I Feel Like I Have Five Jobs”: Moms Navigate the Pandemic [NYT]
- When Your Home Becomes Your Office and Daycare [Medium – Rachel Sklar]
Stock photo via Shutterstock / Iakov Filimonov.