With schools closing down and workplaces going online, many of us are finding ourselves in uncharted territory. It’s not just that we have to work from home, but we have to do it with our kids running around the house. The fact is you’re going to be more distracted working from home over the next few weeks when the whole family is home with you. But there are best practices to help you stay focused without ruining your relationships with your spouse and children.
- Get privacy. If you have a separate office in your house, use it and close the door. If you don’t, create a temporary office in a separate room where you can close the door and have quiet. It may mean taking over the dining room table or bedroom during the day and cleaning up your work materials at the close of the day. Privacy is not only for you, it’s for your colleagues and clients, and it will help the kids adjust better too.
- Set boundaries. No doubt kids will see being at home with you as an opportunity to spend more time with you (unless you have teens or college age kids, which may require creating more space). It will be up to you to set the boundaries early on and stay disciplined. They will likely try every trick in the book to get your attention at first, but if you stick to a routine, they will adjust.
- Personalize your plan. You know what works best for you and your family. If you need to take a lot of breaks to check on the kids or to maintain your own sanity, do it. Set your plan to work for 1 hour then take 10 minutes off to socialize, get coffee, stretch your legs, or whatever you need. But set a timer and get back to work. If you know that saying good-bye to your kids will trigger a huge separation issue, plan to see them only at lunchtime and the end of the day. If you need to trade off childcare responsibilities, figure out a plan that works for you and your partner. It may take a few tries to get it right.
- Be flexible and forgiving. Adjusting to working from home takes time and experimenting. Be patient with yourself, with your colleagues, and with your family. Plan ahead for mitigating and resolving frustrations. That may include creating “safe words” to use with your family or boss to compassionately tell them to back off. Humor can be of use for this. For example, if you choose a safety phrase of “purple dinosaur,” you could say to your 5-year-old that you need to meet with a purple dinosaur to mean that you need to step out of the room and calm down. Respect them when they say it too. With your boss, it could simply be, “I need to take a quick personal break and I’ll call you right back.”
The last word for this time of the Coronavirus crisis is that it is only temporary. You can set up routines that won’t last forever, like giving your kids more screen time or shifting your work to the evenings or playing tag in the yard at lunchtime or calling your coworkers just to chat. We’re all on edge with the ambiguity of the illness and the effects of cabin fever. Treat yourself and others with compassion during this period of time. Think about how you will want to look back on it.