There’s no doubt that more employees are trading a long commute to the office for a virtual workspace in the comfort of their own home — according to U.S. Census Bureau, in 2010, 13.4 million people worked from home at least one day a week, an increase of 35 percent in the last decade, and that number continues to rise.
For parents trying to maintain a career while raising a family, telecommuting can be the key to creating a sense of balance. But having your home do double duty as your office can create challenges — particularly when kids are around. If you’re tackling the brave new world of working from home with kids, here’s what you can do to boost your productivity between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Hire a sitter or nanny. Hiring a caregiver to watch your children during business hours is critical if you want to work from home successfully. Whether that means an all-day nanny or after-school sitter depends on the age of your children and the needs of your family, but without a sitter, your ability to get your job done is likely going to suffer, which could ultimately jeopardize your flexible work arrangement.
Create a dedicated work space. To effectively telecommute, you need a space to work in — and if your kids are home, forget about using a common area like the dining room table or kitchen island. Instead, set up your office in a spare room, a basement, or even in your bedroom. Most importantly, make sure your office has a door you can close and is equipped with whatever you need to work. The less you have to move around the house, the less you’ll remind your kids that you’re home. In other words: Out of sight, out of mind.
Set boundaries and stick to a routine. Working from home means you can (in theory) toss a load of laundry in at 10 a.m., have lunch with the kids at noon, and prep dinner at 4 p.m. It’s easy to forget that you have to treat your home office the same way you would any other workplace. Determine what time you’ll start work each day, when you’ll take breaks, and when you’ll log off. You can still take advantage of some of the perks — maybe you spend 15 minutes doing housework before lunch, or you use your midday break to play with the kids once a week — but sticking with a schedule will not only help you stay on task, it also will make the days more predictable for your kids and help your sitter do her job. How ever you decide to structure your day, make sure the household understands that when you’re working, you need that time and space to be respected.
Empower the sitter to enforce the rules. The sitter may be in charge, but if the kids know you’re in the house, they will likely seek you out. Once you set boundaries, it’s important that the sitter or nanny is able and willing to enforce those boundaries — even if it means contending with whining, tears or tantrums. Empower your nanny to stand her ground and discipline behavior issues that arise when the rules are broken. Remember: The first weeks might be rocky, but once everyone understands and gets used to the schedule, these issues will subside.
Get the kids out of the house. With a sitter in charge, there’s no reason to keep the kids cooped up in the house. Sign them up for classes that the sitter can attend with them or transport them to and from; keep a list of nearby parks and encourage the nanny to take them outside as often as possible; and set up playdates to help ensure a quiet house for at least a few hours each day.
Make family time about family. While working from home is a benefit for many parents, it’s not all pros. When your home is your office, it’s impossible to leave work behind physically — which means it also can be difficult to let it go mentally. Log off and spend quality time with your family when the workday ends — it will not only help your kids better understand the boundaries between work and personal time, it will mean you maintain balance, which is exactly what working from home is supposed to help you achieve.