Juggling a job and kids? Here are six tips to make that balancing act work

One question has been going through the minds of parents since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis: Are they workers first or educators? Because with the demands of school-age children at home full time, some working parents may be feeling the squeeze of these two roles happening simultaneously.

And what began as a short stint that many government and business officials hoped would be done around Easter has expanded. Now, it looks like the overall shutdown will continue through the end of April and, if some media reports are accurate, the school year in Michigan may be shut down entirely.

Bridge Magazine is reporting that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is considering an executive order that would end the 2019-2020 school year, keeping students at home rather than returning to school buildings and sending parents back to their offices.

Stifel Chief Economist Lindsey Piegza has been keeping track of the growing economic impact of coronavirus fears and a likely U.S. recession. In part, she said, “Amid the prospects of keeping workers home and businesses closed for another 30 days, the market is beginning to price in a more severe recession despite unprecedented stimulus.”

Experts such as Heidi Rhodes of Cisco Webex have been working with families throughout the past few weeks to determine how to best work from home. It’s a chaotic, hectic balancing act, but one that all families are likely facing for the near- to long-term.

Take lunch, for example. Who makes lunch? When should you serve it? How on-call does a parent need to be when it comes to those all-important peanut-butter sandwiches? Rhodes said clear communication is key during these times.

“For example, telling them that you’re working from 9-12 and 1-5 lets them know that you are going to be busy throughout the day during those times, but they can expect to see you for lunch,” Rhodes said. “For older children, setting simple rules like ‘a closed door means you need it to be quiet during calls’ could be all it takes to keep your sanity throughout the day.

“Many of our coworkers set a policy that the kids need to send a message online or open the door quietly to get your attention if the door is closed,” Rhodes added.

Here are some of Rhodes’ other tips for embracing remote work while mastering the art of working from home with children.

1) Answer the why first. Depending on how old your kids are, they may or may not fully understand why they’re home from school or why you’re at home (but still working). Take the time to set some rules and expectations on what normal looks like now. Be clear on when it’s OK to make noise — or not — or when you’ll be available to sit and do activities with them, what situations mean it’s OK to knock on the door and when you need to be quiet in the house.

2) Set a schedule. Keeping a routine is hard in this new normal, but a necessity for some kids. We’ve found that taking some time to plan out a schedule so they get used to waking up, doing planned activities, studying, and going on walks really helps keep things as normal as possible.

Another option is to let the kids set their schedules and timers using connected devices. For example, they can tell in-home smart devices to set a timer (or use the kitchen timer) throughout the day to keep them on track.

3) Work as a team. With so many companies encouraging or mandating remote work, you may be lucky enough to be working at home with your partner or have friends or family able to help. If so, plan who will have some downtime to entertain the kids and when you can switch off.

If you have a big meeting that requires no distractions or unnecessary noise, consider arranging an activity for the kids to go outside to play (if available). Other activities like board games or specific school assignments can leave you some quiet time to focus. Big siblings (depending on their age) can also be enlisted to help with the younger kids throughout the day. Click to find other great ways that technology creates better interpersonal connections.

4) Talk with your manager about flexibility. With so many of us working remotely, most leaders are anticipating and accepting the challenges of working remotely, including dealing with distractions. If your kids are up early and don’t nap until the afternoon, work with your manager to schedule essential calls around that time. Or ask for non-traditional working hours so you can maximize your time when your children are sleeping at night.

You can also explain that they’ll be running in and out of the room throughout the day and to not be surprised when one of them makes a cameo on a video call. You may be surprised with how many of your coworkers are in the same situation and open up conversations you would never have had in the office. Webex welcomes kids or pets as part of the work-from-home experience.

5) Never stop learning. Whether you regularly homeschool, your child’s teacher has sent home digital or physical schoolwork, or you just want your kids to keep learning while home, there are a few ways to engage your kids in learning. Set times throughout the day for reading, completing assignments, doing puzzles or other activities that challenge their mind, or any other learning-related activities they can do. If you have a tablet or computer, set aside time for your kids to play a fun educational game — they’ll be learning, but really, it’ll feel like fun (and keep them occupied).

6) Keep them busy. Managing kids while working can be a challenge, so our design team made a quick set of coloring guides for kids of all ages (and adults, too).

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Karen Dybis
Karen is an editor and writer for Corp! Magazine. She graduated from the University of Michigan and has worked at The Mackinac Island Town Crier, The Kalamazoo Gazette, The (Adrian) Daily Telegram and The Oakland Press. Karen was a Detroit News business writer with stints in retail, workplace issues and personal finance. Dybis also was a blogger on Time magazine's "Assignment: Detroit" project. She is author of four Michigan history books, including "Secret Detroit" and "The Witch of Delray."