Wait, aren’t you a stay at home mom (SAHM) you may be asking? Yes, I am now. I am currently writing this while my youngest naps and his sister watches a show (aka screentime). I am writing instead of doing the dishes, folding laundry or packing for our upcoming trip. However, in my past profession I had the opportunity to work from home and I continue to witness my husband do this regularly. I also have many friends who do this daily dance and feel I can lend some insight.
1. Your dishes will still not be done.
When I first started working from home, my oldest was about 9 mos old. As a new working mother I had never faced the struggle of having a laundry mountain daily, a pile of dishes that never seemed done and the feeling as though I cleaned during all my waking hours and yet it still looked like a college student's unkempt dorm room during finals week. One of the first thoughts I had when I was going to be able to work from home was, “Hey! Now my house will be cleaner!” I naively thought that a magical cleaning hour would manifest itself during the day and I would never have to vacuum again on the weekends. However, as you may be already able to guess--working from home did not make my house cleaner. In fact, I had more dishes because I was eating at home more. An obvious fact I had somehow overlooked. The only time I ever found to do my dishes was to unload the dishwasher while on a conference call--while on mute of course!--or on my lunch break after I made more dishes that is.
Try to carve out time for your house chores and to-do list during time you previously did not have at your disposal due to working outside of the home. For example, if you no longer need an hour of getting ready and commute time--is that a time you can run a load a laundry and pay some bills online? It is human nature to adapt to our current environment and suddenly we no longer have the time to do what we thought we would do. Have you ever had a shorter commute only to find yourself sleeping in later or perhaps staying at work longer, thus negating the extra time you could have used towards other things you had in mind (e.g. gym, family, etc.) Be mindful of this common pitfall and make a plan on how you intend to utilize the gift of more time at home.
2. You still might need to pay for daycare or a sitter.*
Depending on the requirements of your job you may still need to have sitter or daycare option available. This was not a surprise for me given the nature of my job involved extensively talking on the phone during regular business hours. In addition, if a child was ever heard in the background, my employer had the ability to revoke telecommuting option. As you might imagine, this was a big challenge to assure my child and then later children were never heard. In the beginning, my husband and mom split the child watching duties while I worked. Eventually we did have to enlist a daycare/babysitter.
Before I had children, I had always envisioned working from home and having a “mother’s helper” who would be at my home and watch my child while I worked. I soon learned that this was another one of those “before you have kids fantasies”. I quickly learned finding the perfect sitter to watch your child is difficult. Finding the perfect sitter that you can also be around while they are watching your child/children is near impossible! For one, the child knows their own parent is home, so of course they are going to want them. It takes a skilled sitter to be able to successfully redirect your child in this type of setting. Secondly, finding the right personality match between yourself and your sitter given you will be in very close proximity and in some case working alongside them is a must. Of course, you want to feel comfortable around anyone who will be watching your child, but there is a difference between being around your sitter for a short duration upon their arrival and departure versus a longer stretch of time (4-6 hours in our case most days).
After some failed attempts at finding this unicorn of a babysitter we transitioned to a full-time day care option for our toddler outside the home. This is what truly worked best from a working perspective and allowed for the highest amount of work productivity. However, trade offs included less time to be with our children and having to expose them (and ourselves!) to increased illness at daycare.
Consider what your needs will be while you are working to help decide if hiring a babysitter or daycare is required for you to be able to carry out your duties from home. *If you are able to work during non-business hours or when you have your partner or other trusted family-member or sitter its possible this may be a non-issue for you.
3. Space is important.
This goes along with the above paragraph, but let’s say you have a sitter or perhaps the other parent watching your child while you work. Having a designated kids space and work space is essential. When I first started working from home I had a separate home office in the house that I shared with my husband. This room had French doors, so curtains were a must. The downside was the room was not soundproof and if a baby was crying that was a big distraction. When baby number two was on the way, we had to vacate the home office to make room for the nursery. As an alternative, we were fortunate to be able to build a barn-style shed adjacent to our home. This was a great option and worked very well from a sound and privacy standpoint.
If you are working from home, whether you are in a private room in your home or a detached space try to avoid making multiple trips inside the house or around your kids and the sitter. Most parents know that things can be going along smoothly and then an interruption occurs and its back to ground zero. You want your sitter or co-parent to have the opportunity to entertain and engage your child(ren). If you are frequently going in the house to get more coffee, use the bathroom, etc that makes their job and therefore your job harder. When my sitter would arrive, I used to feel like I was back in college packing up my bags to go to the coffee shop and study! I made sure I had snacks, water, coffee and an empty bladder to be able to put in some good solid hours without needing to go back into view of the children.
4. Boundaries are essential.
Whether your job from home entails providing patient care via phone like mine did or you are an entrepreneur working to build your brand--setting clear boundaries with your family is essential. Before you start working from home it is difficult to know what unique challenges you may face. If you are reading this, perhaps you are trying to find out what those challenges will be!. Having an idea of what your duties will be and what type of environment you need to be able to carry them out will help you identify what type of boundaries you need to set. In my case, when I had my headset on my partner (and sitters!) knew that meant I was on the phone and NO INTERRUPTIONS unless it was a true emergency! I used signs/sticky notes as well to indicate I was busy and please do not disturb. Whether you work in the office or at home, being interrupted has a substantial impact on your productivity. One well-sited study shows it takes an average of 25 minutes to get back on track with the task you were doing following an interruption. Blocking off time where you can be free of interruptions can result in maximum productivity.
If you have older children, you may also be able to convey that when you are working on a task that requires your full attention that they will need to entertain themselves for that period of time. A little planning ahead on activities for older children to do on their own can also help with carving out those necessary blocks of time. Although I am all about screentime--everyone needs a chance to Netflix and chill. I also like to look for non-screentime ideas. Lucky for me, my daughter is a huge artist and will happily crank out some art for me while I work, but to mix things up I like to look to Erica’s site for more screen-free ideas
5. Be Flexible.
If something is not working (ahem no pun intended) don’t be afraid to shift course. My experience with working from home is that it is not an automatic panacea or magic bullet to create the work-life balance you may have envisioned. However, it can certainly take the edge off. With dedication, discipline and mindfulness you can create the space in your life for maximum productivity and bountiful family time. For example, perhaps your traditional work hours can in fact be flexible. Whether you are self-employed or work for a large company take inventory of your tasks and ask yourself which ones could be done “after hours” to allow for more family time, exercise, meal prep, etc (insert what you feel is lacking in your life). Presenting these ideas to your employer may allow for more flexibility in your work schedule then perhaps you initially thought would be permitted. Being flexible in your hours (if possible!) and in your expectations can make the world of difference in how well working from home can change your life. In addition, understanding that it is not a quick-fix and can take some time to adjust to will help you to know if its a long-term solution for you and your family.
Thanks for reading! What are some tips you have for someone who is planning on working from home?