WFH Kids Mom Hero

The spread of coronavirus has forced many parents far and wide to move their offices to their homes. Trying to stay productive while working from home with children, pets, or both can be challenging. If you find yourself in that category, these tips and some hard-earned suggestions from our Mitel team members can help.

In this post (click a heading to jump to that section):

Kids: Create a Schedule
Kids: Keep them Entertained
Kids: Separate Roles
Kids: Get Help if Necessary
Kids: Manage Expectations
Kids: Special Considerations for Single Parents
Kids: Self-Care
Pets: Giving Pets Attention
Pets: Limiting Pets’ Distractions
Pets: Pet Schedules and Separating Spaces
Pets: Combining Strategies
Pets: Giving Yourself a Break
Parents: Thank You

Create A Schedule

It's critical to develop and maintain a semblance of a routine. Create a schedule for your kids at home. Kids do better and behave better when they know what to expect. This will, of course, depend on the age of your kids but let them know what your daily meeting schedule is, thus when the quiet time will be or when they will need to be doing an activity. Let them know when lunch and snack time are so that they are not tugging on you.

Like the importance of over-communicating with your fellow employees right now, over-communicating with family and children at home is important so that everyone is on the same page from a daily schedule perspective.

“When I'm in the home office, everyone knows I'm at work. Take breaks as you would in the office; it helps break up the day.” —Dave from Georgia

“Communicate on your availability, and stick to your commitments, especially with children.” —Jean-Denis from France

“I plan the day for meals, breaks, and homework help and stick to schedule. I encourage him to work independently, and I make myself available for questions and concerns in a specific schedule to avoid being constantly interrupted - but providing some flexibility whenever necessary.” —Eva from Spain

“If you have two people working from home with children, try to coordinate your most important meetings. When one of you is on a critical call, give that person a more private, distraction-free space (like the home office) while the other person watches the kids. When the second person has an important meeting, and the first person has a less important meeting, or no meeting at all, switch.” —Hal from Texas

“Post work meeting and kids' video class schedules on the fridge to know who needs quiet and bandwidth when, and plan accordingly.” —Kurt from Georgia

For a host of other non-kid-specific work-from-home tips, click here >


Keep Them Entertained

Getting blocks of time where you can knock out projects, whether fifteen minutes or an hour, heavily depends on ensuring you can keep the kids entertained and, if possible, with less supervision. This will depend on the age of your kids, so try to plan activities that are conducive to each age group.

  • For all age groups, particularly infants and babies, try to schedule calls during nap times as much as possible. Use bouncy chairs to keep babies content.
  • Consider setting toddlers up with a (healthy) amount of screen time. Many educational shows, games, and apps can keep them occupied.
  • If your children are slightly older, consider educational shows, books, online courses via their schools, or other age-appropriate games they can play while socializing online with their friends.

In addition, schedule activities ahead of time so you aren't scrambling during the workday to find ways to keep them occupied. Have crafts or coloring activities ready to go the week before or the night before. Try to include less messy activities, so you don't have to spend most of your time cleaning up a mess. Examples may consist of stringing Cheerios or building things out of pipe cleaners and Play-Doh. Try incorporating outdoor activities, including bubbles, sidewalk chalk, or water play.

"Use snacks strategically, especially with smaller children. Otherwise, rambunctious kids can often be calmed for limited periods with their favorite snacks, so dole them out when you need quiet for your most important meetings. Size matters, too. A bowl of popcorn can keep some kids quiet for an hour or more." —Hal from Texas

"My kids might be different than a lot of people out there. I have teenagers, but you still need to ensure they are active. Give them chores, reading assignments, or anything to keep them occupied while you are working through the day. During COVID, we started to foster dogs. It is a great way to help your kids stay busy and give them some responsibility, all while helping out the community where you can." —Bill from Arizona

But cleanly separating roles isn’t always possible, leading to this advice:

“Be prepared for interruptions and keep the mute button very handy.” —Lisa from Texas


Separate Roles

If you don't make a conscious effort to separate both the role of parent and businessperson, you will most likely never fully feel like you are doing either particularly well. Being able to separate between the two functions starts with creating separation physically.

If you can, set up a distinct spot in your home that will be your workspace. This will help to separate work and home mentally and to keep your focus on work when you are in this space. If you can’t see the dirty clothes in the laundry hamper, dishes in the sink, or toys scattered across the floor, you will feel much less inclined or tempted to return to the parent role while you need to be working.

Having a separate physical space will also make it easier to log off at the end of the day and switch from business to family mode.  

“The boundary between work and home can blur to almost disappear. Take the time to disconnect from work for at least an hour every day—plug your phone in to charge in another room, then sit down to enjoy dinner, family time, or a walk with the dog.” —Jordan from Ontario

“Life is holistic. Break work into chunks to focus on outputs and build time for all your needs.” —Colin from the United Kingdom

“Install routines to save time for work and family. Communicate on this framework. Have a room dedicated for work.” —Jean-Denis from France

"I helped my son to set up his own learning space for productivity. I gave him access to the proper technology/tools for his video conference calls with teachers and classmates." —Eva from Spain

However, one coworker has opted to close the gap between work and personal life by happily blending them.

"Kids and pets should be encouraged to come on video calls." —Sean from the USA


Get Help If Necessary

First off, a partner or spouse can be a wonderful source of additional support with kids. Try to take turns watching the kids between projects and work calls as much as possible. See if one parent can be on kid duty in the morning and the other in the afternoon.

Apart from rotating shifts between your partner, sometimes additional help is needed. Working from home with children doesn't necessarily mean not needing childcare, at least not every day. It may be your best option if you can do it as safely as possible.

For a more affordable option, you can pool resources with other working parents to hire one babysitter or nanny to watch all children at once if you all feel it’s safe.  


Manage Expectations

If you, your manager, or your coworkers aren’t used to working remotely, it’s easy to get twisted ideas of what is and isn’t happening or how things should or shouldn’t run.

"If you are not used to working remotely, your boss likely isn't either. If you think one of your coworkers is watching Netflix all day and not working, your boss probably thinks the same about you. Don't take offense to this. You are all new to the remote working thing." —Mike from Texas

But there are many ways to reduce the friction and give everyone much greater comfort that things are still happening as they should be, even though you can't physically watch people doing their work.

"You should have KPIs and deliverables that you are expected to meet weekly. If not, now is a good time to write them down and set expectations. It is important also to set up human touch points with your team to "check-in" with each other." —Mike from Texas

Often, simply helping a boss or coworker know what to expect can save you both a lot of grief. If you have young kids that need a lot of attention, for example, working with your manager to set realistic and somewhat flexible deadlines (plus or minus a few hours to account for tending to children) is usually much better received when you set that expectation ahead of time. People hate surprises, and this expectation setting takes the surprise out of a fluid situation. It also allows bosses and coworkers to plan, smoothing out potential hitches in how teams operate.


Special Considerations for Single Parents

If you thought working from home with kids was hard as a parent, imagine doing it by yourself. Fortunately, one of our Mitel employees, Natasha – a single mother of three, ranging from six to fourteen years old – has assembled her 5 top tips for surviving the extra challenge of managing remote work independently as a single parent.

"I continue to work full time at an average eight-hour workday that includes four video calls and dedicated time to focus on writing and content management." —Natasha from Canada

Sound familiar? Like many of you, this one-woman show keeps everyone alive and thriving while handling entertainment, stimulation, education, nutrition, emotional health, basic cleanliness, and working.

How does she approach it?

"A crisis…becomes the catalyst for transformation." —Natasha from Canada

Natasha cites tips from being spontaneous to multi-functional activities and even includes a quick-and-easy recipe. Here's a sample:

"No matter how normal or abnormal life is, my favorite tip for surviving single parenthood is to use and do things that have a dual purpose. When time and energy are precious commodities, it's important to maximize every effort." —Natasha from Canada

Check out Natasha's full post: 5 Survival Tactics for Single Parents Working from Home with Kids > 


Consider a Little Self-Care

These are extraordinary times for everyone. Perhaps one of the most helpful reminders is to give yourself a break and not hold yourself to impossible standards.

"Try not to beat yourself up—you are doing the best you can!" —Ceri from the United Kingdom


Pet Parents—We Haven't Forgotten About You

While most pets aren't quite as demanding as kids, they're also adjusting to this new work/lifestyle. And it turns out many of the same strategies that help you have a successful day working from home with kids translate well to working from home with pets (with a few understandable exceptions).

Giving Pets Attention

Like kids, people find that if they ensure their pets have enough attention, they tend to behave better and create fewer inopportune distractions. And sometimes, a well-placed distraction for your pet can make all the difference.

"We play mind-stimulating games with our dog. There are no bad dogs, only bored dogs." —John from Canada

"Make sure your pets are getting enough exercise. A well-exercised Fido is a well-behaved office mate." —Camille from Texas

"I leverage breaks to walk the dog and take some fresh air when meetings allow me to do that" —Eva from Spain

"Slot out 15-20 minutes every few hours to spend with your pets. They will try to get your attention while you work if you don't spend enough time with them. Pick a good spacious spot to work. At some point in the day (cats) or the entire day (dogs) will want to be around you." —Dhiraj from Texas

"Give them something that will keep them occupied during a call." —Caitlyn from Texas

Limiting Pets' Distractions

On the opposite end of entertaining your pet, we find advice about limiting their distractions useful.

"Close all window shutters, stop the view of walkers and joggers, block doorbell, and use a headset." —Paul from Texas

Though we're not sure, that's cutting it every day for Paul, as he throws up his hands when it comes to cats.

"Cats—there is no advice because they have a mind of their own!" —Paul from Texas

Pet Schedules and Separating Spaces

Separating spaces – or at least intentionally shaping them – is a successful strategy for many of us regarding pets.

"Know your schedule & your pet—my 100-pound Doberman, who enjoys lounging in my office, is locked out during critical meetings to minimize surprises (loud snoring and barking are his most common offenses). Make the most of your working from home schedule, and when possible, arrange a dog-walking virtual one-to-one with a colleague." —Lana from Texas

"Work in a separate area—not the kitchen table- if possible. You're bound to be disturbed by meows." —Saskia from the Netherlands

"I have a cat. Generally, cats are not controllable—but I find mine is happy in a pet bed on my desk." —Caitlin from Texas

Combining Strategies

Carol and Sue combine attention-giving with the separation of space and roles.

"If you have pets, keep them in another part of the house. Visit with them often and give out treats. I also turn the TV on for them, so they don't hear other noises. Once or twice a week, I let them stay out with me, so they feel special." —Carol from Arizona

"I have two little dogs, so knowing key times they may require my attention is crucial. For example, when the postman is due, that means barking at the door, or they have an instinctive knack of knowing what time it is and, from 4 pm onwards, think it's their time for dinner no matter what I'm doing. So making sure I close my office door is easy, giving them a treat or toy to keep them busy and distracted." Sue from the United Kingdom

Kurt appears to combine almost every strategy for pets we can think of.

"During important meetings, I disconnect the doorbell and use baby gates to confine pets to my office and two adjacent rooms. I keep treats handy if they hear a dog or whatever outside. I close the blinds so they can't see dogs jogging by." —Kurt from Georgia

Give Yourself a Break

Like Ceri's advice with kids, Matt encourages us to remember that we're not alone in our struggles and not to get too hung up on little things we'll probably forget in a few days. 

"Noisy pets in the background can be very embarrassing whilst on a call with a colleague or customer. But try not to worry and put pressure on yourself. A quick apology and the mute button work wonders in these situations, and more often than not, they are likely to be having similar challenges at their end, too!" —Matt from the United Kingdom


Thanks to the Parents

Working from home with children or pets (or both) can be challenging, especially in this uncertain time. While it might be difficult, keep in mind that continuing to work from home right now can be the difference that keeps many safe and organizations operating. And know that we appreciate everything you do to keep all the pieces moving.

Photo of blog author Hal Werner, Dallas Content Strategist & Digital Marketer

Hal Werner

Manager of Digital Marketing & Strategy

As a digital marketer and content strategist, Hal Werner shapes online experiences to help people find information they can use to make more informed technology decisions.

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