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Tips for Staying Productive and Sane Even While Working with Children at Home
Two years, 30+ countries and five kids all while working remote. Sound crazy? It kinda is.
Want to know one of our favorite things about COVID-19 lockdown? Everyone is getting a good taste of our life for the last two years! We’ve been home with our kids 24/7, working and homeschooling, for nearly two years as we travel the world.
Working from home is nothing new to us, however, or to our staff back in the USA. We celebrated the 10-year anniversary of our small business in November 2019 by brining our staff to Paris! One of the best parts of this trip was that some of them had worked together for months or years and still hadn’t met in person. Why? Because we all work remotely!
We did have an office once upon a time and realized quickly 1. What a waste of money it really is and 2. How much more we enjoy working remotely. The commute is amazing :). However, it does present some difficulties. Add children home from school (or homeschooled, like in our case) and you’ve got a whole new level of chaos!
We have loads of our own tips, but I also polled our staff for their tips! Thanks to Jacy, Caroline, Israel, Emily, Erin, Rachel and Whitney for these tips! They aren’t our only staff members, but the ones kind enough to respond to my request :). Hopefully this can make your isolation time a bit easier. Who knows… you may not want to go back to an office either!
In fact, working from home will become a new normal. In this article of how COVID-19 will permanently change the world, Matthew Prince, CEO of Cloudflare says, “The pandemic has resulted in what is effectively the largest “work from home” experiment ever conducted in human history . . . We’re seeing the effect on the internet, in terms of traffic patterns that are shifting. People are accessing more educational resources online for their kids; finding unconventional ways to connect with coworkers, friends, and family; and employers are being more flexible in how they respond to employee needs through more dynamic, cloud-based technology. I think we’ll see these shifts last well beyond the immediate fallout of the COVID-19 outbreak.”
With that in mind, it might be necessary to learn to work better remotely.
First, it’s super important to have the right equipment
Having a good set-up for working is crucial and can make all the difference. Israel, one of our full-time staffers, says “As long as it’s in your budget, get an AWESOME pair of headphones, good speakers to listen to music and invest in a nice chair. All of these details make working from home an absolute pleasure. You can get all of this used and cheap on Craigslist. I bought a $150 office chair two days ago for $20 bucks.”
- Start with a good computer. Chances might be that you’ve got your super computer at the office and a crappy laptop at home. This is like trying to cook in an RV without a stovetop. Invest right away in a good computer. Chris, my husband and the guy who’s made our small business successful over the last 10 years, loves gaming computers. He currently uses a Razor Blade 15 inch Laptop. While he dabbles in video gaming himself, he swears they just hold up better and longer. In fact, he’s used this laptop during our last two years of travel is it’s been his longest-lasting computer so far. It’s put up with countless hours, lots of travel abuse, new homes, and different internet every month. Wifi is perhaps it’s only downside- it is not great with wifi. Chris needs to hardwire in. Surprisingly, this hasn’t been as difficult as we thought during travel. He’s been able to plug into the router in nearly all of our Airbnbs and we travel with a 15 foot LAN cord.
- Computer screen glasses. Staring at a screen all day is tiring and can even cause headaches or nausea. Cut this down with some eyewear for screen use like these Gunner glasses Chris swears by. Whitney, a member of our team, also says, “I got advice from my therapist that since we stare at computer screens all day to set an alarm that goes off every 20-30 min to take an eye break. You just pause for a few minutes and cover your eyes to give them a break. Also, I love my blue light glasses!”
- Use a headset. Embrace the air-traffic controller look and get yourself a good headset. It makes a 1000% difference when you plan to be on phone calls while working remotely. Chris uses a Sennheiser model with a mic similar to this one. His is actually out of production and he has yet to find a perfect replacement, but he loves the ability to mute on a video call by just sliding up the mic. If you are using Airpods or another mic, you will have to manually mute yourself, from your phone or computer, and everyone can tell on your call. With a good headset, you can mute yourself while appearing to still be unmuted. THIS IS HUGE. You can take a bite of food, swallow your drink, cough, sneeze, have a kid scream down the hallway and just slip that mic into the up position.
- Use an extra monitor. You will be shocked by how much more you can get done with two screens. You don’t have to toggle back and forth between screens to copy and paste or compare your data. As we travel, this tops our list of what we miss the most while working from home. We encourage (beg) all our staff to get another monitor to work on. You can use one with a laptop or desktop. Israel says, “it’s a huge game-changer for me and you can get monitors off of KSL or Craigslist for like $30 bucks. Worth every penny.”
- Use a real desk and chair. Sitting on your guest bed, which is where many of us have landed in the last few weeks, is going to kill your back. Have a dedicated desk (even if that is an extra table or the kitchen table). A spinny chair can go a long way to your happiness and posture!
Tips for Working Remotely and Keeping Productivity High
- Keep your space organized and clean. Emily says, “keeping my room, desk, and workspace area clean is important to me. It is so much easier to focus that way. I have a “tech basket” under my nightstand next to my desk where I keep all my tech and chargers/wires out of the way while they’re charging, which helps cut down on clutter.” Things to keep at your desk that you might overlook: water bottle, fruit to snack on, and chapstick.
- Keep a form of routine in place. Erin swears by getting up and completely ready for the day, even if she has no plans to leave the house. “I swear by it!”, she says. Rachel advises, “Get ready in the morning. Even if you’re putting sweats back on. Get up, get showered, and get ready for the day before you start working. Don’t work in your bed. You will fall asleep or be less productive.”
- Self-care. Remember to take care of yourself while you work from home. Whitney recommends, “Having a set of things I have to do for myself every day is important. Going on a walk, talking to a friend, sitting down and reading, pick up my hobby, etc. Whatever I need for my personal wellness every day. It’s just as vital as work tasks for me.”
- Move! Getting up and getting some energy out with an at-home workout can really help clear your brain. Alternatively, this can be good for a lunch break. On that note, be sure to take breaks! It’s easy to fall into a weird grey space between home and work. You can drop several hours and feel strange about taking a break when you are already home. It’s still important to take breaks, mentally and physically.
- Music can help or hurt. Having a fun playlist to get focused can be great. However, over many years of listening to music while working, Chris now regrets it a bit. It can hurt your hearing if you aren’t careful! Spotify has some great work blends and you can follow other people’s playlists. I’m currently listening to ATLAS The Score, which is similar to Imagine Dragons. It’s my go-to deep work list at the moment. I also love Living Rooms Songs by Olafur Arnalds. Israel says, “Make a BOMB playlist of songs! I have my go-to playlists depending on the day. Sometimes I need to be calm while working = classical music. When I need to get krunked up = Latin Jams. When I’m feeling down = highschool playlist. Haha. You get the point.”
- Get some natural light. I know a few of my friend’s husbands are heading to the basement to get some quiet away from the kids. If you can, pick a room with natural light. It helps regulate your body and sleep later. Plus, it picks up your mood! If you can’t work with a window or are in a dark room, head outside for a walk when you can. “Work near light and buy a 1/2 gallon water bottle to drink daily. Small things, but they make a huge difference in how you feel throughout the day”, are two tips from Israel.
- Connect with others. Another tip from Israel, “Assuming you actually LIKE your co-workers, set up a weekly FUN call between everyone just to maintain a feeling of unity. You can play a game, do weekly challenges. It can get VERY lonely sometimes.” Israel was instrumental in setting up our company weekly call every Monday. We use it just to catch up personally with each other, not to cover work topics. We try to do video calls once per month (with advance notice given!) so we can see each other. We also have weekly “fun” emails in which we get to know each other better.
Software You Need to Check Out
- Zoom. By now everyone and their grandma are familiar with Zoom. However, we’ve been using it for years. We’ve found it to be the most reliable for group video or audio calls. Don’t feel like you have to make it a video call either! Chris does Zoom calls all day and rarely, if ever, uses the video. It can be very taxing to do video calls. In fact, National Geographic just put out this article on the science behind how taxing video calls can be. In the article, Andrew Franklin, a professor at Virginia’s Norflok State University says, “People may be surprised at how difficult they’re finding video calls given that the medium seems neatly confined to a small screen and presents few obvious distractions. A typical video call impairs some ingrained abilities and requires sustained and intense attention to words instead. If a person is framed only from the shoulders up, the possibility of viewing hand gestures or other body language is eliminated. If the video quality is poor, any hope of gleaning something from minute facial expressions is dashed.” Update your profile pic to a good headshot and call it good. You can have your setting to automatically turn off video when starting a new call.
- Google and Gmail. Our entire business is built on Google. You could say we are BIG fans. You can use google in place of Microsoft applications (sheets instead of excel, docs instead of Word, etc.) and they still play fairly well together. Google integrates its apps very well and is SO versatile. We highly recommend it. There are even many Google plug-ins for free, like Streak, that does read receipts on emails.
- Egg Timer. Using a timer for many things can be really helpful. Give yourself 10 minutes to complete a complicated email and chances are good you’ll get it done, versus the 30-40 minutes you might take otherwise. You can also set timers for breaks, to drink water, etc. This application, specifically, allows for preset timers you use often.
- Asana. This is a project management software that we love. We’ve tried MANY. This plays well with my next suggestion, Slack, and you can create assignments right from your Slack chat.
- Slack. An instant messaging system that saves us SO much time, especially communicating with our staff. We can leave messages overnight for those in different time zones. You can create threads so your messages are easy to follow, create assignments into Asana, etc. We have Slack channels for each client, for different kinds of updates, for company trips (my personal favorite), etc.
Tips for Working From Home With Kids
Let’s face it, having kids around while you work from home is tough. You might be trying to homeschool while also suddenly working from home. I have other articles on how we homeschool and tips for that, but trying to get your own work done can challenge the most patient of parents.
The good news is everyone is in the same boat, right now, and is more patient. Again quoting this article, Sampriti Ganguli, CEO of the social venture firm Arabella Advisors says, “We are . . . all becoming “BBC Man,” meaning our kids and dogs routinely rush our meetings. We’ve probably crossed the chasm between what is acceptable in the office and what is acceptable at home, and in many ways, these more intimate moments allow us to have deeper and more meaningful connections as humans. I don’t think we’re going back to a world of working mostly from offices anytime soon, and as such, there are new business norms that work for home and work.”
My husband Chris, who has been fielding off our five young children during his work calls for years, chuckles a lot recently at all the noise he is hearing from other people’s children. He, along with some of our working moms, offer this advice:
- Own it! Don’t be embarrassed about your family. The more embarrassed you are about it, the more uncomfortable your clients or co-workers will be too. Either ignore it or quickly acknowledge it and move on. Jacy, one of our moms, says, “Expect that there will be distractions, interruptions, and more. The more you are realistic about your work environment, the better you can handle it and not let it stress you out. Some days will be better than others.”
- Set boundaries with the family. Over the many, many mistakes that have been made in our house, our kids now know that Mom and Dad have work calls. When we are on those work calls, they need to figure it out on their own. They can’t come barging in with every dispute, injury, or question unless it is a real emergency. This can also apply. to spouses! It can be an adjustment to have a spouse or partner suddenly some all day. Some partners may want to chitchat, show you a funny video clip, or constantly interrupt you. Set clear boundaries of what you expect, such as, “When I have the door closed and am at work, please don’t interrupt me unless it is an emergency.”
- Expect interruptions. It’s just going to happen! Instead of getting frustrated, expect it from the get-go. This will help preserve your relationships.
- Balancing work and home. As I already mentioned, the mental balance of handling both of these areas of your life in the same building can prove difficult. The lines blur and each world creeps into the other. You’ll get better at time separating yourself from each, but it will not ever be as clear cut as it was when you went into an office and could distress on the commute home. Instead, we often have to take a similar “commute time” and just rest our brains before jumping right into family activities. We also love to go on walks together to catch up on work and plan, then return to the kids ready for family time.
- Preparation is key. Erin says, “Get your kids set up prepped the night before. I prep out the kids school, learning papers, assignments, coloring, etc. Charge the iPads, Nintendos, etc. the night before so the morning of, they are ready to go.” I totally agree. Before bed each night, I make sure all devices (iPad, Chrombooks for school, phones) are charging so they are ready to go in a flash the next morning.
- Very young children. Jacy has worked with us with two babies. She says, “If you have young children that need eyes on them pretty much constantly, work in a space where you can easily see them without getting up and away from your computer. Have toys that you bring into your rotation every few days that have not been played with for a while (not buying new toys, just toys that have been put away somewhere where they haven’t been played with). “
- Phone calls and kids. Jacy says, “Eek, every working parent’s worst nightmare. Have the kids help you make a sign to help them know when you’re on a call and need them to be as quiet as they can (some sort of red sign for quiet, green sign for ok to talk – or something like that). Put the signs up at your workspace and put the red sign up if you’re on a call.” Rachel says, “If you have kids around, the “mute” button will become your best friend. You never know when one of them will barge in during a call.” I still recommend the headset with a mic that can mute, so you don’t have to be on that mute button as much!
- Snacks are crucial. The second you get to work, your kids are going to be starving. Jacy says, “Have coveted snacks, treats, or candy that the kids only get at certain times to help keep them quiet when on a phone call.”
- Take small breaks to help the kids. Realize that stepping away for just five minutes and helping your child get involved in a new activity or toy will buy you more quiet time than you repeatedly shooing them away if they are asking you over and over to play with them, help them, etc.
- Quiet Time or Nap Time. Naptime with very young children may be when you plan to get some solid work done. This is. a good plan until they decide naps are no longer needed. Caroline, who’s been with us for over seven years while also raising her two kids, says, “If your children no longer nap, set aside a time of day when the children spend 1-2 hours doing quiet, safe, non-messy activities in their own rooms. This could be reading, puzzles, dollhouses, etc depending on the child’s age. When my daughter was three, I piled board and picture books in her bed, along with dolls and stuffed animals, so she had lots of safe options at arms reach. I set a rule that she didn’t have to sleep, but she did need to stay on her bed. As she got older, I allowed her to use more of her room for her quiet time, as she proved she wouldn’t hurt herself or get too messy. If the child isn’t used to it, there may be a few days to adjust to the new routine. It is well worth it when you can get 1-2 uninterrupted hours of work done. I used to do this with my daughter when I first started working (while my son napped), and I was so productive during that ‘quiet time.'”
- Bribery is king! Offer bribes (or “rewards”) if necessary. Sometimes this is the best way to work with kids. Offer a fun activity together when you are going to be done with work. A word of caution: be sure to stick to that deadline you’ve created as much as possible. The more you blow through the agreed deadline, the less your kids will trust you.
Like all things, practice makes perfect! I promise things will get easier and you will enjoy working from home. We find ourselves to be a lot more productive at home without office chitchat and as many meetings. It can feel more isolating, but you can compensate for that also.
Stay home and stay safe!