How to Share a Home Office with Your Kids and Still Get Things Done

Even without a pandemic, it can be challenging to balance parenting with being productive in your business. You rely on those precious set hours when your kids are at school or in daycare to get things done.

But now you’ve switched to working from home, that structure must be reinvented. And as with most parenting challenges, there’s no perfect solution—so we asked our Jimdo colleagues to share what’s worked for them so far.

A few things stood out:

  • Young children don’t understand your schedule, so you’ll need to be flexible.
  • As adults, we understand that the whole world is in an exceptional situation but children aren’t able to fully grasp this.
  • It’s better to accept that you’ll get less work done than you normally would in the office.
  • It’s important to have a plan and stick to it as best you can.
  • Looking after your own mental health is critical right now, for you and your kids.

In this post, we’ll cover eight strategies our Jimdo colleagues are using to make working from home and parenting a little bit easier:

1. Plan meetings strategically and take turns to work

All the parents we spoke to are sharing their temporary home office with their partner. That gives them the option to let one parent focus solely on work, while the other does lighter tasks and looks after the kids, then swap.

As a single parent, asking friends and family for help becomes an even more important part of self-care (more below). If you have a co-parent, you might have to consider which of you is in the best position to take care of your child now. (That’s an easy sentence to write, but an extremely tough choice to make in real life.) Remember to check your government and local authority websites to see what financial support you’re eligible for.

Try to make sure you don’t schedule video calls for the same time. It seems obvious, but it’s easy to do especially when your business and normal work routine have gone out the window. If you do double book yourselves, get in touch with your client or employer right away and be upfront about the situation. We’re all living in exceptional circumstances and most people will be happy to work with you to find a solution.

One great example we found was from a colleague whose partner adapted the clock for their kids. Instead of showing minutes and hours, the clock hands point to which parent the child can interrupt at that time and suggests other things they can do. It also shows when their next time together is.

One parent is red and the other is blue. The child only has to look at the brightly decorated small hand to see which parent they should ask questions right now (in this case, it’s the blue parent’s turn). Image by Lars Kitzig.

After a few days, it became clear that these arrangements shouldn’t be too strict. If your child wants to show you their drawing or is curious about what’s happening on your call, take a moment to acknowledge them. Most of your work is probably quite boring to them and by sacrificing a bit of focus time, you keep everyone happier in the long run.

2. Focus on tasks, not on working hours

What are your chances of doing two hours of uninterrupted, highly-focused work while your child plays in the same room? It could happen. Theoretically. Maybe.

Practically, it’s more useful to keep an eye on what you want to get done instead of how many hours you want to work. Try keeping a prioritized list of tasks and concentrate on the most important ones in your focus time. Task management apps like Trello and Asana are great for this, especially if your tasks and priorities tend to shift a lot, because you can keep your eye on deadlines and switch tasks around in a few clicks.

If you’re struggling to manage interruptions, try the Pomodoro Technique. This is when you work on a small, clearly defined task for 25 minutes and then take a short break. This approach can help you get used to working in small bursts. And because your kids are getting regular attention, they’re less likely to interrupt your work time. Start introducing the technique early so you and your child can both find a rhythm.

Of course, there will still be pleas for snacks and streams of questions. But by focusing on a few, clearly defined tasks, you should be able to strike a few things off your list that will leave you feeling productive at the end of the day.

3. Include your kids as much as you can

This is a weird situation for your children. You’re home all the time, but don’t have time to play with them. All they want is your attention and they often don’t understand why they’re not getting it. Several of our colleagues said they try to include the kids in their normal household jobs to combat this.

While having a young child “help” you with cooking or cleaning might slow you down, what you get in return is time together. So let them put the laundry in the machine or pair up the matching socks for you to hang on the line, and talk about what’s important to them. And hey, chores can be fun—right?

4. Plan your day around meals and nap times

With everyone spending so much time together, you must avoid anyone in your household getting “hangry” (the perilous state between hungry and angry). One parent we asked said they planned out menus for the whole week, so they could make grocery shopping more efficient and cook meals in advance. When tensions are running high (and even when they’re not) having meals that are ready to will buy you valuable time.

Eating together is a natural pause in everyone’s day and a good moment for parents to switch roles. For example, from being “focused on work” to being the “go-to person.” Having this distinction can also help you manage conference calls, for example, it’s easy to tell your team that you’re only available for calls after lunch.

And if a meal is followed by nap time, you can try and get some quiet work done. Between noisey games and video calls, it might be one of the few times of day when your house is calm.

Tip: Kids always seem to be hungry between meals. And it’s usually when you’re just getting into something. So give them the chance to help themselves (hear us out!). Put some fruit or small snacks out and explain to your child that they can take those whenever they like, without having to ask. That’s a happy belly and it saves you a few avoidable interruptions.

5. Choose the right place to work

Some of our Jimdo parents share their home offices in shifts. The working parent sits in a separate room and only comes out when their shift is over. This works mostly if you have older kids who can be by themselves for a bit.

Others make sure their children can see them all the time so that “finding the missing parent” doesn’t become an activity. They’re visible but also make a point of looking busy while they’re working. Seeing you satisfies their curiosity, but your concentrated “thinking face” can deter them from interrupting.

For important work events or calls, you can tell older kids in advance and ask them not to disturb you until the meeting’s over. Tell them when your meeting starts and ends, and ask your children if they need anything beforehand. If you have younger children, try setting an egg timer or alarm so the kids know when you’ll be available again. After your meeting, take a moment to give them some attention. Especially if they behaved!

6. Use your network, especially as a single parent

While kids shouldn’t be visiting friends and grandparents right now, they can still be a great support. And that goes for school friends and neighborhood kids as well. Video calling friends and other family members gives children valuable social contact during a difficult time. And, especially for older kids, knowing that their peers are in the same situation will help them feel less isolated.

Grandparents can bide you some time by helping out with lessons, reading stories or asking for drawings or commissioning very specific LEGO projects. Walkie talkies, video calls or even two tin cans and a piece of string can keep kids connected to the neighbors. If your windows face each other, why not have kids learn some sign language or even morse code?

Don’t hesitate to ask your network for help. Even if you’re living in a new area or don’t know your neighbors well, communities all over the world are pulling together to help each other out. More often than not, neighbors will happily drop supplies on your doorstep and friends will be happy to have video calls with your kids or watch the baby monitor for you. If your child is missing another parent who lives in a different household, schedule regular video calls so they can keep in touch and maintain some sense of routine. This will give you a little breathing space, too.

7. Keep them busy

If you have a garden, your kids can still play outside and burn off some energy. Phew! But if, like a lot of the parents we spoke to, you don’t have this luxury, try doing sports or exercises at home with your kids. Lots of celebrity trainers and sports personalities are offering live gym classes and fitness sessions specifically for kids, on platforms like Facebook and Youtube—with many happening in the same daily or weekly time slot. Working out yourself? Using your kids as added weight during your home fitness sessions is a great way to combine socializing, parenting, and staying fit. (Although we don’t recommend trying this with your six-foot teenager.)

One colleague found himself in an unexpectedly lucky situation. His partner, who happens to be a teacher, is still on parental leave. She’s started homeschooling her older kids and they’ve already decided they prefer it to normal school!

For much of the time though, you’ll want to find something for your kids to do. Boredom will set in but you can try to prevent it for as long as possible. Many of the parents we chatted to extended their kids’ screen time and used educational apps or YouTube channels.

By now, many schools are providing digital workbooks and lesson plans, with some teachers already giving lessons remotely. If you’re still looking for “after school” activities or to keep younger kids occupied, parents from all over the world have gathered ideas in this list of enrichment activities for children. If you want to focus on work for a while, sort the list by “Degree of parent involvement,” and go!

8. Don’t forget the bright sides

Some of our colleagues had just come back to work after parental leave. Now that we’re all doing home office, they’re getting to see much more of their children growing up that they thought they would. Being at home is an unexpected bonus for them.

Most of us never get this many moments to cuddle up during working hours, so make the most of it!

For more good cheer, see what other parents are reporting about their new “co-workers.”

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Tara Santiago
Tara is a writer and editor for Jimdo. She works closely with our product teams on marketing and user experience. When she’s not writing, you can find her traveling, filling in The Guardian crossword or buried in a book.