Munchkin Survival Guide: Tips to Get Work Done at Home

Humor is magical and can lighten even the toughest times.  Like trying to work at home with bickering kids!  When one poster in a community forum asked, “For those working from home, tell me something your kid(s) did today, but refer to them as co-workers,” she got some hilarious responses:

“My co-workers fought over a Lego box.  Then they chased each other around the table.”
“My co-worker had three screaming tantrums because I was making her stay inside to work.  She’s about to get fired.”
“If my co-workers don’t stop hazing the new hires, I’m sending them to the basement office!”

Many of us probably wish by now we could fire our kids, but if that’s not an option, here are some strategies from work-at-home survivors to help those with munchkins at home.

1. Go with the Flow.  This, too, shall pass!

The first tip that productivity experts all seem to agree on is to chill and go with the flow.  Should your co-workers see the toilet paper rolls flying across your living room or giggling in the background, don’t have a meltdown.  Just excuse yourself from your video conference and calmly quiet the distraction. 

As helpful as the New York Times’ advice is in their article on the Dos and Don’ts of Online Video Meetings, remember that working at home with no child care is inherently fraught with uncontrollable variables.  If you thought you had turned the Zoom camera off before you began nursing your baby but didn’t, just breathe, and remind yourself that everyone is experiencing mishaps like this.  After all, “we are all in this together!” Simply warn your co-workers that daytime online meetings might meet with the occasional interruption.  Then try these added tips to minimize them as best you can. 

2. Organize your kids’ day like you organize your own

If you are wondering why yours are the only kids acting up while you are trying to work, trust us; Super Mom bought her peaceful conference call with a treat.  She had a plan; and a Costco-sized bag of chocolate chips!  

Children need a schedule and stuff to do, so create some tasks and a daily timeline with boundaries for interruptions.  Having scheduled tasks and expectations for each day helps your kids get used to self-regulated learning.  It also frees up time that you can use to work.  But you might need to ease into it.  

One parent set a timer for school-aged kids to occupy themselves with structured play and schoolwork.  She moved the timer up a few minutes each day and rewarded undisturbed time with a special treat like cooking with mom or a hike with dad.  Another mom had kids design a stop and go flip sign for her office door to signal when she could or couldn’t be disturbed.  The goal is to structure your kids’ day as your structure your own.  

3. Split the workday with your partner

Toddlers and babies are a different challenge.  If you have a partner, consider trading work hours.  In one household, one husband working with European colleagues took the early shift, while his wife completed her work in the afternoon.  Try to schedule online meetings at regular times and then supplement other tasks in and around the hours when your kids are occupied.  Everything gets trickier if you are a single parent.  Naps and early bedtimes might be your only choice to get uninterrupted work done.  If safe and available, ask a family member or friend to help as needed. 

4. The family that works together…

Rather than get upset when kids’ hijinks interrupt work, acknowledge the current reality, and talk with your kids to get their feedback on how the family should work.  Older kids will understand that working means paying for things that contribute to family well-being.  Smaller kids can “help” by giving mommy and daddy the time they need to work.  Remember that kids are feeling the loss of their schooling, their playmates, and their privacy, so this might be an excellent opportunity for everyone to reimagine how the family works.  

While staying safe at home, everyone can be productive together.  Where “quiet time” used to be a ‘thing,’ modern parenting, with its comings and goings, mostly consists of constant activity.  Now is a wonderful time for kids to learn about quiet work, imagination, creativity, and the resiliency that comes from having to entertain oneself and siblings for longer than ten minutes.  Since kids love to pretend, practice by sitting at a table, “working from home.”   Make this a time to revisit family rituals and perhaps reset past behaviors to a more positive, reflective, creative, and disciplined family behavioral structure once everything returns to normal.    

Agile programming — for your family
Bruce Feiler
TED Salon NY 2013

Couples That Work @ Home: The Survival Series  – Jennifer Petriglieri
Working From Home with Kids: 21 Tips From Our Remote Team