A Parent’s Guide to Telecommuting

How to manage your work-life balance when everyone's in the house all the time.

woman working with child

Photo via Getty/10’000 Hours

As those of us whose jobs allow it adjust to a new working from home experience, it’s been difficult to navigate the startling new reality of having everyone in the family home at the same time—while still being expected to clock in. You’re not alone. Having to deal with endless bickering and snack requests while the emails keep piling up can make achieving that elusive “work-life” balance seem, well, damn near impossible. To ease the burden just a bit, we asked three experts for tips on how to be a good coworker, partner, and parent without ever leaving the house.

1. Make a schedule—and stick to it.

Especially in uncertain times like these, children do their best when sticking to a routine—so go ahead and make a new one. “Be very clear,” suggests child psychologist Ellen Braaten, codirector of Mass General’s Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds. “‘Mom needs to work from 9 to 12…and then we’ll have lunch. You need to do some schoolwork, and at 4 we’ll all come together and have dinner.’” Doing so makes it easier for kids to know what to expect and when.

2. Use your digital babysitter wisely.

Screens are a helpful tool in a pinch, but make sure it’s educational programming, especially during the day. “This is not a time to play video games,” says Braaten, who notes that some school districts are sending home helpful lists. “Set it up as if this is a school day at home, and everyone’s working.”

3. Find new ways to share the load.

If you have a partner at home who’s also working remotely, it’s important to devise a plan for exactly how you’re going to divvy up childcare responsibilities every week. To start, suggests Boston-based couples’ counselors and relationship coach Samantha Burns, “individually go through your calendars and identify any required calls or obligations that absolutely cannot be rescheduled. Then, sit down with your shared calendars to problem-solve and compromise.”

4. Operate as a team.

Once you hash out the details, observe the cardinal rule of telecommuting in a busy household: “Respect your partner’s work hours as much as your own,” Burns explains. That means making it crystal-clear to your brood who’s in charge and when. “The parent who is ‘on duty’ should do their best to corral the kids and keep them from distracting the working parent,” she says.

5. Expect to work odd hours.

Everyone is dealing with massive interruptions in their daily schedules, but for most businesses that can manage their workforce remotely, the show must go on. So if you find yourself needing to hang with the kiddos during the day, be sure to let your employer know exactly when and how you’ll get the project done, recommends Janna Koretz of the Back Bay–based practice Azimuth Psychological, which helps clients with career-related mental-health challenges. If, for example, “you need 12 to 4 p.m. free to manage things in the home, you could suggest starting earlier, working later, or working additional time on a weekend, to make sure you’re putting in the right number of hours,” she says.

6. Don’t underestimate your kids.

Most important, give your little darlings the benefit of the doubt. Children “have for centuries have been hanging around their parents while they worked,” Braaten says. “Assume your kids can take on a better and more responsible role. This might actually be kind of a good thing.”