Working Parents: How to Pandemic-Proof Your Back-to-School Plan

Working remotely with kids at home can be hectic. From unexpected noises and distractions to endless Zoom calls, it's difficult to focus – add in distance learning for your children and it's bound to be stressful. The good news is, there are ways to adapt your work routine to allow you to accomplish necessary tasks. Here are a few options to prepare your household for back-to-school while working remotely.

Create Clear Expectations (for Work and Home)

Working a full day from home will not be the same as working a full day in the office. There are more distractions and more people who need your attention, so focusing on just your work will look very different. This is especially true as the school year starts up and you're also serving as a part-time teacher. Instead of managing your productivity the same as you would from the office, try to plan around semi-regular interruptions each day.

For instance, if your child has a Zoom call that you’re in charge of setting up, reserve that time in anticipation of the need. If you know ahead of time when you need to switch gears, you can proactively let your team know. This way, you can reduce stress while stepping away from your workspace, your team is prepared to cover while you’re gone, and you can pencil in any time you need to make up. When you need time to yourself for a project, important meeting, or presentation without distraction, consider creating visual signals for the family and discuss the expectations with them ahead of time.

For instance, if posting a sign in your work area is your mode of choice, create several versions to indicate different expectations. A red circle may signify to them “do not disturb – emergencies only”, a yellow circle could mean “somewhat available”, and green may say “available”. You may have to also set expectations for what constitutes an “emergency,” so everyone has a clear understanding.

Plan Ahead to Automate Daily Routines

Being a work-from-home parent means making a hundred different micro-decisions on any given day. Alleviate decision fatigue by choosing a few routine daily tasks to automate. One example is to plan meals ahead of time, either by batch preparing food (aka, meal prepping) or menu planning for the week. When you’re ready to eat, most of the work will already be done, creating more time to enjoy with family.

To avoid unnecessary workday interruptions from hungry or thirsty kiddos, prepare a self-serve snack area. Pre-bagging a few snack items and making easy drinks available can enable kids to access what they need instead of relying on you to prepare something each time. Do yourself a favor and spend a few extra minutes getting ahead of the game the night before so you can mitigate interruptions. Tip: Involve your kids in any age-appropriate food prep activities like cutting or bagging items. This can offer an opportunity for quality together time while completing an important task that supports the family’s needs.

Rework Your Home to Accommodate Work and School

Before distance learning, your living space was set up to be for just that - living. Now, it has transformed into both an office and classroom – which means you may need to do some rearranging. First, give yourself a workspace. It could be one end of the dining room table, a desk in your bedroom, or even a closet—just make sure that you have a place to work! Depending on how old your kids are, you may need to claim an area close to their workstations to provide help.

Wherever your workspace is, try to balance being accessible to your family while also giving you the option for quiet work time when needed. Next, prepare your kids’ school space, ideally giving them each their own desk to encourage focus. If space is limited or if kids share devices, this can be tricky, so bring on the creativity! If the computer needs to stay in one place, set up a schedule based on your children's classroom requirements, and have a drawer or folder for each child's work to avoid extra clutter. Maybe your kids need more private workspace; using bedrooms for class time may be best over communal space like the living or dining areas.

Re-Imagine Break Time

Pre-pandemic, your office break may have been spent casually walking down to the coffee shop for a mid-morning treat. Now, while working from home, this is a great opportunity to plan out breaks that serve both you and your family. Try 10 minutes of play or exercise outside to break up hours of staring at the computer and help increase focus and information retention. This can also give you time to check in with your family, help with homework, or spend some face-to-face time together before going back to work.

Check Your Tech

For the foreseeable future, your family will likely be leaning heavily on technology to participate in virtual classes, finish homework, and complete work tasks. But technology isn’t always reliable. To reduce last-minute technology stress, prepare your devices ahead of use. This means downloading any apps or software that you or your children will be using for work or school. Once they’re downloaded, spend time learning how to use them properly by watching tutorials.

Feeling comfortable with how the software runs? Great! Now, set up the microphone and video options. Test them a few times to make sure they are working and that you and your child feel comfortable using them. Knowing your way around will help you act quickly when minor issues pop up, like no video or an echoing microphone.

Tip: Not sure why your internet is slow? Check your router! Often, there are settings you can adjust to get the most of your bandwidth before calling your internet provider or going to a higher speed plan.

Give Yourself Some Grace

2020 has been an incredibly difficult and emotional year for a lot of people. If you're finding yourself short-tempered or overwhelmed, do your best to carve out some time for self-care. That could mean staying up later to watch a guilty-pleasure TV show or giving your kids an extra 30 minutes of screen-time so you can have some quiet time to decompress. The adage is true: You can't fill up your children's cup if yours is empty.

Worried about staying focused with all the distractions of work-from-home life? Read our tips on decreasing distractions while increasing your productivity!