The 'work from home' juggle

Juggling conference calls, emails and tight deadlines while working at home with kids is no walk in the park. But here are some tips gathered from people who’ve done it before to help you cope when normal routines collide with self-isolation.

1. Be open with your manager

Be transparent from the start and let your manager, co-workers, clients, etc, know when your children will be at home so they realise that unfortunately, you may not be able to guarantee your work calls will be interruption-free.

2. Have an effective to-do list

This is more important than ever as you will have more interruptions during your day. I find it helpful to write down the key work and home activities you will need to do each day while they are in your mind. That way you can get started on your key tasks as soon as possible.

3. Have a plan for the day for school-aged kids

When the kids are not on holidays, look at what their school has sent out and, if possible, stick the schedule/plan the school has provided. If your child has something to do that may require your help, try to schedule this for a time when you won’t be on a conference call!

During this time of self-isolation and online learning, when there’s not quite as much structure to their day, we have a great opportunity to teach kids excellent time management skills. Last week I heard an interview with a teenage boy who had always been schooled through distance education. He said he was grateful for having been schooled this way because he’d learnt early ‘how to not procrastinate’. I shared this insight with my 15-year-old, who is quite well motivated yet sometimes struggles with time management. I explained to him that the self-discipline he was gaining now would help him with the more independent learning methods he would have to adjust to later at university. It was very pleasing to see a light bulb seem to go off in his mind when he realised there are some silver linings to the lockdown situation we’re all facing.

4. Stick to your normal routine as much as possible

If you are an early morning exerciser or meditator for example, get up and do that at the same time as you would if you had to leave for work. It can be tempting to sleep in because you are working from home, but you want to have some buffer in your day for those inevitable interruptions.

Personally, I find exercising in the morning a great way to feel invigorated and be more patient with my kids during the day. I’ve also found that doing some exercise early in the morning and late in the afternoon can help mimic the work commute and help reset your mind for work or home life at the end of each day.

5. Stay active

This relates to the above point: Go for a ‘bear hunt’ walk around the block, jump on the trampoline with the kids for a morning, afternoon or lunch break, or go for an early morning or late afternoon bike ride. Everyone will be better off, mentally and physically with some fresh air and activity.

6. Make the lunches the night before

Try to keep your normal routine by preparing lunches and snacks the night before or early in the morning. This means you can have a lunch break with the kids without having to spend time making them something to eat. It also means they have snacks easily available without having to bother you for them. And let them know that those pre-prepared snacks, not pancakes or homemade pizza with all the toppings, are all that is on the menu when you’re working.

7. Set expectations with the family on noise and mess

This can be difficult, and you may have to accept that your usual standards may slip at times. Everyone will have different thresholds on noise and mess. Establish what yours are clearly with your kids – and partner too if necessary!

8. Set additional household tasks

Discuss with your children that at times like this everyone needs to work together as a team. Give them extra tasks to help decrease your workload. Even primary school children can easily help tidy up and help sort out and fold washing. I’ve been bribing mine with long outings to the park if they play their part in helping me complete my work!

9. Communicate clearly with your family when you need to work and especially when you need quiet time

Give your child non-verbal "Do not disturb" signals when you need quiet time. Some parents of younger children wear a tiara or superhero cape when they’re on the phone to let kids know they are not allowed to make noise or interrupt, unless there's an emergency (and, as I’ve had to tell mine, an argument about what to watch on TV is not an emergency!). If that’s not your style or and/you have an office door, tie a ribbon on it, as I do, when you're not to be disturbed.

10. Ask for help from ‘virtual’ babysitters

If your children aren’t busy with schoolwork, use video chats with friends, aunts/uncles, grandparents or babysitters to talk, read or play games with kids during your most crucial work hours. This is also a perfect time to catch up with friends and family you cannot see at this time.

11. Plan activities that don’t require full supervision but use screen time wisely

Work out what time of the day you will need quiet time (for example a conference call, report deadline) and keep screen time for then. There are many entertaining but educational shows and documentaries that can be streamed, as well as online games when the kids aren’t working on schoolwork. Check out this resource list for some ideas.

Non-digital ideas, especially for younger children, include ‘busy boxes’ of art and/or craft activities or good old-fashioned board games. I find it can be handy to have a box of new stationery or other activities hidden away and ready to be brought out for a particularly busy or difficult day.

For more ideas on how to combine working from home and looking after your children, head to This website has useful tips from working mum of five Nicole Avery.