As a result of the coronavirus outbreak, at least 69,000 schools across the U.S. have been closed or are scheduled to close, according to Education Week, which published a state-by-state map tracking school closures across the country.
For thousands of parents who have been asked to work remotely, this means extra challenges when trying to balance the demands of work life and home life while coronavirus remains a concern.
Though many parents have had a “one off working-from-home day” when a kid is sick or the weather is bad, the reality of working remotely every single day alongside your kids will be a “steep learning curve” for a lot of people, says FlexJobs career development manager Brie Reynolds.
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“I’ve been working from home full-time for about 10 years,” Reynolds, who has a 6-year-old and a 1-year-old, says. “I’m still just today learning what is going to work for us in the next few weeks.”
Below, she, along with executive coach and author Julie Kratz and entrepreneur Patrice Cameau break down for CNBC Make It five simple tips for implementing an effective work-from-home set-up with your kids.
1. Create a schedule
As a mom of a 12-year-old, 2-year-old and 1-year-old, Cameau says setting a strict schedule that replicates that of a normal school day has been helpful to her.
“I can’t focus on my work until I have them together,” says Cameau, who owns a content-creator studio in Hyattsville, Md., called CAMPspace.
Her 12-year-old has been occupied with completing virtual assignments after his school closed last week, but Cameau says her younger two kids are more dependent on her attention. Each morning, she says, she has them wake up, eat breakfast and get dressed at the same time they would if they were going to daycare.
She tries to get the bulk of her work completed during her kids’ lunch hour, nap time and the down time she’s set aside for them to be on technology.
“I’ll be honest, there have been days where my kids have been home from school, and I didn’t set a schedule,” Cameau says. But she has since learned from those experiences. “This is my first time ever doing something like this because I don’t know how long we’re going to be in this situation, so we need to just try to move the best way we can.”
2. Communicate, even more than you think is necessary
As someone who has been working remotely for a decade, Reynolds says communication is the No. 1 thing you have to be “cognizant of and thinking about all the time.”
When it comes to work life, she says it’s OK to be transparent about the fact that you’re also juggling the needs of your kids, so your coworkers aren’t caught by surprise.
For example, if you’re on a conference call, it’s acceptable to sometimes say, “Hey, just a heads up, I might have a kid walk into this room, and I will handle it and get right back to you.”
“On a regular basis you might not want to say that,” Reynolds explains. But during an unexpected work-from-home situation such as this, she says “it’s absolutely critical” to over-communicate.
It can also be helpful to create a spreadsheet with your manager and the rest of your team, where you each outline your emergency contact information and your availability for virtual meetings.
“You should come together and talk about what’s going to work best for everyone,” she says. “This might mean more frequent, but casual meetings, or it might mean fewer meetings altogether.”
3. Set boundaries with your children
On top of communicating with your colleagues, Reynolds says it’s crucial to set boundaries with your kids when working remotely, especially if they’re school-aged.
Right now, she says, it may be helpful to allow your kids to watch more TV and play more games than usual in order to keep them occupied. In this event, Reynolds says, you need to explain to your kids that this is a special thing, and this freedom won’t go on forever.
Outside of being more flexible about screen-time, Reynolds says you should also tell your kids when you need to be in “do not disturb” mode.
“With my 6-year-old, I had him do a little arts and crafts project where he made me a ‘stop’ sign and a ‘go’ sign for my office door,” she says. “He knows when he sees a ‘stop’ sign that he shouldn’t come in unless some big, crazy thing is going on. Then, if the green ‘go’ sign is there then he can walk right in.”
Kratz, who is the founder of Next Pivot Point, a leadership organization for women, agrees with Reynolds. She says if you’re a work-from-home employee who doesn’t have a designated office space, then setting clear boundaries with your kids can be helpful.
“You gotta have a place where you have private times,” she says. “That might be your bedroom, your closet, a guest room, your basement or wherever you can find a place where you can have uninterrupted, quiet space.”
And to help keep this space quiet, she says, parents can use a system similar to the one Reynolds set up with her children.
“I always recommend to parents working from home to have a physical sign on the door with a thumbs up, thumbs down or whatever works as a signal for when you truly cannot be interrupted.”
4. Take breaks
Though you may feel pressured to overextend yourself while working remotely in order to prove to your team that you’re actually working, Reynolds says it’s critical that you carve out time to take a break.
Nearly 90% of American workers say that taking a lunch break helps them to feel refreshed and ready to get back to work, according to the “Take Back the Lunch Break” survey released by global health and hygiene brand Tork.
“Breaks are important when working at home,” says Kratz. She suggests that for every hour of focused work you complete, you take at least a 10-minute break to grab a snack, walk around or say “hi” to your kids. She also adds that a quick at-home yoga session, a hot shower or indulging in your favorite podcasts are other self-care things you can do when taking a healthy break from work.
When taking this time to unplug and reset, Reynolds says it’s perfectly fine to communicate to your boss with a message such as,“Hey, I’m going to be out of pocket for 30 minutes or so at 1 p.m.”
She says speaking up when you need a break or extra support is important. And it doesn’t hurt to also offer support or coverage for another colleague who may need a break as well.
“I think showing that you’re supportive and also you need support is something that we all have to do at this point,” she says.
5. Alternate shifts with your partner
If you’re in a position where both you and your spouse are working from home, Reynolds says alternating shifts with your partner can make working remotely a lot easier.
“I got to work very early this morning, and [my husband] woke up with the kids and made breakfast and did all that sort of stuff,” she said. After breakfast, Reynolds said, she and her husband then switched shifts throughout the day, allowing each other to have uninterrupted work time.
If switching shifts with your spouse is not an option, then Cameau, whose husband is not able to work remotely, emphasizes that a strict schedule and extra planning will be key to maximizing your day.
“One thing I do immediately when I wake up, in addition to following the schedule, is clean up all of their toys so that the living room is no longer a playroom,” explains Cameau. “For me, it helps to clear up space so that when I do have time to get work done while they’re napping, I’m not spending it trying to clean up toys.”