A common misconception (usually among people without children!) is that parents who work from home spend a couple of hours a day casually working on a laptop, and the rest playing with their children and generally experiencing domestic bliss. Whilst there are many benefits to working from home – spending more time with the children, and having more flexibility with appointments – it is in fact an extremely difficult thing to do, and many parents find it much harder than working in an office.
One of the biggest challenges for home-bound workers is dealing with distractions from family, and it is quite common for them to end up catching up late into the evening, to make up for time spent taking care of the children in the day. But with careful planning, it is possible to make working at home work for you as a parent. If you're a work-at-home parent who's struggling to strike the right balance, or if you're currently considering giving it a go, then read on for our five top tips on making working from home work for you.
Share the school run with another parent
Save time on the school run by car-pooling with other parents. If you share with just one other parent you'll only need to do the school run for two or three days each week, which will save a lot of time. If you're particularly close with the parent of one of your children's friends, then you could consider asking if they would be interested in taking turns each day to take care of the children for a couple of hours after school. This will keep your child happy as they're getting to spend extra time with their friends, whilst leaving you free to work.
Establish work and home spaces
Establishing separate work and home spaces can be the most difficult part of working from home. After all, the whole point of working from home is that your home is your workspace, but this fact makes it more important than ever to establish boundaries between the two parts of your life. Picture this scenario: you start your working day and end up getting distracted by any number of things – cleaning, cooking and children – and before you know it, it's the evening and you've procrastinated your way through the majority of your working day. Feeling guilty, you then try to make up for lost time by working all night, and so miss out on your family time.
It's a situation that many work-from-home parents end up in, but the best way to avoid it is to create a clearly defined workspace. In this way, you can train yourself into knowing that whenever you're in your workspace, you're doing work, and whenever you're anywhere else in your home, you're not at work. Even if you don't have an entirely separate room to use as an office, you can section off a corner to work in. Make sure that your children know that if ever you're in this area, you shouldn't be disturbed. It's also a good idea to timetable you work, and plan in scheduled breaks so you feel justified in taking them.
Keep the kids busy
If your children are not yet in school, or if you still need to work when they get back, then it's important to come up with ways to keep them entertained for times when you're too busy to be at their beck and call. One great idea is to give them a project to work on that they find interesting, so that they stay happily engaged while you're working. This could be a paint-by-number project, a jigsaw puzzle or a model car – anything that you know they will find interesting. The key is that you always have resources to hand, so that when you're on a conference call or tackling a particularly difficult piece of work, your children can keep themselves occupied.
Take advantage of naptime
If you have a young child, one of the best times to get work done is when they are napping in the afternoon. Try to work straight through naptime and schedule your most difficult work in for this time period as you know that you won't be distracted. If your children have grown out of napping age, why not get up an hour or two before they do and do some work, or do a couple of hours after they've gone to bed? The benefit of working from home is that you don't have to follow a rigid nine-to-five schedule, so tailor your day to when is most convenient for you and your children.
See our recent blog on how Lisa Suswain, she speaks highly of the advantages of not working the nine-to-five as the Managing Director of Wagging Tails, a multi-award-winning franchise company for dog lovers.
Don't allow yourself to get stressed if your day doesn't go exactly as planned. The whole point of working from home with children is that you get to be there for them when they need you, so if they're ill, or you need to go to an appointment, it's perfectly fine to let work drop for the day. If you're having a particularly tough day then sometimes the best thing to do is write it off and spend some quality time with your children. Life is far too short to let yourself get upset about making every single moment a success and after the much-needed rest you'll be able to approach your work again with a clear head.