What do modern parents want? Flexible working. When do we want it? Now. The rise of Anna Whitehouse’s Flex Appeal campaign proves this. As does MP Helen Whately’s decision to introduce the Flexible Working Bill to parliament. And then there are the results of Daddilife’s The Millennial Dad at Work report. It polled over 2,000 working dads between the ages of 24 and 40 and discovered that 63% of dads had requested a change in their working pattern since becoming a father.
From four-day weeks to altered working hours, flexible working can take on a number of forms, but the option most people tend to consider first is working from home. According to research from the TUC, there has been a 27% rise in employees working from home in the last decade. According to my chats with friends, many of them are now employed by companies who offer the option to work one or two days a week from home as standard. And according to just about anyone who has an opinion on the subject, this trend is going to continue to gather pace as we move further into the 2020s.
Mastering the skill of working from home with kids
All of which is brilliant news for mums and dads who want to keep making waves at work while spending more time with their family, right? Right. Actually… hold that thought. I hate to be the guy who rains on everyone’s parade, but here’s the thing. As a freelance dad who regularly earns from his abode, I feel it is my duty to flag that working from home efficiently when you have kids is an extremely difficult skill to master.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that, having spent most of the last three years trying to work out how to juggle my work deadlines with my drive to be a hands-on dad and my wife’s desire to add to my domestic to-do list, I am more than qualified to provide you with a bunch of great tips around how to work productively from home as a parent. Do you want to hear them? Great, then here goes…
1. Set up an office
Planning to sign into your email from the sofa? Plan again. Any attempt to work from a communal space in your house is wide open to interruption from your child and/or partner and thus doomed to failure. If you want to make working from home work, you need to create an area that everyone knows is “daddy’s office”. In an ideal world, this would be an actual office, or room, where you can shut the door, but if this luxury doesn’t exist in your house, set up a desk in a corner of a room and tell everyone (including yourself) that when you are sitting here you are not free to play, FaceTime Granny or “hang up the washing”.
2. Plan set breaks
One of the best parts of working from home is the freedom. There is no boss watching over you, so you can grab a coffee, assist with a nappy change or watch an episode of Peppa Pig whenever you like. Actually, your kid is in a cuddly mood, so why not make it two episodes of Peppa Pig? Or three? Or three and a Fireman Sam?
You can see where I’m going with this. The freedom of working from home is a double-edged sword that has the potential to let your day drift into a mess of kids’ TV and unproductivity. Happily, it’s easy to fix this. Simply ensure you achieve the right blend of work life and dad life by splitting each and every work from home day into a structured mix of working chunks and break chunks before it begins.
3. Think outside the working day box
Although instilling some structure into your work from home days is important (see above entry), too much structure can be detrimental. I say this, because for the first two years of my son’s life, I was obsessed with starting my working day at 9.30am and ending it as 6pm.
There were several reasons for this (those are the office hours I used to have, the people who commission me tend to work those hours and it’s the length of day I worked from home in the pre-kids era), and all of them seemed to make sense until I realised two things. First, working from home with a kid in the house is very different to working from home without a kid in the house. Second, working from home simply means getting your work done from your house. This could be at 9am or 9pm. Your employer doesn’t care and nor should you.
4. Listen to music
People who work efficiently in offices wear headphones when they want to tune out the background noise. It took me way longer than it should have done to work out that people who work efficiently from home do the same.
5. Consider your partner
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Newsflash: my kid isn’t the only person who distracts me when I work from home. My partner does it too, largely because she is tired of dealing with our kid and the house and wants me to pick up some of the slack. My solution? Initially, it was to bury my head in the sand, read some more emails and hope she got over it. Unsurprisingly, she didn’t, so now I just completely ignore her. Just kidding. I make sure that my breaks give her a break. Which means? It means doing the nursery drop off, so she can go to the gym; taking my son for a walk, so she can make herself something to eat; feeding my son dinner, so she can go to the toilet and a bunch of other stuff. This might seem like a lot to take on, but I’ve found that making my wife’s life easier in the bits of the day when I’m not working helps to ensure that she doesn’t make mine more difficult in the bits when I am.
6. Entertain your kid
I used to get annoyed with my kid when he was repeatedly getting in the way of my work. Then I realised that he was only hassling me because he was bored. So, whenever he’s obstructing my working from home efficiency, I stick the iPad on and leave him in front of it for eight hours. Again, only joking. I actually attempt to come up with some interesting and developmental games that entertain him for a few minutes or more. Like? Well, five good options would be:
The Inventory involves asking your kid to count loads of stuff around the house, and I love it for three reasons. First, it has really improved my son’s counting ability. Second, it keeps him away from my office for a decent period of time. Third, it has helped me prove to my other half that we really do have too many boxes, cushions and Allen keys.
Find the card
The upside of this game is that is takes up a lot of time, boosts your little one’s fine motor skills and involves very little effort on your part. The downside is that the contents of your wallet could end up being scattered around the house. Read that disclaimer and still up for it? Great, then here’s how it works. Show your child one of your library/gym membership/supermarket points reward/credit cards (we use my Costco card, as it has my picture on it) put it back in your wallet and then challenge your little one to “find the card”. When they do, cheer and high five them. Then put the card back and do it all over again and again and again and again and again. For the record, this game isn’t a one-trick entertain a toddler in the house pony. It’s also done the business for us during nappy changes and traffic jams.
First, get all the toilet roll you can find in the house. Then, encourage your toddler to build a tower with it. Then, challenge him or her to knock it down with a cushion. Now, repeat as many times as possible.
Count the toys
Does your kid have a RIDICULOUS number of cars/dolls/pieces of LEGO/trains/cuddly toys/unicorns? I feel your pain, but I sense a time-wasting, maths-improving opportunity. Here’s how it works. First, ask your kid to place every single car/doll/piece of LEGO/train/cuddly toy/unicorn that they own in the middle of their bedroom or play area. Second, instruct them to line them up nicely (note: this step has no mathematical benefit, but it does eat up a lot of time). Third, get them to count the number of cars/dolls/pieces of LEGO/trains/cuddly toys/unicorns they own.
Master the maze
I nicked this game off another dad, who was using it to occupy his son at a Christmas party. Simply get several pieces of paper (A3 probably works best for little ones), and draw a bunch of random vertical lines on each of them. Next, connect some of the lines, horizontally or vertically, to form dead ends. Make sure you leave a clear route to get from one side of the paper to the other and then challenge your kid to “master the maze”.
And that’s it. Those are my top tips to working efficiently from home as a parent. Hopefully, they will help you become more efficient in 2020 and beyond.