July 31, 2009
Balancing act: Working from home with kids underfoot takes careful planning
Special to NWjobs
The perks of working from home are undeniable: no commute, a relaxed dress code and the flexibility to tell the cable company to come anytime.
But for every high of taking a business call in sweat pants, there’s the horrifying low of having that call interrupted by the screech of the home office’s other inhabitants -- children.
Nearly everyone who works, or is looking for work, from home and also has kids seems to have a memorable story about an unwelcome intrusion at a critical time.
For Joe Hirman, a part owner of Pacific Northwest Statistical Consulting who works from his Mill Creek home, it was the moment one of his two young daughters couldn’t contain her excitement about a potty-training breakthrough.
“I wasn’t on speakerphone,” Hirman says, “but it didn’t matter. She was loud enough -- and so proud -- that everyone (on the conference call) could hear.”
Since then, Hirman has learned that mazes and coloring pages his daughter picks out online and prints can buy him at least 20 minutes of quiet time when he absolutely needs to be on a call.
Here are some tips from parents for successfully working at home with kids:
Stick to a schedule. Kids thrive when they know what to expect, but build in enough flexibility to take a break with them.
Establish boundaries. When kids are old enough, communicate that a closed door means knocking first or sliding a note under the door.
Entertain the brain. Provide short bursts of games, puzzles, books, mazes and educational video games or television, but not all at once.
Plan summer activities. Arrange play dates or coordinate with neighbors. If it’s within the budget, camps, lessons or a mother’s helper can help kids have fun while a parent gets work done.
For Julie and Scott Spiewak, who have run Fresh Impact Public Relations Group out of their home since 1997 and have three daughters, ages 12, 9 and 6 months, it all boils down to routine.
The South Snohomish County couple wake up two hours before their kids to get a jump-start on work. They take advantage of the baby’s twice-daily two-hour naps and make sure that when the older kids are home for the summer, they have plenty of activities at hand -- from simple crafts they can do on their own to books, a movie or an outdoor sprinkler -- and snacks within reach.
“We’ve discovered that if the kids are having fun and entertained, they are much less inclined to interrupt when we are working,” Julie Spiewak says.
Since both parents are home, the Spiewaks have the benefit of being able to tag-team. If the resources allow it, Spiewak says, a mother’s helper is another alternative.
“By giving them structure and boundaries, our kids know what to expect, which helps them be less demanding,” says Spiewak, adding that she and her husband also work at night or on weekends when they are on deadline.
Loriann Oberlin, a licensed clinical counselor in Maryland and author of the book “Working at Home While the Kids are There, Too,” suggests building in a reward system for good behavior and giving children options if they absolutely have to interrupt.
“If they can write, a handwritten note is better than barging in loudly,” Oberlin says.
And what to do when the person at the other end of the line does hear a meltdown? Oberlin understands that people don’t want to draw attention to their work/life balance challenges, but honesty, she says, is always a good approach: “I usually find if you are really in a pinch, people are understanding."
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