With the spread of COVID-19, and social distancing efforts, a lot more people are working from home – including students. Freelancers are full of great tips for working from home, but I haven’t seen a lot of advice for dealing with multiple people working from home. My husband and I have both worked from the same home for over 5 years. During that time, we’ve also had kiddos with virtual school days. Here’s a few tips I have.
- Identify what each person needs to do their job (which includes schoolwork). Do you need access to an electrical outlet? Wi-fi? A ringing phone? Silence? Background noise? A distraction free background for virtual meetings?
When I’m doing creative writing, I need quiet. My husband works HR for a Fortune 500 company and spends about 70% of his workday on the phone. Our needs are in conflict. Once we identified this as a problem, we were able to solve it.
- Define workspaces for each person.
When we bought our house, we anticipated having one office that doubled as a guest room. Oops. Rather than moving, we reconfigured spaces. My office (and guest room) is upstairs. When my husband worked on the main floor, his phone calls were a problem in one room, but not the other. But the second spot he tried was near the kitchen and he’d have to quiet the kids when they came home. We carved out a space for him in the basement with a closed door. He can be loud and the rest of us can be loud or quiet depending on the moment.
On virtual days, my daughter works at the dining room table and my son works at either the kitchen table or in the basement. If the kids can see each other, they distract each other. We move the tables a few inches to keep the sightlines clear, but blanket forts are also effective.
- Define “don’t bother me” signals.
I close my office door, but that doesn’t mean much to my son, so if he’s home as well, I put on headband with pink flamingos. My husband also closes his door, but it has a glass window. If we knock on the door, he either waves us in or puts up a hand as a stop sign. My kids both put on headphones, even if they aren’t listening to anything. If they are in their work spot with the headphones on, they are working. If an adult makes eye contact, they will take off the headphones and we can give them the five minute warning for dinner. Even young kids can learn to understand these signals, even if they don’t always respect them.
- Establish a schedule.
Remember that noise problem? My husband is not permitted to make or take phone calls on the first or second floor between 9am and 10am because it’s too disruptive during my peak creativity time. Likewise, I don’t go near his office between 8am and 11am because that is when he’s most likely to be on conference calls. When the kids are on virtual days, they are expected to adhere to the same schedule. They also are expected to follow their school schedule until their work is finished. Be sure to schedule lunch and above all schedule an END to your workday.
- Create transitions.
I didn’t appreciate the value of a commute until I didn’t have one. In addition to the “don’t bother me” symbols that tell others you are working, you also need to give yourself transitions that it is time to work and time to not work. Tell yourself (and anyone else in earshot) “I am going to work” and stride toward your workspace with intent, even if it is only two steps.
- Get sunlight.
Seriously. If you can position yourself near a window, do so, and remember to look out every now and then. If you normally walk the kids to school or the bus (or if they do so on their own), go outside during that time and take a brief stroll. Bonus – you have perpetuated a transition. Designate that time you would have spent on your commute to go outside. If it’s warm enough where you are, sit outside for part of the workday.
For most people, having everyone work from home will a brief interlude. There will inevitably be challenges, but by setting expectations and respecting the needs of others, you will make it work.