Remote work can become a possible alternative to working in an office for many reasons, and becoming a parent is probably one of the most rewarding ones. You might be able to transition to remote work on purpose in order to gain more flexibility and be closer to home while still going after your professional goals and desires. But you also might find yourself suddenly working at home due to unforeseen circumstances.

From working full-time to parenting, homeschooling, and navigating new tools for video conference calls, it can be a lot to manage.In either case, with busy and demanding children underfoot, how can you make sure to stay calm and keep both life and work carrying on?

juggling life as a parent

As great as it is to cut out the commute and be with the kids more than you ever were during your average 9-5 in-office life, remote work has its own set of challenges that you’ll want to embrace in order to help keep your sanity and achieve (some sort of) valuable work-life balance.

Prep Your And Your Kids’ Emotions While Working From Home

You would think that the move to working from home wouldn’t be a feelings-rollercoaster, but it can create an interesting emotional concoction set to blow up if you’re not careful.

Karen Alpert of Fast Company put it succinctly when she said:

“Working from home means none of the commute—but a double serving of guilt.”

What tends to happen for many parents who switch to working from home is the lines between work and home life, which used to be so clearly marked, get blurred for everyone. Where kids once thought of mom or dad being home as pure family time, now home is where parents are sometimes working, and playtime or outings have to wait for a scheduled time.

One important way to mitigate this is to establish space and time boundaries with your kids. When they are told that “[Mom or Dad] is at work when they are in their office,” kids are able to delineate that even though Mom or Dad is in the house, they are not available for playtime.

You can also get your kids involved in helping you work!

One Trello team member recently enlisted their kids to help them create a sign for the door that can be flipped between “green” (OK to come in) and “red” (Mom/Dad is busy and needs quiet time right now) so that they could play a part in helping Dad be productive at work.

Nail Down a Morning Routine

Going from the bedroom straight to your home office in your pajamas might sound nice to everyone, but unless you’ve trained your brain to kick into a “Let’s crank out some work” mental drive then you’re going to find it hard to get anything done.

Add the hustle and bustle of kids, especially if they’re in the hands-on “I still need help eating” phase of life, plus family foot traffic in the house, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for productivity disaster.

baby gif

Either way, having a daily morning routine helps—a lot! And the pros agree. Strong morning routines help business leaders around the world become productive and successful.

Here are a few tips to help you get a better morning habit that helps you get more done:

  • Wake up the same time every day, including the weekends. This can be hard if you’ve got little ones that keep you up throughout the night or have a schedule of their own. Waking up at the same time helps to create a consistency that retrains your brain so it knows what to expect. (The mind is a fickle thing like that…)
  • Get ready for the workday and strap on your shoes. If you had to leave for a normal 9-5 job, then you’d go through the motions of getting ready in the morning to go to work. This means you’ve prepped your brain to do this before you get to work. Use that to your advantage. Brush your teeth. Change your clothes. Wear your shoes (or slippers). Get to work. These simple acts tell you and the people in your household that you’re in a different mode than weekend or playtime parent.
  • Write out your routine and stick to it. Your parent-brain is constantly juggling 50 things. You probably forget more than you remember. Recording your to-do list is vital to ever getting anything done. Even better—a digital list that you can quickly reference, like a Trello board! This is a proven technique for beating decision fatigue, which a parent is especially at risk to develop!

Establish Your Work-From-Home Workflow

First off, you need a dedicated space that you only access when you’re working. It should be a closed-off space that has a door with a lock, to preserve video call integrity (as adorable as it is when your toddler comes in to show you something, it’s best to prevent that from happening during important calls).

toddler walking in room

Second, you need to set ground rules for how other people in the house can get in touch with you during the day. Ask your partner or nanny to text you when they need to ask you something, that way you can engage or disengage when you’re ready.

Don’t run the risk of your office becoming a revolving door of context switching. If your kids are in the same space as you are, then there should be a level of separation when you are working. Think of it as a form of “mental distance” between work and home.

This means that you create a method for when and how you’ll get things done. You can batch tasks together and get them done using the Pomodoro technique. Instead of checking your email every time they come in, you might set aside 20 minutes or so at a specific time. Get rigorous with the time you do have to focus on work by avoiding common productivity blockers like time management, focus, and prioritization.

The most productive days often start the day before.

How so?

Dedicate a few minutes to creating your “Tomorrow List,” mapping out the tasks and priorities for the following day in Trello, and then you can get right down to business when you start the next day’s work block.

In fact, batching your schedule between maker and manager time has been proven to produce better work and more efficient work, so take control of your schedule and you might be surprised with the amount of time you can find for lunch with the kids, putting together that report, and attending the quarterly meeting.

You’re Going to Need Help

Every home is different.

Some of you might have kids that are of school age, or at the point where they really don’t need much attention and can help as soon as they get home. If that’s you, then you’re lucky because you probably won’t need to invest too much in child care.

But if your kids are young and require you to be quite hands-on when you’re around, then you can pretty much assume that you’re going to need some help. Working from home while trying to watch your kids is really, really, really hard.

Since the average annual cost for child care runs most families around $18,000, finding a friend or retired family member (hello, grandparents!) to help homeschool or watch over your little ones will be the biggest help. However, you may also want to establish a hand-on, hand-off routine with your partner if you’re both working from home and can’t access childcare.

The fact is, you’re going to need some help if you’re planning on pursuing remote work full-time or long-term beyond a temporary crisis management situation, so you should count the cost and consider your options. It’s important to acknowledge that if you try to focus 100% on work and 100% on the kids at the same time, you’ll burn out twice as fast.

Both your work and your quality time with your kids suffers when you are trying to accomplish both simultaneously. While you probably won’t be able to keep the two worlds separate perfectly, giving yourself some boundaries will be the key to working from home over the long term.

You can still participate in scheduling their days and activities by creating resources to help your childcare helper or partner with ideas! Here is a Trello board of kids activity resources for WFH parents to get you started.

Communicate And Give Your Team Context

When in doubt, communicate, communicate, communicate. Part of remote work success comes with remembering that over-communicating is actually the correct amount of communication.

Context is extremely important as well. It’s better to let your team know if things happening at home are preventing you from being as productive as usual, than to pretend like you have everything under control while your output or quality of work suffers.

Keeping a shared document or calendar where you can update a schedule of available working hours, and using your Slack status to indicate your availability can go a long way in helping your coworkers help you by knowing when (and when not) to schedule that can’t-miss meeting.

working from home as a parent

Life happens. Maybe your toddler just got their hands on a bag of flour and is strewing it around the house. Maybe the dog is chasing the mailman around the neighborhood. Again, life happens—and when life is now happening in the same area as your office, work tasks are bound to see interruptions.

The key is to communicate that you’re experiencing some stressors at home and to re-prioritize with your coworkers and managers if needed.

Yes, they’ll see when you’re busy. But they’ll also see when you’re in deep work mode, when you’re available for meetings, and understand that all that time adds up to a productive work week, just like everyone else. And, if your boss isn’t as accepting of your situation as you would like, providing communication, context, and proof of a good job done are your best insurance policies to take to HR or a higher level of management.

How To Bring Harmony To Your Work & Home Life

Being a work-from-home parent isn’t as simple as working in a kid-free office, but there are so many rewards. You may no longer have a commute, but be sure to stay in the driver’s seat when it comes to your schedule, productivity, and availability, and you’ll be a super parent in no time!

Keep the good times at home rolling with these other guides to help navigate remote-work life.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in March 2016 and we’ve added a whole heap of new ideas and nuggets of information to this post in April 2020.

A remote work guide for parents