The survival kit: how to work from home with kids

by Nortal HQ, April 22, 2020

Most of us have worked from home with kids for the occasional sick day or other short-term occasions. With the spread of the coronavirus, the prospect of doing both — working remotely and taking care of children at the same time — seems daunting. How can parents make this work?

Fortunately for us, working from home is okay because basically all we need is our computer. We’ve had some practice with kids being stuck at home for the occasional sick day or while we are taking a few days off from the office as we choose to work remotely. But if you’re suddenly a full-time stay-at-home parent with a full-time job, the game changes.  Here are a few tips from our warriors to make this experience less stressful.

Establish new routines (note: It’s okay to fail)

Children thrive best with stability and routine. When it’s gone, it’s up to us as parents to lead the way. To survive, we need to commit ourselves to some sense of order, and at the same time, accept the chaos.

Vitali Korniltsev, project manager and father of four, is still figuring out a perfect daily routine to keep everybody happy and occupied. With his police officer wife away from home most hours, Vitali juggles work tasks and e-school assignments while entertaining a five-year-old. “I usually wake up around 5 or 6 AM to take care of the things that need concentration. During the first half of the day, I try to schedule calls and take breaks to help my 8-year-old son with his first-grade assignments via e-school. During the whole day, I try to keep my 5-year-old busy, who seems to have the most energy in our family,” says Vitali.

According to Vitali, it has been hard being alone with the kids for most of the day — but luckily, his wife is home in the evenings to help with schoolwork and cooking. “There are days where I feel like I have failed. Several things I have tried felt like temporary solutions, and every day, I’m experimenting with what does and doesn’t work. But I keep figuring it out,” says Vitali.

Vitali’s desk is now covered with school assignments for 8-year-old and puzzles to entertain his 5-year-old

Vitali’s desk is now covered with school assignments for 8-year-old and puzzles to entertain his 5-year-old

Dusan Spasojevic, senior java developer and father of one almost 2-year-old notices that working hours have gone up from 8 to 20, as it’s not possible to work as effectively as before. His day consists of taking many breaks, so he can pay attention to the little one, who seems to be more attached to father than ever before.

For Skirmantė Patašiūtė, talent acquisition consultant and mother of adorable 6-year-old twin sisters, it’s about small but compelling steps, starting by taking care of herself. “I set my alarm clock to wake up at the same time every day, get dressed as if I’m going to work, and make sure we have consistent mealtimes and family time during the evenings,” says Skirmantė. ​​​​​​​

What Skirmantė didn’t expect during recent weeks was having a third child in the house — the family dog named Hollywood. “We made a deal with the girls that when they turn 10, they will get a dog, but I decided to fast-forward this decision. Actually, besides bringing good vibes and keeping us more active, the dog has had a positive impact on our household — the girls take more responsibility, do their chores, etc.” adds Skirmantė.

Skirmantė’s twins with their new family member dog Hollywood. Besides bringing good vibes and keeping the family more active, the dog has had a positive impact on household.

Keep them busy

Occupying children’s time with physical activities helps a lot. Luckily, most children’s training and favorite activities continue virtually. For example, there are now football lessons via Zoom, and dance lessons or even music school lessons in a virtual environment. It’s also important to contribute to local training communities, so they don’t lose their income.

But there are, of course, many free activities you can easily try with your family. For example, Vitali plays board games with younger kids, and the family goes for 5 to 6 km walks in nature every evening.

Dusan has got a second keyboard just for the little one, so they can practice “pair programming” from an early age.

Skirmantė’s twins with their new family member dog Hollywood. Besides bringing good vibes and keeping the family more active, the dog has had a positive impact on household.

Dusan keeps his little one busy by having two keyboards.

Plan and prep snacks in advance

For Skirmantė, one of the hardest parts about remote working is that the full responsibility of cooking falls to her. “I try to cook more food at once, so we can warm it up and eat it for a couple of days. I prepare a snack plate for each day and place it in the fridge where they can reach it. Of course, there are days when we just order in,” says Skirmantė.

Dusan’s additional chore is to cook bread for the family. “Mostly the cooking is done by my wife, but as we only go shopping once a week and bread goes really fast in our family, I decided to take matters into my own hand, literally,” says Dusan.

Vitali’s desk is now covered with school assignments for 8-year-old and puzzles to entertain his 5-year-old.

Dusan’s homemade bread


Manage expectations (so what if they crash your video call)

There is probably no professional advantage to pretending things are normal. You will reduce your anxiety and better manage everyone’s expectations if you are upfront with colleagues about what is going on. Also, you need to be upfront with yourself — you will not be as productive as you would be if your children weren’t at home with you — make your peace with it. Finally, we need to be clear about how independent we expect our kids to be while we are working — let them know when it’s okay to interrupt you (an accident happened) and when it’s not (their phone battery is dead).

According to Vitali, there is an agreement with the children that they don’t interrupt video calls. It’s also the new normal that someone is sitting next to him at the table all the time.

If there is a serious meeting, Skirmantė keeps her girls away from the computer. “If this is the case, I let them watch a movie, for example, as they can’t be that quiet. I guess it’s more for me. Most of my teammates don’t have children. Still, they are very supportive, and I would say the girls have a positive impact when they sometimes come to say ‘hi,’” says Skirmantė. She also believes people are getting closer to each other as everyone doesn’t chat only about work anymore.


Don’t forget to talk about what is happening

Some children may not understand what is going on and may see this new social distancing situation as punishment or limiting them in ways that don’t seem reasonable. Therefore, it is essential to talk to them at an age-appropriate level. Meaning, we need to explain how we are looking out for the community and people we are close to.

According to Vitali, his 8-year-old son is the most curious. He regularly washes his hands and wants to put together the big picture concerning what’s taking place in the world. “Every day, he asks me how many people got sick today, what’s in the news, etc.”

Skirmantė’s 6-year-old twins are also curious and often ask their mom to watch the news together. “We constantly talk about new rules, about keeping a healthy distance, the fact that playgrounds are closed, etc. We have never had problems with washing hands, but now we keep in mind that there are more rules to follow to keep everyone healthy,” says Skirmantė.


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