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Tips for working from home with a spouse and children during the coronavirus

Working from home comes with its own challenges — should I prepare this report or clean the bathroom — but adding in a significant other and possibly children makes it even more difficult.

As millions of Americans have been ordered to stay home and schools around the country have shut down to combat the coronavirus outbreak, those who can work remotely are doing so in a full house.

“Besides the challenges in adapting to remote work, we are in a situation full of uncertainty,” said Stephan Dohrn, a consultant that coaches businesses and employees on successful remote work strategies. “When fear and anxiety dominate us, we cannot be productive, we do not come up with original ideas, and it also reduces our natural immune response.”

You can alleviate some of that stress and be more productive by implementing new rules that will help you work while taking care of yourself and your loved ones in these strange times.

Family time

When shifting to the new work routine, include your family in your time, Dohrn said. “This might mean taking breaks throughout the day to play with your kids,” he said. “Agree with your spouse on how to distribute the house chores.”

When shifting to the new work routine, include your family in your time.
When shifting to the new work routine, include your family in your time.

This will create more harmony for everyone and make adapting to the new remote work challenges easier. You can help to avoid friction with your spouse if each of you know what part of the household you’re responsible for.

Take care of yourself

Don’t forget to exercise, eat healthy, and sleep well. This is key for a successful work-from-home shift.

Make sure you have people to talk so you can process your own emotional experience, Dohrn said. One way to do this is to join an online self-help group or catch up with an old friend.

Meditation, a gratitude journal, or a prayer can also help you reflect.

“Ignoring the emotional and psychological pressure we are under will only lead to emotional overwhelm,” Dohrn said. “Caring for yourself and others instead will help you stay calm and motivated.”

Take care of your colleagues and clients

Even if you’re with your family now, this may not be the case for your colleagues and clients. Check in with those who are home alone to help them stay calm and counter isolation and fear. This will help the productivity of your team, too.

“Connect with them in real time and use video,” Dohrn said. “Do not talk only about work and listen when they need to process their emotions.”

Help them focus on the things they can influence like specific assignments rather than worrying about things that they can’t control.

Define schedules

To adjust to the current situation, set boundaries, create order and define a schedule, according to Stacy Elliot, a senior director of executive communications at Microsoft, who has been working from home for 17 years.

“I share my schedule with my peers, and I use Teams to set my status and highlight times when I’m free and times when I have to be offline,” Elliot said. “Each evening, my husband and I discuss our schedule for the next day, and plan meals for our sons.”

Elliot and her husband share their schedules with their children, so they know when their parents’ availability.

Father playing with son while standing by girl and woman busy at kitchen island
To adjust to the current situation, set boundaries, create order and define a schedule

Auditing is A-OK

“If you have children at home and you need to help with their schooling or care, it’s just not feasible to be in meetings all day,” Elliot said.

When she’s able to join video calls she does, but other times she needs to audit the meeting.

“I can set my status and signal to my peers that I’m offline or auditing and listening in real time,” Elliot said. “I can also ask the team to record the conversation so I catch up later when I’m less distracted.”

Carve up your calendar

“As so many of my colleagues are now working from home, I’ve been intrigued by their biggest complaint: back-to-back meetings with no break in between,” Elliot said. “I learned long ago that endless meetings not only make it difficult to take action on decisions from those meetings, [but] that habit is also unhealthy, both physically and mentally.”

Instead, she tries to stay ahead of her schedule and block out ‘buffers’ between consecutive. One easy way to do this: Schedule 45- to 50-minute meetings, instead of the standard hour which naturally builds in a short break before the next meeting, she said.

Don’t over invite

With the new work-from-home routine, you could have more meetings than usual. It’s crucial to not invite too many people. Carefully crafting the invite list not only appreciates people’s time, but it also improves the quality of the call.

“Remote meetings can be readily recorded,” said Dr. Steven Rogelberg, a professor at UNC Charlotte and leading expert on workplace meetings. “Let nonessential members off the hook, and just share the recording.”

You also can break the meeting into parts so that some attendees can join only for a portion that is relevant to their responsibilities.

Use video

Using videos in meetings allows attendees to actively engage and helps to get your message across better.

“Video conferences are more effective when people can see each other’s facial expressions and body language,” Dr. Rogelberg said. “Ask individuals to sit close to their webcam to help to recreate the intimacy of an in-person meeting.”

Back view of Asian business woman talking to her colleagues about plan in video conference. Multiethnic business team using computer for a online meeting in video call. Group of people smart working from home.
Using videos in meetings allows attendees to actively engage and helps to get your message across better.

Set better agendas

Sharpen the agenda, Dr. Rogelberg said. One way to do this is to organize a set of questions that need to be answered at the meeting.

This will give you a better sense of who really has to be in the meeting and what the relevant questions are. If the questions are answered, you’ll feel that the meeting was successful.

“Don’t forget to ask others for their input in the agenda,” he said. “Meetings are shared experiences. Attendees should have a voice.”

Denitsa is a reporter for Yahoo Finance and Cashay, a new personal finance website. Follow her on Twitter @denitsa_tsekova.

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