Working From Home Without Childcare: We Can Do It!

A few weeks ago, I got a text from a friend: Way to go, you, landing a remote job ahead of the pandemic 😷

When I started as the Head of Engagement for x.ai in January, COVID-19 cases were just beginning to surface and it would be many more weeks before the world’s attention was focused on it. Back in January, I was thrilled to be joining a company that I admired, to build a product I had come to rely on. And, yes, I was also pumped to be able to work from home full-time.

I’ve commuted to New York City from the suburbs for nearly 15 years, and while I’ve been fortunate to work for companies that offer flexible schedules, x.ai is the first fully remote company I’ve worked for. Our team has really thoughtful practices about how to stay connected virtually (my colleague Ammon wrote about some of them). It was a quick transition and I’ve figured out some new routines — both for how I work and how I parent my children.

Today, millions of people are working from home in an effort to minimize the coronavirus’ spread. As schools close, some for a few weeks, some for months, many families are scrambling to establish new schedules while stressing about how they’re going to keep up with it all.

From one working parent to another, here are six things to help you thrive during your time at home.

1. Build a schedule

Children love the predictability of routines and adults do, too. Partitioning your time is an important part of the transition to working from home, and it’s even more important with your littles there, too.

Whether you have babies or bigger kids, you’re going to need to block off dedicated time during the day to focus on them. Factoring that into your planning ahead of time will help you build working time around that, especially as you manage around your meetings and deadlines. Pro tip: If you use x.ai, you can update your Scheduling Hours to limit the times of day you’re available for meetings. Here’s a look at how I updated my availability for the foreseeable future, with a big shoutout to my son who still naps! 🙌

Once you have a schedule, don’t be afraid to share it with your boss and colleagues. As we adapt to these new routines, you will probably find it, er, challenging to spend 8 uninterrupted hours at your computer. Instead, you’ll most likely find yourself optimizing chunks of time to get work done, with lots of interruptions and breaks in between. I often save my “focus” tasks for after the kids are in bed, since I’ll almost certainly be able to work without being interrupted. Remember: With so many families affected right now, you won’t be the only person making adjustments to their availability.

2. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize

Most working parents will tell you that having kids made them more efficient at their jobs. When you have hard starts and stops in your day, you have to make the most of every minute in the office. This is definitely the case as many of us work from home without childcare. Be realistic with yourself about your top priority tasks for the week and for the day. Consider how much time (and focus!) you need to get these done and work that into your schedule.

Guess what? You’re probably not going to be able to get everything done. Even before my kids’ schools shut down, I had days that were derailed by work or life emergencies. By having a clear list of your priorities, you can stay focused on the most important things and calibrate where and how to find the extra time when you need it.

3. Ask for what you need

It’s a marathon, not a sprint (if you’ll pardon the cliché!). Many of us will be working from home with our kids for several weeks. If you have another parent, partner, or adult home with you, talk about what you each need to accomplish every day. Compare calendars to identify the meetings that definitely can’t be interrupted by a loud “Mommmm, I need a snaaaaack!” (Shameless plug: x.ai’s Tomorrow Meeting Prep email practically does this for you. And you can sign up for free!)

Tell your boss and your coworkers what you need, too. My teammate Miguel posted on Slack last week to let us know that his son will be home full-time for the duration of the outbreak and that he would be shifting his schedule to start work at 11 a.m. Not everyone has the kind of flexibility we offer at x.ai, but you can still ask for accommodations. No one is going to tell you how to manage this, you need to own it. Go ahead and practice with something like this: ”I need to log off at 5 p.m. to feed my kids dinner and get them into bed. I’ll be back online later tonight to finish up my work. I’m reachable on my phone if there’s an emergency.”

Speaking of your kids: Ask them for help. We’re talking with our 7-year-old about the things we need her to do while we’re all at home (hint: Most of them involve being kind to her little brother). Whether your kids are young or old, they will soon begin to understand that this is an extraordinary time. And as with extraordinary times throughout history, everyone in the family can and should contribute.

4. Bring your kids to work

My daughter still talks about the times she’s come with me to the office, and not just because of the face painting and epic craft stations (though those definitely made an impression!). Our kids know that our jobs are a big part of our identity, and this time together at home is a great opportunity to give them more exposure to what we actually do.

Invite them to sit in on your morning conference call. Let them wave to your colleagues on video chat (and then shoo them away if you need to!). Talk to them about what they heard, and what your work is. They might even be able to help with some simple tasks. Hello, new intern!

5. Be kind to yourself

Pandemic or no pandemic, I’m not a perfect parent. I’m probably going to rely on my trustworthy babysitters Elsa, Anna, and Olaf more than I might like over the next few weeks (Disney+, you are the true MVP!). Rather than feeling like a failure for that, I’m choosing to be kind to myself. 

Challenge yourself (and your family) to say all the great things that happened each day. Focus on the good, not the mistakes, not the things you didn’t get to do. Your space may be messier, the laundry may pile up, you’re not going to answer every email immediately. You are going to get through this, and you and your family will be better and stronger because of it.

6. Appreciate the simplicity while it lasts

One of the biggest changes I noticed when I transitioned to working remotely was how calm I felt. Life felt simpler and more clearly defined. Yes, there were changes to our routines, things for everyone to adjust to. But I’ve found that working from home has given me more time to focus on my work AND more time to spend with my family. It’s a privilege, one that I continue to be so grateful for.

We are living in a scary and uncertain time right now. For those of us fortunate enough to work from home, remember that: We are fortunate. We are hopefully healthy and safe. We have the opportunity to spend more quality time with our family than usual, possibly more than we ever have before. We can choose to slow down, even if it’s just for a few weeks.

When I feel stressed, when things feel chaotic, I’m going to try to remember to be grateful. I hope you will, too.


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