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Thousands of schools have closed because of the coronavirus/COVID-19 crisis, and as a result, many small business owners are adjusting to working from home while their children are home too.
These new “coworkers” are cute and lovable, but there are also some special challenges that come with working from home with kids, especially if you are “sheltering in place” to help slow the spread of coronavirus.
Here are a few ideas to help you stay productive while running a business with kids at home.
Keep a Standard Work Routine
Whether you’ve already been working from home as part of running your business, or even if you’re working from home for the first time, it’s important to maintain standard work hours and impose structure and discipline on your daily schedule. Even if you’re taking care of kids while running your business, you need to try to create a fixed routine that lets you devote serious blocks of uninterrupted time and attention to working on your business.
There is no single right answer to this. Every business owner/parent might have a different routine that works for them. Some people thrive on waking up early and getting some important work done before the kids are out of bed. Other people are night owls who would rather put the kids to bed and then crank out some productive work hours.
Pay attention to which times of day (or night) are most productive for you, and try to build your home and childcare routine around that. You might discover that keeping regular work hours to manage your company (even if you’re “working” fewer hours than you normally would) is an important way to stay focused and productive, and it can help you enjoy the time with your family even more.
Create Your Own Home Office/Workspace
Every small business owner who works from home, whether the kids are home from school or not, needs to have a dedicated home office/workspace where you can close a door and have peace and quiet to focus on work. Don’t feel bad about it, don’t feel guilty — your business provides for your family’s home, food and well-being, and you need to have a dedicated space where you can shut out all the distractions and fully engage with your business.
Do you have a dedicated home office? What about a spare bedroom, attic or garage apartment? Even if you have a small home, try to create a space that can be separated from your family. Wear headphones while you work, in case you need to shut out distractions or interruptions. And tell your family that, during your dedicated work hours, they should try not to disturb you for any reason, unless it’s an emergency.
Use Technology to Help
There are so many great technology solutions on the market now to help business owners work from home, everything from Zoom videoconferences to collaboration tools and online backup. But what if you could also use technology to help take care of your children?
We’ve all heard of baby monitors and devices for keeping an eye on sleeping infants and toddlers, but don’t be afraid to use the latest technologies to engage with your older kids too.
Have you provided your kids with their own mobile phones? Send them texts or Facebook messages or funny TikTok videos throughout the workday. Check in with your kids on FaceTime or other video tools. Ask your kids to make a grocery list or a list of what they’d like to have for dinner and email it to you. There are lots of ways that you can use technology to improve communication with your family during the workday, even while working from home.
Use Free Resources Online
Organizations all over the U.S. are rallying to provide free online resources and tools to help parents keep their kids engaged, entertained and educated during this time away from school. Here are a few:
- Art for Kids Hub: Want to help your kids keep drawing, creating and exploring their imaginations while home from school? Check out these free online art lessons for kids.
- Child Mind Institute: The Child Mind Institute has great ideas and resources for families who are dealing with the coronavirus crisis. Get free parenting tips, mental health resources and video chats with experts to help manage anxiety and help your kids get through this time of crisis.
- Cincinnati Zoo: The Cincinnati Zoo is offering free “Home Safari” video tours, hosted by zookeepers on Facebook Live each day at 3 p.m. Eastern time. Even though zoos and attractions are closed, this is a great way for your kids to see animals and learn something new.
- Khan Academy: This nonprofit educational website serves hundreds of millions of students, parents and teachers. Khan Academy is providing free resources and daily schedules for students age 2-18.
- Monterey Bay Aquarium: This aquarium is offering live video of birds, fish, jellyfish, sea otters, sharks and other sea creatures. This can be a wonderful and educational way for your kids to spend some time at home.
Rely Upon Your Spouse/Partner/Co-Parent
If possible, now is the time to have a good talk with your spouse, partner or co-parent. Talk with each other about what you need and how you can support each other in taking care of the kids during this stressful and strange time.
If you have a spouse who is furloughed from their job or who does not work outside the home, this may be a good chance to ask them to take on more of the childcare responsibilities. If both of you are working from home, you can create a shared calendar of childcare expectations: Who’s going to cook breakfast or dinner on which days, who’s going to take the children out for a walk in the park, who’s going to manage any remaining school activities or appointments for the kids.
Most things are probably canceled, but some kids’ activities or club meetings might still be happening via videoconference.
Spend Special Time with the Kids
Last but definitely not least: Make sure to take time to connect with your kids. Spend time with them. Go for walks. Play basketball together in the driveway. Help your kids talk with their grandparents and friends via video chat. Get takeout meals from your kids’ favorite restaurants and get drive-through donuts or ice cream treats.
The coronavirus crisis is stressful for everyone, but especially for kids, who might be feeling disappointment, anxiety and grief because of all the rapid changes to their usual routine. This moment of social isolation can be especially hard for kids who have had to cancel a birthday party or who will miss out on favorite end-of-year school activities. Be patient with your kids and try to make these days at home as joyful as you can.
Try to focus on what you can control. Keep running your business, stay productive as best you can and try to not let the stress of this moment take over your relationships with your loved ones. Hopefully we can all get through this crisis soon, with minimal damage to human life and to our economy.
Ben Gran is a freelance writer from Des Moines, Iowa. Ben has written for Fortune 500 companies, the Governor of Iowa (who now serves as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture), the U.S. Secretary of the Navy, and many corporate clients. He writes about entrepreneurship, technology, food and other areas of great personal interest.
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