My New Normal: I Was Ready to Work Remotely, But Then My Family Came Home
I typically work from home once a week — in peaceful solitude with only a 15-year-old beagle who is easily placated by baby carrots and belly rubs.
Before this job, I worked from home almost exclusively for five years as a freelance writer. So when our CEO told us that we were working from home effective the next day, I figured I had this.
Then, my family came home.
My House as a Co-working Space
Don’t get me wrong, I love my husband, Chris, and 11-year-old daughter, Gwen. At the end of the typical work day, I can’t wait to see them.
But on a typical work day, they head out of the house — and to the same place, a Catholic school where Chris teaches language arts and Gwen is in fifth grade.
Having them around as parallel coworkers has proven to be a challenge, particularly in a 900-square-foot house.
If you have a separate keyboard, use your kid’s TV tray to elevate your laptop. That way, you’re not constantly straining your neck to look down at the screen.
I typically describe our house as “cozy,” but with three people attempting to work in a place that only has two rooms with doors (unless I work in the bathroom), it can be difficult for any of us to get much privacy.
So we’ve had to transform our house into a makeshift co-working space, which has turned out to be a helpful way to look at this whole work-from-home situation as a family.
Gwen wears headphones for much of the school day — she pointed out that it’s as much to hear the teacher and her classmates as it is to block out her parents’ distracting conference calls.
The first week, my husband tried working from the kitchen table while I worked in the adjoining living room. We quickly discovered that this was not feasible — we can’t both be on conference calls within 50 yards of each other, much less one room apart.
Multipurpose everything in a small house. That kitchen chair can be used as work seating (with a pillow), a barre for your daughter’s ballet practice and a sturdy pillar in your blanket fort.
He ended up digging out the old card table and folding chair from our shed and setting up his makeshift office at the foot of our bed so he could close the door and teach.
His only advice to the work-at-home population: Invest in a comfortable chair.
But even with Chris and Gwen tucked away in bedrooms with the doors closed, the 9 to 10 a.m. hour is a bit cacophonous.
That’s when you can hear Chris and Gwen talking the most as virtual classroom learning is in full swing. Unfortunately, it coincides with my morning editorial meeting at 9:30.
Even with the doors closed, I have trouble concentrating in the living room, so I’ve started moving to the front porch for my meeting, allowing us all to hear ourselves think. Bonus: I entertain my coworkers with what must look like me swatting at the air (it’s actually mosquitoes).
Working From Home With Your Family? Stay Flexible
I’d still say we’re doing pretty well, considering the cramped quarters. Flexibility is key.
The school day lasts from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. for Gwen. That’s a lot shorter than my work day, so my fantasy that I’d be able to start sleeping in has been thwarted by the fact that I need to accomplish as much as possible before she wakes up.
I get up at 5 to take care of solo activities like writing and catching up on email. If I can squeeze in a 20-minute run, it’s a good morning.
Throughout the day, flexing can mean moving my workstation quickly to a quiet spot for an interview — even if it’s in the laundry room (when the washer isn’t running, of course).
And even though she’s mostly self-sufficient, Gwen is still 11, which means she occasionally needs us to help her log into a program or study for a test.
She’s also missing the social aspects of school, particularly as an only child, so sometimes I take a midday pause for a chat over cheese sticks.
Are your kids always asking you how to spell a word? Set up your Amazon Echo in their room and let Alexa take one thing off your plate. Bonus: She can also entertain them with dad jokes.
Chris now logs on early in the morning and stays online past dark, responding to individual questions or concerns from kids (and parents). He used to handle most of that just by walking around the classroom and looking over students’ shoulders.
As a result of his extended schedule, we’ve all learned to be a little more flexible about meal times, too.
But the family member who seems to least enjoy us working from home? The dog.
Bauer hates closed doors, so he has become notorious for bursting in on our conversations and disrupting class time. We suspect he’s taking his revenge — he’s an old dog who pretty much depends on us to leave the house so he can sleep most of the day.
I hope that day’s coming soon, buddy.
Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a staff writer/editor at The Penny Hoarder. Read her bio and other work here, then catch her on Twitter @TiffanyWendeln.