Tips on working from home when the kids are off school

Our head of content, Roisin Woolnough, reflects on many years’ experience of working from home and provides some tips on staying productive when the kids are at home too.

So, all of a sudden, millions of people are working from home. If you haven’t done it before or have only done it for the odd day here and there, then it will take a bit of getting used to. Chances are many of your colleagues and customers are working from home too so there are adjustments to be made on a team-wide, organisation-wide level as well.

Some people will be working at home in isolation, unable to even socialise out of working hours, while others will be trying to work with family and children milling around constantly. This can all be very stressful and daunting, particularly when you factor in general stress levels around coronavirus.

I’ve been a freelancer for many years so I’m already set up for it – I have an office space, a desk and all the necessary kit. And I know what it’s like to work with my kids in the house and just as importantly, they know what it’s like being in the house with me working. My husband also works from home, so that’s two of us who know the ropes.

Of course, there will be hiccoughs along the way and it’s not going to be easy juggling freelance work with three children who can’t go out much, once the novelty of being off school kicks in. Plus there’s the issue of managing their schoolwork. Actually, I’ve already decided that they will largely have to manage their schoolwork themselves. I’m taking a back seat role here, otherwise, doing that on top of everything else might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Given the current situation, I think that’s an approach that many of us will have to take to working from home right now – doing the best you can but accepting that there will be limitations. Even if you can put in a full day’s work in the office, but from home, and can pretty much work as normal, colleagues may not be able to, so be mindful that others may be finding it difficult to adjust.

However, there are some ways you can make it easier and less stressful, which is why I’m writing this piece. I’m going to share with you some of my tips for making homeworking work, which I hope you will find helpful.

Your office

Let’s start with the obvious – where you will be doing your work. You may be lucky enough to have some choice about where you work, having a room or corner you can claim as your own for now. Ideally, you will have a door that can be shut (locked if necessary). If you don’t think have that, then what’s your next best option? Do you need quiet? If so, where is the quietest space? Will it be quiet all the time or will the other inhabitants of your home be passing through regularly? I’ve worked from the kitchen table before, which was fine when the kids were at school, but wasn’t fine as soon as they were around because they needed that space too. And I was there in front of their eyes so they just couldn’t stop asking me questions or telling me things. So my advice to parents is to avoid the kitchen table if you can.

Ideally, you want a space that can be just yours – you don’t want to have to clear away your work stuff and computer when you stop working. You need space for a desk, a chair and for your work paraphernalia. Also think about things such as Wifi connectivity in your house. If it’s patchy in certain places, then avoid those places or it will drive you mad.

Working from your bedroom is not great, but if that is the only space that is available and you can tuck yourself away, out of sight and hopefully out of mind, then maybe it will do for now. It will be better than the kitchen table, I promise you.

Something else to consider is whether or not your office is going to be on view at all – are you going to be doing Skype video calls for example? I say this because I’ve interviewed people over Skype video who have had a blank wall behind them and also people who don’t appear to care less what their backdrop looks like to others. I’ve even had to look at someone’s underwear hanging from their wardrobe (and this was a professional, B2B, call mind) and a whole host of other bits and bobs. Now I’m not the tidiest person around, but you do need to maintain certain standards as a homeworker and look professional, so either position your desk’s camera so that your backdrop will be a clear wall or do a lot of tidying up each day or invest in a standalone screen that hides whatever is behind it. Think ‘office from home’ and try to make it look like that.


People often think that one of the great things about working from home is that you are free to do things your way – why get dressed even? I’m not so sure about that and it’s not only because I’m not someone who likes loafing around in my pjs. Get yourself into a good routine. Think about how you are going to balance your work and personal life. What kind of hours do you intend to work? Probably best if you stick with your normal hours, particularly if you need to communicate with colleagues and customers.

A big no-no for me is starting the working day without any fresh air or exercise. Take at least 10 minutes to go for a walk outside. If restrictions kick in and we’re not allowed to be outside unless we have a valid reason for being there, then do a few turns around your garden. No garden. At least open your front or back door or a window and get some fresh air and say hello to the world outside.

Take regular breaks. Get up and move around. Do some stretches. Office life is full of interruptions. This doesn’t happen in the same way at home, unless you have company, so take time out to refresh. Get more fresh air and exercise if you can. As long as we’re all still able to move around outside, think about using that time as a social opportunity – is there someone close by you could walk around the block with, maintaining a safe distance of course?

Don’t forget to switch off when your day’s work is done. This particularly applies to those who have no choice but to work in the bedroom. Have some kind of ritual that separates the end of the working day, such as shutting off your equipment, putting stuff away and mentally saying goodbye to work for the day. Think about going outside again. Have an end of the working day cup of tea.


Think about how you are going to communicate with colleagues. If you are not already au fait with online comms tools then now is the perfect time to get to grips with collaboration channels such as Slack. Keep in regular contact with people in whatever way works best for you and them. Check in with colleagues first thing, during the day and last thing so that everyone knows what’s going on. If you have any reports, then the onus is on you to set this kind of thing up. You don’t want people to feel isolated or that they are working in a vacuum so you need to think about how you can replace or replicate your normal office interactions.

Ask people how they are doing. These are difficult times so it’s important to check in with others. If you are a manager then you have a duty of care towards your employees and a lot of people will be finding the current situation very stressful.

A few extra thoughts for those working from home with kids:

  • Set ground rules with your children about how the day is going to work. Explain how you need it to be and why. Tell them when you will be available and when you won’t. If you have a call that you really don’t want to be interrupted then let everyone know. Then cross your fingers that everyone will cooperate!
  • Remember that there are an awful lot of people in the same boat. You might feel hugely unprofessional and embarrassed if your children interrupt a call or you can hear an argument brewing (and exploding) but just remind yourself that chances are the person on the other end of the line understands. If they are a parent it has probably happened to them. I’ve interviewed CEOs with their toddlers in the background and I was fine with it, it didn’t bother me, even when the children could be heard. I’ve also been on a call when my own children butted in and I didn’t find it fine but the other two people on the call weren’t fazed at all.
  • If you and your partner are both working from home and trying to manage kids you might want to think about taking it in turns to work. One half term when the kids were younger and a whole load of work unexpectedly landed on our desk my husband and I had a tag team system going: I worked 7am-8am, he worked 8am-4pm, I worked 4pm-8pm, then we both took a break for food together. We probably worked in the evening too but I can’t remember. What I’m saying is that you will probably get more done in four hours of proper concentrated work, knowing that someone else is looking after the kids (not a screen), rather than trying to work for eight hours but with constant interruptions and distractions.

To finish off, if you find it difficult working from home, just remember that the time will pass and your office will still be there waiting for you. But if you do enjoy the experience and get past the challenges you might find that your employer is open to more of it. Good luck.