Caution! Children at Work
If you’re sick of your noisy, crowded office and think that working from home would be an improvement, I have news.
Your home is definitely an oasis of serenity, free of the endless distractions of a public workspace.
Unless you have children.
I can understand why you would forget that you have children. They’re small and slippery and easy to misplace. But if you’re part of the 23 percent of workers who did some of their work at home in 2017 and you also happen to be part of the 61.9 percent of married-couple families who have children, you might have a problem.
You want to get serious work done.
They want to sing “The Wheels on the Bus.”
Or so I learned in “How to Work From Home With Children,” a recent article published by The New York Times and Wirecutter.
Patrick A. Coleman, a work-from-home father, has seen both the good and the not-so-good aspects of working at home with young children lurking about. “When you’re in your own home and you’re mostly dad,” he reports, “you can really lose perspective of that professional life.”
This is true, but it’s not unsolvable. It’s easy to remind yourself of what life is like at the office: just start hitting yourself on the head with a frying pan.
For some people, working from home isn’t a choice. Consider Teresa Douglas, whose company switched to all-remote workers. Douglas managed to stay employed and co-authored the “Secrets of the Remote Workforce.”
“One mistake parents make is not setting the right boundaries for children,” Douglas expressed to The New York Times. To help her children understand when she needs to be left alone, she puts a “STOP — in a meeting” sign on her door.
Personally, I don’t see how a sign is sufficient enough to prevent break-ins. An armed guard would probably do the trick but then you’d have to feed him.
Besides, you can’t blame young children for not respecting boundaries. If your manager is always bursting in on you, it’s ridiculous to expect better behavior from a 4 year old (though, to be fair, the two probably share the same level of maturity).
Coleman suggests it is easier to separate yourself from your children if there is a physical barrier. (The Pacific Ocean makes an excellent physical barrier, but once you have left the kid on shore, to make it work, you do have to get yourself to Maui.)
One piece of equipment you could try is a baby gate. I doubt this will stop a motivated child from getting their greasy hands on your laptop, but it would work well in an office situation. Can’t you just see your IT guy pacing back and forth in front of a 2-foot-high baby gate, trying to figure how to get in?
Another strategy for the work-at-home parent is to manipulate bedtimes. Author Bunmi Laditan said, “I used to put my 4- or 5-year-old down at 9 p.m.,” until she finally realized she was “missing that early bedtime window.” She moved bedtime to 7 p.m. and “used the extra hours to do chores and get more work done.”
If you take this approach to its logical conclusion, you might consider moving bedtime to 5 p.m., or even 3 p.m., but that would be a big mistake (3 p.m. is when you take your nap).
Technology can also help.
As every parent knows, children have an instinct for knowing when you’re on the phone with your boss, because that’s when they decide to throw a screaming fit. This can be very distracting, especially if your boss is also throwing a screaming fit.
“Noise-cancelling microphones and easy-to-access mute buttons” are the techy solution to the problem, and while not perfect, these devices will simply have to do until evolution moves forward and future generations of children are born with easy-to-use mute buttons.
For now, parents with young children are advised to consider “babywearing.” A number of “comfortable carriers” allow you to free your hands by imprisoning the child in fuzzy fleece with enough Velcro strapping to keep an S&M parlor in business for decades.
With the baby attached, you can work away while you gently “rock and sway.” The hope is the baby will fall asleep. Of course, the person most likely to fall asleep is you, but given the low expectations your managers have for you, the baby will certainly be able to finish your work.
Just don’t expect your baby to deal with your boss. Babies are way too mature for that.
Bob Goldman is a
nationally syndicated columnist.