There’s a video that still swirls around the internet that perfectly illustrates the challenges of working from home.
And you’re thinking of it already, aren’t you?
A man in a business suit in an uninteresting office setting is doing his best to look professional whilst providing his opinion to a television news show host. That is, until his toddler enters the room and steals the limelight, followed by a woman attempting to hide from the camera and wrangle the kid.
This isn’t unlike my experiences working from home as a reporter while my troops were very young.
While video calls weren’t part of my work-from-home repertoire, non-stop phone calls were. And I’m here to offer a few tips to the masses, who may be trying to find a balance between letting a child wail in the background about a sippy cup, and hiring a full-time nanny who is comfortable with television cameos.
The first step is to find the mute or hold button on your phone, and perfect its use. This is the ultimate tool in defeating a cranky toddler or anxious teenager. Practise interrupting people and politely saying “can you hold, please?” so you can turn on the parent voice and deal with whatever travesty has befallen your offspring.
Invest in a headset. Children get more anxious the more calm you look. To head them off at the pass, conduct all your business while doing household chores. You can connect with anyone, really, while washing dishes and listening to them.
Tip: Before trying this on clients, patients or customers, practise on an in-law. They are your toughest audience and best critics.
Dress for work
This is horrible advice. Don’t do this. How often will you be sent home to manage your company’s affairs? This is a chance to work in the best conditions possible. In your sweat pants, on your couch. If you’re feeling extra fancy and the budget allow — after all, you’ve managed to keep your job during a public health crisis — then splurge on some nicer day pajamas. Think Hugh Hefner. He did okay in his pjs, after all.
Tip: If your work day involves video conferencing, Skype interviews or your want to impress the mail carrier you’re finally going to meet, dress for success from at least the waist up.
Keep regular hours
As tempting as it will be to finally attempt to make a souffle on your lunch break, trust me, you’ll get burned. Either you’ll fall asleep from the extra effort to create a masterpiece during what is actually a work day, or you’ll forget entirely and the fire alarm will go off in the middle of a call.
Put the whisk down. Instead, grab a coffee on your breaks. Take a walk around the block at lunch. Just remember to go back to the ‘office’ at some point.
Train your children and pets
When my sons were small, I made my calls when one was at elementary school, one was soundly sleeping on a bed in my office, and another was mostly docile. I trained that middle child to walk in gently and place his hand on my shoulder for my attention. I rewarded him by saying “can you hold, please” into my headset. We would then talk about a great many childhood mysteries, and I’d send him happily on his way before returning to my call.
The long-term benefit is he is now also the kind of person who places a hand on you while he speaks to you. And now that I think of it, maybe sharing too many germs along the way.
And as for dogs who may bark at inopportune times, repeat after me: “Oh, that darn neighbour and his dog!”
You will bond over the shared contempt of this dog and bad dog owners, and then you’ll spend a half hour consoling him or her later.
And that reminds me. Stock your workplace with treats as a failsafe back-up, for you, your children and your dogs.
Best of luck out there. Stay safe and healthy.