All that is separating me from 4 squabbling sisters is a reinforced door.

My girls are home thanks to the closure of their schools in response to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

For the foreseeable future, I will be both their mom and (gulp) teacher, all while trying to maintain my legal practice and writing career.

I’m no stranger to working from home having spent the last 10 or so years working out of an office littered with stray Barbie accessories and Legos, with the demands of my other job, wife and mom, on the other side of the door.

A home office with a reinforced door to keep out the riffraff, I mean my kids, and the dampen the din from the rest of the house.

How much work would you get done if a stack of dirty dishes, an overflowing laundry basket, and crying child with a dirty diaper followed you to the office?

This week hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people, are going to find out as they are forced to work from home for the first time thanks to a (hopefully) once-in-a-century public health crisis.

Here’s how to survive working from home for an extended period of time.

Tip No. 1: Designate a space in your house for work

Ever heard the expression “kitchen table millionaire,” someone who grows their home-based business into a widely successful company?

As someone who has worked with start-ups and entrepreneurs for years, let me tell you that the successful ones ditch the kitchen table real quick. It turns out that the most highly-trafficked area of the house is not very conducive for work.

Forget the kitchen table and find a private area in the house the house to work. A home office, if you are lucky. Or perhaps a corner of your bedroom or the guest room. While you don’t necessarily need a reinforced door like I have, you do need a door or someway to separate yourself from the rest of the house.

Why is it important to separate yourself from the rest of the house?

For starters, you won’t be tempted to procrastinate by taking care of household chores. Trust me, the urge to clean a sink full of dirty dishes is pretty overpowering when you’re sitting at the kitchen table trying to push through a work assignment.

It also helps your brain switch into work mode.

Tip No. 2: Stick to a regular work schedule and routine

Remember the magic of snow days when you were a kid? Hooting and hollering when the radio or TV announced that your school was closed? Spending the day goofing off in your pjs instead of memorizing times tables and practicing cursive?  

This ain’t it.

You’re not on vacation. The universe hasn’t suddenly decided to restore Spring Break to adults. Unless you’re taking a PTO day, it’s a work day and you better act like it.

Get yourself in the work state of mind by going through your normal workday morning routine, including getting up on time and getting dressed.

While you don’t need to be wearing business attire, make yourself presentable and don’t wear pajamas or sweatpants. Take it from someone who’s been working from home for a long time. You need the cue of getting dressed to get yourself into work mode. Also, you never know when someone wants to do a Skype call. Don’t embarrass yourself by doing so in your jammies.

Your boss and your clients need to know when you’re available and when you’re not. Guess when that is? Your normal work hours. During your normal work hours you should be responsive to emails, texts, and calls just like you would if you were in the office. 

Keep work separate from home

Things I never did during an average work day when I worked full-time in a real office?

Loads of laundry, catching up on the latest episode of Outlander, and chatting with the pool guy. I did all of those things last week when I was supposed to be working. Don’t break up your work day with constant and unnecessary interruptions. 

Tip No. 3: Stay in (virtual) contact with your boss

If remote work is not the norm for your company, your boss is going to be nervous that his people are not actually working at home (see comment above about “vacation”).

Reassure your boss and secure your job by over-communicating with him. Blind copy him on emails to clients and co-workers. Send him daily updates on what you are working on.

Not sure what you should be working on or don’t have enough on your plate?

“What can I do to help you?” are the words every boss loves to hear.

Tip No. 4: Figure out what to do with the kids

My number 1 tip to someone contemplating working from home? You need childcare. If someone’s paying you, they deserve your full attention.

Well I guess we can throw that piece of advice out the window for the foreseeable future.

My kids’ schools will be closed for at least a month, possibly through the end of the year. It’s only been 2 days, but my office is already cluttered with their school books and they’ve raided my secret stash of the good office supplies.

And my go-to babysitter, my mom? Not going to risk her life so I can get a few hours of work done.

How will my husband and I get any work done with constant and annoying interruptions from our kids?

Careful planning and negotiation.

Planning out our work days by privatizing projects and scheduling calls when the other person will be responsible for the kids (see below). Planning out the kids’ day so they keep on some semblance of a schedule, get their school work done, and hopefully the number of hours they spend on their iPads is not a 2 digit number.

Negotiating by dividing the workday into 30 or 60 minute blocks of time and assigning childcare duties during each block of time to one of us.

Cars for conference calls

My best work-from-home hack? Cars for conference calls.

I was once on a conference call with what seemed like a million people and every 30 or so seconds you could hear a little voice say, “can I have a drink” followed by a shoosh. After 10 or so rounds of this, the leader of the call got fed up and said, “whoever that is, get him the damn drink.”

If people can hear your kids talking to you in the background, they know they don’t have your full attention, which is really annoying, especially when they are paying you.

Secure your kids with entertainment, snacks, drinks, etc. before you get on a call and use the most sound-proof place in your house for the call. For me, that’s my car. Laundry rooms and closets also work.

Do you have any good work from home hacks? Leave a comment or send me an email.

Please read the Disclaimer.

Tags: ,