Working With Kids Around

Jeff Zbar

Success for many work-at-home parents comes by mastering the art of home and home office balance.

While telework program guidelines often prohibit having children or dependent seniors in the home when the employee is working, sometimes it can't be avoided. The child could be home sick or on vacation from school, or the primary day-time caregiver or nanny could be absent.

That leaves the teleworker to manage work and family, if only for a few hours or days.

The cost can be dramatic and detrimental. Productivity can drop. Clients might not take you seriously. Office-based coworkers, upon hearing the sounds of children in the teleworker's office, may dismissed at-home workers as parents first - and corporate peers second.

Technology, like phones with mute buttons and computers that boost work-at-home productivity, can help at-home workers better control or mask the distractions of their home offices. But real success in any home office with dependents, spouses or roommates about starts with setting a few simple rules.


  • Set rules. From "business" hours to respecting a closed office door, kids, spouses, roommates - and you - need boundaries. Use tools like "Do Not Enter" door hangers, an electric red light to turn on when you're not to be disturbed, or even a fake stoplight with Red (do not enter), yellow (enter quietly) and Green (come on in).

  • Set business hours. Whether it's nine to five or eight to six, setting up a home office work schedule creates regularity in the family routine and lets everyone know when the office is off limits. Include breaks during the day when the kids get home from school. You'll stay involved in their lives, and it will diminish their need to bug you.

  • Get help. Whether it's a nanny or preschool for an infant or toddler, or a mother's helper for when older kids get home from school each day, supplemental help lets a work-at-home parent focus on work - at least a few uninterrupted hours each workday. Otherwise, work is a frustrating and emotionally draining task - and becomes a waste of valuable time. Use this time to do project work that can't be interrupted; reserve rote tasks of business (i.e. administrative, paperwork, filing, etc.) for when interruptions can be tolerated.

  • Power down. On weekends, at dinner time and other traditionally "non-work" times, shut down the computer, turn off the phone's ringer and leave the office. The spouse and kids will appreciate your time spent with them; you will, too. You can always warm the computer back up later.

  • Hold regular family "business meetings." Like any manager, a work-at-home parent needs to be on the same page with the rest of the team, monitoring progress and brainstorming new directions. This also helps the family stay focused on what the home office is (a place of business), and is not (a playroom, a children's grievance room, or a retreat for the family).

  • Involve your kids. Whether it's stuffing envelopes, collating papers, or just talking about what mommy or daddy do for a living, occasionally get the kids into the office. They'll enjoy seeing what you do, and they'll get a better appreciation for what "work" is all about.

  • Celebrate business achievements with the family. It helps the spouse understand there's reward in supporting your efforts, and it tells the kids they reap some benefit from being understanding of mom or dad's needs for cooperation. This can go a long way in a healthy work-family life balance.

  • Listen. If your spouse, partner or kids hint - or outright complain – that you're working too much, take heed. A home office can become a magnet for the at-home worker. And while the kids could just be bored, both camps could be displaying disillusionment regarding your work habits.


Jeff Zbar, the "Chief Home," has worked as a home-based journalist, author and consultant since the '80s. He specializes in work-at-home, teleworking, alternative officing and small business set-up, marketing, technology, communications and motivation, and is the U.S. Small Business Administration's 2001 Small Business Journalist of the Year. He is the author of Teleworking & Telecommuting: Strategies for Remote Workers & Their Managers (2002, Made E-Z); Safe@Home: Seven Keys to Home Office Security (FirstPublish, 2001), Your Profitable Home Business Made E-Z (Made E-Z, 1999), Home Office Know-How (Upstart Publishing, 1998) and Home Office Success Stories, a free ezine. Jeff, his wife and three young children live in suburban Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
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