Working from home full-time has been a tough adjustment for many people, but perhaps none more so than parents with kids at home. Staying productive can feel impossible when you also have to feed and change your toddler, or make sure the older kids are still doing their school work and staying out of trouble.
A recent survey from Blind, an anonymous network for tech professionals, found that 61 percent of parents working at home with kids right now (about 3,266 respondents), say they need an additional three hours a day to complete their deliverables.
But there are plenty of upsides for working parents right now too. Many are finding the extra time they get with their kids feels really special and they're making the most of it. A few Bay Area tech leaders shared their tips and tricks for getting creative when it comes to managing childcare duties and getting work done too.
Tips for Working From Home with Kids
- Adjust workflow to be more family-friendly
- Plan activities to keep kids engaged when working
- Get outside as much as possible
Adjusting to a Family Friendly Workflow
In the competitive Bay Area tech market, tech companies often have family friendly policies, including flexible work hours and generous parental leave benefits, as a way to recruit and retain top talent.
This has been a helpful advantage for employees who are adjusting to working from home with kids, as their company leadership already prioritizes the needs of working parents.
“At least 30 percent of our employees have young kids, so we’ve always tried to be a very family friendly startup,” said Paul Mumma, the CEO of SF-based Cerego, which makes software for online learning.
Cerego typically offers flexible policies so team members can choose a schedule that works for them. That hasn’t changed since the company went remote, amid San Francisco’s shelter in place mandate. “We’re not disrupting anything that already works,” Mumma said. “We’re still encouraging [new parents] to take parental leave even though we’re all working from home.”
For people who have a partner that is also working, Mumma advises his employees to split the day in half or switch off days for childcare duty.
“My wife and I split our days 50-50,” said Mumma, who has three kids under the age of five. “One parent is working, while the other does childcare.” But if you need to attend meetings and take care of kids on the same day, he added, naptime is a great opportunity to schedule a virtual meeting when you are more likely to get some peace and quiet.
Helium, an SF startup building a peer-to-peer wireless network, also offered flexible work hours prior to the coronavirus outbreak. The company gave employees the option to work from home on Mondays and Fridays, so they were already well prepared for remote meetings and communication.
But with everyone now working remotely full-time, Frank Mong, chief operating officer at Helium, says the company is asking employees to take more time to connect on video, and they’re giving parents time for childcare duties.
“We have Bring Your Own Lunch (BYOL) from 11:30 a.m. - 1 p.m. every day on Google Hangouts, or you can use that time to make lunch for your kids,” Mong said.
Helium has also instituted a number of other work-from-home routines that are fun for employees, both with and without kids. One Helium team member lives on a farm and, on Tuesdays, he gives virtual tours of his baby ducklings, vegetable garden, sheep and horses, Mong said. “We bring the kids and have them in our laps so they can see the baby ducks.”
At Nutanix, an enterprise cloud computing company in San Jose, Tonya Chin, who heads corporate communications and investor relations, decided right away to let her team establish hours that worked best for them while at home. “Work hours may be different than the traditional 9 to 5,” Chin said. “By worrying less about what doesn’t work, we can find what does work and go from there.”
As Citi Ventures, Citigroup’s investment arm, began shifting to remote work, the company expanded employee resources like free counseling sessions, virtual meditation and anxiety management classes.
Vanessa Colella, chief innovation officer of Citi and head of Citi Ventures, said she is taking a compassionate approach during this work-from-home period, especially for employees with kids. “Trust that your team will do the work they need to do, but understand that they may be juggling personal priorities,” she said. “It may take time to orient themselves, and their families, to this new way of working.”
Advice From Tech Leaders for Working From Home With Kids
- Paul Mumma, CEO at Cerego: “We’re not disrupting anything that already works,” Mumma said. “We’re still encouraging [new parents] to take parental leave even though we’re all working from home.”
- Tonya Chin, Corporate Communications VP at Nutanix: “Work hours may be different than the traditional 9 to 5. By worrying less about what doesn’t work, we can find what does work and go from there.”
- Vanessa Colella, CIO at Citi: “Trust that your team will do the work they need to do, but understand that they may be juggling personal priorities.”
Keeping the kids engaged
Rather than treating them as a constant annoyance, some have embraced the office-home fusion by including their kids in the work day.
Since Mumma of Cerego has young kids, he likes to choose a fun daily theme for them — last week was “big African animals” day.
“On a Zoom call with my team, I put on a virtual background with a bunch of zebras,” Mumma said. “When my kids walked into the room, they saw dad with the zebras and it felt like it was on theme.”
And because Cerego is an online learning tool, Mumma has found that using his own platform has been helpful in teaching his kids at home. “We use natural language processing to pull stuff out of text,” he said. “We can do stuff like help our oldest learn the alphabet, practice locating things on maps or show pictures of different animals, which is really cool.”
Chin of Nutanix finds that by leaving her office door open at home (except for important meetings), her kids take more of an interest in what she does for a living. “I believe letting them be with us and actually see and hear the work [my husband and I] do has helped them better understand and appreciate our day-to-day jobs,” she said.
Mong of Helium has older kids — 11 and 13 years old — which makes getting his work done a bit easier, since the kids are in virtual school for most of the day. To help them stay on track, their daily schedules are up on the wall and iPad alarms tell them when to start their next activity.
And Mong recently devised another way to keep his kids entertained while also getting them involved in the work he does. Helium had a promotion for IoT Day on April 9th, so Mong thought it would be fun to get the kids to do a promo video on TikTok ahead of time. “Stella created signs about the promo. Dylan edited and cut the video with a music overlay using iMovie. These kids have skills!” Mong said. “At first, the kids were lukewarm to the idea, but after we got going, they had a blast. Now, we’re planning our next TikTok adventure.”
Get outside as much as possible
Work responsibilities and childcare duties come first for these leaders, but they also make sure to get outside with their kids every day — which is easy to do in the typically sunny Bay Area.
“We’re lucky that a lot of the parks here remain open,” said Mumma, who lives in Berkeley. “Every time I take my boys to the park I see half a dozen moms or dads with their AirPods on a Zoom call, while the kids run around at a safe distance.”
Mong urges parents to remember that kids need to stay active but it might take a little encouragement. Even though he’s being more lenient with screen time these days, “sometimes you have to tell them to stop the video games and go outside,” he said. The family has been playing four square, tossing the football around and riding bikes together.
Colella of Citi Ventures also encourages parents, and everyone, to stay active. “As much as possible, take a walk, stretch on the floor, or dance with your family,” she said. “Movement creates serotonin and can instantly boost happiness, something we all need right now.”