I have a confession: this is my first official summer in a home office. It was just a few short months ago that I left my job and joined my husband’s growing home-based business. Things were going pretty smoothly and I was just beginning to get the hang of working from home, then, bam! The last bell of the school year sounded and before I knew it, my kids were sent home for the summer! My second confession is that I don’t work well under the pressure or distractions of an office surrounded by kids. So being new at this, I went searching for answers. And boy, did I find some good ones.
Location, location, location
Just like any retail or restaurant business, your home office location means everything. Where is your office located in your home? A) In a small spare bedroom – with a locking door; or B) In the middle of the family room – where all the kids play? If you chose B, it’s time to start looking for some new real estate. It helps to have a private space for you and all your office equipment and supplies that won’t interfere with primary family areas. Consider building in a small corner of a garage or using extra closet space in a bedroom for a built-in desk area. If there’s absolutely no room to spare, then invest in a floor screen (decorative or cubicle-style) to provide an enclosed office space in a corner of a living room or family room.
Set the rules
If your kids are like mine, they are used to having guidelines and limits to what they can and cannot do at home. Establishing rules for a home office is no different. Give the kids a tour of your office and explain what your workday involves. Set office hours and include break-times to allow for occasional interruptions. You may also need to define what interruptions are acceptable and what needs to wait for the designated break time.
Kids respond to your cues, especially when it comes to a home office. “If you don’t take it seriously, neither will they.” Jennie Robinson, owner of Personal Best Training (firstname.lastname@example.org), has had a full-time home office for over two years. She also has five children from kindergarten to a college freshman and has survived three summers of home office chaos. “You have to be professional. The most successful people I’ve seen are those that dress for the office,” says Robinson. “If you’re sitting around with your bunny slippers and house robe, kids don’t believe you’re working.” She said she has even heard of a woman who would take her purse and car keys and enter or exit her home office through the garage. “It’s all a mindset that you establish.”
Love thy neighbor
One of the biggest challenges is the occasional “block party” that is held by all the neighborhood kids – in my house. A suggestion that was made when I had small children taking naps now works well with a home business. Post a sign on the front door that lets kids know when it’s okay to play at your home. For instance, if the sign is posted, it’s business hours so don’t disturb; when the sign comes down it’s okay to play inside. Your kids will have to take some responsibility in helping their friends respect the rules.
If it becomes difficult to manage both kids and the business, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Hire a neighborhood teenager to come in for a few hours each day and help watch the kids. Sometimes you may just need someone to keep the peace and act as a catch-all for fixing lunches and answering questions. A sitter can also take the kids to the pool, the park, or just watch them while they are playing. This also provides some freedom for you if you have appointments outside the office.
When I sat down to explain the office rules to my kids, they asked me when I got a vacation. Hmmm. Well, as you know, a home office rarely provides for a normal work schedule, let alone an extended summer vacation. The point is that your kids are on vacation and they do share the home in which your office now resides. Schedule some time for fun with the kids. A couple of hours to go to the movies; a day when they can have special friends over to play without worries of disturbing the peace; or an hour just to hang-out can mean a lot to the kids and is a great reward for both their good behavior and your hard work. If this seems unreasonable, try to remember that flexibility and more time with family were one of the attractions of having a home business back in the good ole days of working at an office for someone else!
Go to camp
There are lots of fun activities for kids during the summer. Camp is a popular choice, but if your kids aren’t old enough to spend the night away, look into a “day camp.” Day camps are usually close to home and can last anywhere from a few hours to a full eight hour day. Camp sessions can range from a couple of weeks to the entire summer. Most camps charge but this may be a tax deduction for you, so check with your accountant. If money is still a concern, try a local YMCA or Boy Scout/Girl Scout camp. Local museums, theaters, craft centers, skating rinks and other attractions also offer limited camps or workshops. Be creative and check into the possibilities. Be selective, too. You shouldn’t consider these programs as full-time babysitters, rather opportunities for the kids to do something they enjoy while providing you with a few hours of uninterrupted work.
Have a sense of humor
This is probably the hardest suggestion to take to heart. And in all honesty, it is easier said than done. Remember that things will not be perfect and there will be bumps in the road. Barring any major catastrophes, most of the minor ones are bearable and short-lived. So keep a sense of humor and laugh it off.
There are several good resources for more ideas on balancing kids and a home office. Whatever solutions you try, remember it may take a few tries to find the one that works best for your family and your business. So don’t give up, keep experimenting until you find the solution that meets your needs. And if all else fails, keep marking off the days until the kids are back in school and remind yourself that one day soon they will be back in school.
Recommended Books on Working at Home:
- The Home Office Solution: How to Balance Your Professional and Personal Lives While Working at Home
- Money-Makin’ Mama: How to Generate a Steady Income as a Stay-at-Home Mom
- The Work-at-Home Success Bible: A Complete Guide for Women: Start Your Own Business; Balance Work and Home Life; Develop Telecommuting Strategies
- Working from a Home Office Successfully: Best Practice Tips
- When Work and Family Collide: Keeping Your Job from Cheating Your Family
Originally published in January 2000
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