Let’s be real: most employees work from home so that they can also take care of kids. I mean, being a digital nomad that travels the world would be incredible, but nothing is more motivating than daycare rates and sick days. Even though parents make up such a large percentage of the employee pool, it’s the demographic that companies tend to avoid the most when seeking new employees.
Because in terms of corporate productivity, kids equal distraction, which then leads to inaccurate results, employee stress, unsatisfied customers, and poor professional identity. As parents, we know that these judgements are often untrue, but we have to work to fight this discrimination.
Here are some tips to help you prove to your employer that being a parent doesn’t distract you from work:
- Hide the Evidence – You’ve probably listened to the theme song of Dora the Explorer so many times that you can tune it out with ease and grace, but I guarantee your coworkers and boss can’t. Small distractions like that can be irritating and frustrating for employers, so before starting any call (phone or video), be aware of environmental factors that might be taking the attention of your boss away from your awesome results, like the smear of baby food on your shirt or whether or not he or she can hear the twins squabbling over Lego in the other room.
- Avoid the Topic – This doesn’t mean treat the subject of your kids as a shameful secret (on the contrary, your parenthood is something to be proud of!), it just means match your conversation with your environment. If you’re at work, keep your conversation focused on work. Consider this example: At 11:00 am, two employees set their status to “away.” One says, “I’ll be back around 1:00 to review those wireframes with you, Mitch!” and the other says, “Off to a dentist appointment, grocery shopping, story time, and a quick bite out. Wish me luck!” Which employee seems more dedicated to company growth to you? But when the time is right (ie: water cooler chatter) don’t hesitate to brag about that home run during t-ball last night or ask about strategies for lowering a fever.
- Prevent Interruptions – Sure, waiting in the van for the kids to come out of school is a great time to work without distractions, so you might be tempted to make that quick call to your vendor about the inventory backorder. But what happens when you get put on hold for longer than you expected, then your second grader gets out of class early, climbs in the van, and is excitedly waving his latest art project in your face while you’re trying to negotiate shipping costs? Instead, follow the low-high rule: Save low pressure tasks (like responding to emails) for high risk-of-interruptions times, and save high pressure tasks (like a phone call with a client) for low risk times (like when your kids are at a friends house or when you are out on a walk).
Now, it’s time for a plot twist.
Those are my tips for staying focused, speaking as a boss.
However, speaking as a mom, my message is this: your day job is not your most important job.
Remember that your kids are infinitely more important and valuable than your career. It’s equally as crucial to be a focused parent as it is to be a focused employee. So, to keep the scale balanced, I want to also touch on the other side of this coin.
How to prove to your kids that your work doesn’t distract you from being a parent:
- Hide the Evidence – When the kids are home and you’re done with work, be totally present and prove it with your nonverbal communication, such as where your eyes are looking or where your thoughts are drifting. Be aware of environmental factors that might distracting you from fully enjoying your awesome relationship. Close your laptop, turn notifications off, put your phone away, and ignore passers-by. (Tip: In my family, we play a little game when dining in restaurants to keep all of us focused on who we are with. Any time any of us catch another family member with wandering eyes or attention spans, we say a funny code word or gently tap their nose. The first person to get caught 3 times loses.)
- Avoid the Topic – Again, match the topic of your conversation with your environment. Your failed sales pitch and Q4 quotas aren’t ideal dinner table topics for a 5 year old, and presenting those topics may leave your little one feeling isolated. Instead, brainstorm family goals, plan adventures, and review daily highlights. If the topic of work (or “What did you do today, Mom?”) comes up, talk about work in a relatable, understandable way. For example, I could compare my project development conference call to a group project that my tween is working on in her history class, then compare and contrast the teamwork strategies that we’re both using.
- Prevent Interruptions – It’s just as easy for work time to interrupt family time, as it is the other way around, so separate the two as much as possible and apply the high-low rule again: low pressure events (like going for a walk to the park) should be scheduled during high risk-of-interruptions times (like when you have a big deadline the next day), and save high-pressure events (like a mommy-son date) for low risk times (like on Friday afternoons when your team logs off for the weekend).
Like we all do, I’ve constantly struggled with trying to find that perfect balance between being a great mom and a great professional. When my daughter was born, I made the committment to try to do both, but ended up feeling like I was failing in both roles.
One day, I was reading the book In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms by Dr. Laura Schlessinger and saw the sentence, “You can do everything, just not at the same time.” It hit me like a ton of bricks and has resonated with me ever since. Whether I’m trying to multitask by writing an email and build block cities with my son at the same time, or schedule a trip to a conference on the same week as my daughter’s birthday, I always try to remember that I can be a great parent and a great business manager, just not at the same time. Encouraging myself to block my time and divide my attention has resulted in more meaningful relationships with my family and more productivity in my work. I hope that you’ll find the same success!
Laurel Farrer is the mom of two in Colorado and COO of Yonder.
She and her team advocate for remote work and equip distributed businesses with the tools and resources they need to effectively manage their remote workforces.