Parents in Dual-Career Families’ Best Advice for Getting Work Done and Caring for Kids at Home

To control the spread of the coronavirus, schools have closed and many adults are being ordered to work from home. For dual-career families, the situation poses a new challenge. How are they supposed to do their jobs with their kids nearby?

Fortunately, they don’t have to look far for solutions. Social media is filled with working parents sharing how they’re managing to be productive during this difficult time.

See below for some of the best advice.

1. Set expectations for your kids.

Elizabeth McFarlan Scott, a partner at San Francisco–based company Nua Group LLC, has two boys. On LinkedIn, she shared that she and her husband have told their older son that he will have to “work” in the office with both of them for part of the day. We see this bonus: Children get an early glimpse of what it’s like at an open-plan workplace!

A lot of moms and dads are creating agendas for their families—and a lot of other parents are laughing at the preposterousness of sticking to one—but Burhan Khan, a marketing director based in Toronto, said their kids make the calendar. Theirs includes blocks for schoolwork, snacks, free play and exercise. Hey, maybe if the children are involved in its creation, they’ll be more willing to abide by it.

3. “Swap off for important meetings and capitalize on naptime to power through projects.”

This is what Stacy-Ann Effs, a digital director based in New York City, and her husband have been doing. Her post contained even more ideas, like starting early, maintaining your routine (like continuing to exercise and getting “dressed” for work) and making time for movement. In a comment she wrote, “This will challenge and change how we work in the modern age. I think some long-term good could come from this experience.”

4. “Create a separate space and a way for the kids to know when they can interrupt.”

Although Jackie Schaffer, a consulting and managed services executive, has a shared office space with her husband, they’ve never worked from home together. Their children will be there too now. On LinkedIn, she posted a photo of her solution: a blackboard-turned-traffic light with a restickable arrow that says “Need mom?” When it is placed next to red, it advises the kids to “See Dad.” At yellow, they can ask “quick questions if dad is not on the green,” and at green, it’s “OK to interrupt.”

5. Take turns caring for your baby while the other tries to be as productive as possible.

Andrew Steers, an assistant VP at LPL Financial in South Carolina, and his wife have an 8-week-old son. Their home office has space for just one. “We are taking two-hour shifts where one of us hangs out with the mini-man and does whatever work he allows, while the other power slams the laptop and phone for two hours in the office,” he wrote on LinkedIn.

6. Make sure you disconnect.

Remembering to log off can be even more difficult when doing your job remotely. Joe Davy, the chairman and CEO at Banzai, admitted to struggling with this lately. So he came up with a hack that forced him to focus on family, which he shared on LinkedIn. “I bought a cheap timer safe on Amazon and drilled a hole for a power cord. Now every day at 7 p.m. I put my phone inside and set the time lock for nine hours. I get a whole evening free of distractions to have a conversation with my wife, eat dinner at the table, read a book or go for a walk.” Yes, it’s extreme, but you gotta do what you gotta do! A similar but easier-to-pull-off hack: setting an alarm on your phone for when it is time to shut down your computer.

7. Don’t stress about distractions.

In addition to having a daily family calendar that details time for work, school and fun, Beau Billington, the founder and CEO of the Free Agent, is equipped with the awareness that his kids will possibly interrupt work calls or videos. “There’s a strong possibility the person on the other line is in the exact same situation as you and it could be a good ice breaker,” the Atlanta-based dad wrote on LinkedIn.

8. Give each other space.

On LinkedIn, Philip Arkcoll, founder of Worklytics in the New York City area, said one thing he and his wife are doing to remain productive without childcare is to allow each other “at least an hour a day to walk/run in fresh air.” His family lives outside the city.

9. Block time in each other’s work calendars when you have meetings.

Working Mother magazine’s editor-in-chief, Meredith Bodgas, who has two kids, said she and her husband are doing this to ensure childcare is split evenly and they can still get their jobs done. Still, when their meetings overlap, they have a system: external meetings take precedence over internal meetings, and internal meetings with managers take precedence over internal meetings with directs and same-level colleagues.

10. Schedule virtual playdates via Google hangout.

Michelle O’Connor, the VP of marketing and community at Uphold, in the San Francisco Bay area, said this is one of her survival discoveries. “That’s right, my toddler and 6+ of her buddies entertained each other for 30 minutes. Thanks, Google!” she wrote on LinkedIn.