Sooner or later, even the most dedicated of web workers settles down a bit. When the caffeine buzz of working at the local cafe wears thin, it’s nice to have a home base where you can spread out, use a full-sized monitor, and maybe even raise […]

Sooner or later, even the most dedicated of web workers settles down a bit. When the caffeine buzz of working at the local cafe wears thin, it’s nice to have a home base where you can spread out, use a full-sized monitor, and maybe even raise a family. Which leads to a new set of problems: how do you deal with the younger part of that family invading your home office? Here’s some advice from the collective experience of several slightly battle-scared web working parents.

The question of the door: The raging argument that divides work-at-home parents into two camps is whether to shut the kids out entirely or not. Should your home office have a door that you close between the hours of 9AM and 5PM, with the kids safely on the outside? Certainly having the door (and someone on the other side who takes care of the children) makes your working life simpler, but to my mind it removes one of the main benefits of the home office lifestyle. If I wanted to be away from my family all day, I’d put on a tie and go into a real office somewhere. We “no-door” types prefer to watch our kids growing up, even if that makes work more difficult at times. But you have to find the balance between work and family that works for you.

If you do decide to leave the door open, read on!

Make it their office too: It may be your office, but if the kids are going to wander in, you’d better have something handy for them to do. Keep a toybox in one corner and let them stash some of their toys there, and encourage them to play quietly while you work (assuming that you’re not one of those people who needs absolute silence to stay productive). If you don’t do this, you’ll soon discover that everything is a toy to a four-year-old, including your coffee cup, PDA, keyboard, and telephone.

Pass on your old computer: Nothing makes the kids happier than to be doing the same thing you’re doing at work. When you upgrade computers, put the old one on a cheap desk and make it the kids’ computer. They can use it at a younger age than you think: ours enjoyed key-banger programs like BabyType by the time they were a year old, educational software by three, and were cruising the web by five. (Remember the popup and virus blocking for that computer!) Though the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding TV for children under the age of 2, they’ve yet to make a similar recommendation about computer use. With younger children, use your judgment and make sure they’re using software they can easily navigate to avoid frustration and tantrums.

Adapt to their schedule: Many of us enjoy web work because of the flexibility it offers to set our own hours. Particularly with younger kids around, you may have to give up some of this flexibility to their needs. If there’s a part of your day that requires the utmost concentration, schedule that part during their nap time, or after their bedtime, or while they’re off at school (assuming that you’re not trying to juggle homeschooling into the mix as well). Working slightly crazy hours is a much better outcome than yelling at kids for acting like kids when you’re trying to enforce absolute silence.

It can be a learning experience: You’ve got the whole internet at your fingers: use it! Between search engines, YouTube, Wikipedia, and all the other resources that you already know and love, you don’t have to be that parent who gets stumped by their childrens’ homework. When the “what did dinosaurs eat?” or “who was Dr. J?” questions interrupt your day, you have the ability to provide answers with an infinite variety of rich media. (Speaking of resources, a search for “coloring pages” will bring you thousands that you can print out; combine this with a box of crayons for a quick distraction).

But it doesn’t have to be: Little Billy has plenty of time to learn to be a web site designer or a computer programmer. There’s no need to make every interaction with the computer an educational one. If your daughter wants to search for pages featuring My Little Pony pictures, there’s nothing wrong with that. Give the kids time to be kids.

Be up front with customers: If the phone rings and your toddler is in the corner throwing blocks at the wall, just mention to your client, “oh, I’ve got our two-year-old in the office with me at the moment.” Assuming that they already know you work at home, this will usually get a reaction ranging from sympathy to envy. Just make sure you’re using a headset with a decently directional microphone, and keep your finger near the mute button in case of a sudden screaming fit.

Don’t be afraid to set limits: You’re the parent, remember? If you don’t want the kids taking things off your desk, say so, and enforce it. If you need a few hours a day with the door closed, and then start visiting hours in the afternoon, go for it. The key is to find the balance that works for you, so that you can have a successful career and raise children, while enjoying all the benefits of web work. If you’re like most web working parents, you’ll discover that the smiles
and hugs make it all worthwhile.

  1. Those are all excellent ideas. On a practical level, also creating a physical boundary to keep children away is sometimes needed for children who always want to ask for things. When doing so, verbally giving them a time expetation how long they will be separated can also help put their mind at ease and help keep their attentions elsewhere.

  2. When I used to work at home, my solution to the “kids, dogs and doorbells” problem (that’s the problem where you’re on the phone with someone, and the kids scream, or the dog barks, or the doorbell rings – and if you’re on the phone trying to sell something to a client, this can sound completely unprofessional in the background) was to build an external office out in the backyard, away from the house:


    The cool thing was that I had a completely seperate space, with no distractions, but I was 20 feet from the backdoor, and could watch my kids play in the backyard with the wife… so…

    I could go inside 5 times a day to play with the kids for 10 minutes each, or, I could step outside to push them on the swing, but none of that impacted my work, other than to take up a small amount of time, here and there. It was probably less time than you’d normally spend in an office bullshitting with co-workers, or getting up to get coffee and then doing the water-cooler discussion thing with people that you didn’t really want to be talking to, but had to, because you were waiting for someone else to get the hell out of your way, so you could get back to work.

    Long story short, it was awesome, and I’d highly recommend it.

  3. Im just a month away from being a dedicated homeworker and with a 2 yearold around this page was VERY interesting.

    I have to admit the no-door approach worries me, but I would love the benefits of having the kids playing if I can actually get something done as well.

    The best advice I think is being upfront with customers, Im really going to try this and see what the reaction is, wether clients just accept it or judge us to be less professional becuase of it.

    Time will tell as always, but thanks for the experienced advice

  4. In my extensive home-working days, we lived in a 3-room apartment in Milan – my home office was a corner of the “master” bedroom, and closing doors was not really an option. My husband woke every day to the sound of me typing.

    The upside was that my daughter learned to use the Internet from my secondary computer, which sat right next to my primary computer, so I knew exactly what she was doing online at any moment. She quickly grew into a savvy Internet user who needed no supervision.

  5. I usually don’t leave comments, but this was a great article! I am having a son in April and the advice is appreciated. Thanks!

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  9. Managing kids and a home office: how?

    Great conversation starter at Web Worker Daily on managing the inevitable joys/distractions/frustrations of kids home office. I write this from my own “home office” (the kitchen table) while my kids are at school, and the first thought that comes

  10. I’ve had a home office since my daughter was born, and she’s now in elementary school. What I’ve learned is that you always have to be adapting! When she was tiny, I tried to do the absolutely-cannot-be-disturbed-work while she was napping. If it’s something that I didn’t need to be on the phone about, I would work early or late at night. As she got older, we began to make some rules–playing quietly, etc.–,and giving her her own space to “work.” Now, we have it that if the door is closed, she can’t barge in unless it’s an emergency (once we worked through being out of hot chocolate is not an emergency, it’s worked fine.), but she has to knock before she enters.

    One unexpected thing I’ve learned throughout the years is not to treat the home office as an off-limits spot or someplace that’s not for children. I discovered that reverse psychology works well. The more I tried to keep her out, the more she wanted to come in! The more I set up the office to make space for her, the less she came in. The challenge, it seems, was gone!


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