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Ground Rules for Working from Home

Setting limits and expectations helps families of work-at-home moms adjust.

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Work-at-Home Ground Rules
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Setting work-at-home ground rules for your family (and yourself) is the key to a productive work day. While every family's specific ground rules differ, these are some issues that work-at-home moms must consider as they develop a set of work ground rules.

As important as setting the "don't" ground rules for kids is setting the "do" rules. Kids may know you're supposed to be working, but what should they be doing? Planning kids' activities and setting rules about TV viewing help kids learn to play independently.

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Interruptions

What merits an interruption during work time should be clear to everyone, including adults. Kids tend to forget the rules, while grown ups think they don't apply to them.

If your kids are young, your rules will need to be looser than if your kids are old enough to take care of their own needs. But even when they are able, that doesn't mean they'll want to. Hold the line on responding to interruptions, and eventually they will stop asking...or at least asking so much.

Tip:Minimize interruptions by laying out snacks, clothes, activities, etc. in advance.

More WAHM Tips

Open Door/Closed Door Policy

Whether children are allowed in your office during working hours is one of the most basic decisions.

Closed
If you've hired child care, you may need a closed door to give your caregiver authority. If mommy is there to double check the rules, neither you nor your sitter will enjoy your job. Telecommuters, whose time is paid for by employers, may need this strict rule.

Open
If you don't have a caregiver, then you'll likely need an open door policy to keep an eye on things. But the rules can be simple enough for even toddlers can follow: knock before entering or never enter when you are on the phone or always use quiet voices.

Both
Of course, you can swing between an open and closed door. You may close the door when on the phone or working on tasks that need extra concentration. Children should understand that a closed door means do not disturb, except when it's urgent.

Tip: Have a stash of toys in your office, so the kids aren't looking to you for entertainment.

The Do Not Touch List

Even if you have a closed door policy, you'll need a "do not touch" list. Little hands can do big damage to equipment and organization systems, plus all those wires present safety issues for small children. You'll need to childproof your home and office.

Office equipment that belongs to your employer should be strictly off limits. And if your kids are young, you'll probably want your own office equipment off limits too. You may want to extend this rule to the papers or office supplies. Nothing will bring chaos to your day like a kid rummaging through your desk for art supplies.

It may seem that hands-off rules are just for little ones, but older kids can do damage to computers if you give them free access. Kids' software is often buggy, and kids are less likely to shut down properly.

Tip: Set up another computer for the kids somewhere, perhaps even in your office so you can "work" side by side.

Time Rules

Finding the right work-at-home schedule can be complicated, depending on your family and job. Work-at-home moms employ a variety of schedules. And though multitasking can be helpful sometimes, it can give the appearance to children that you work all the time. Keep this basic tenet in mind: Work when you say you will, and don't work when you say you will not.

Be sure that your intended work hours are known to all. If kids don't understand your schedule, they won't understand their place in it. Unlike kids whose parents go into offices, they see you work and must cope with barriers (i.e. your work-at-home ground rules) you imposed rather than simply your absence.

And on the flip side, you need a solid schedule to keep yourself from getting derailed at work.

Tip: When kids know they will get your full attention later, it makes waiting easier. If you promise to play a game with your child after work, give them your undivided attention and don't try to multitask as you play.

Sitters and Caregivers

Invest your babysitter with authority by not running out of your office when you hear your child cry. Trust that your sitter can handle it. This is why you hired a caregiver, right?

If your caregiver is your spouse, authority may not be an issue, but he may feel freer to interrupt you than a babysitter would. So you should have a discussion, in advance, about what merits an interruption with your caregiver.

Plan for little breaks during the day, so you can join in the fun too. And if the kids know you will emerge from your office at some point, it makes it easier to wait to tell you the latest news.

Tip: Encourage you child's caregiver to take the kids outside the house frequently. You'll get a little quiet time and the kids will have more fun.

Noise and the Phone

If your job involves a lot of phone time, you may need a closed door. However, all that may be needed is a clear set of rules about the noise level of the household and interruptions.

When you start out, you may need to remind children prior using the phone that they cannot interrupt you or make noise. Eventually, if you consistently enforce the rules, reminders should be unnecessary, but this can take a while.

Tip: If possible situate your office away from the kids play area or the television.

Household Chores

The big question here is about expectations. Does your work-outside-the-house spouse expect you to do them? If you're transitioning from a stay-at-home mom, this could well be the case. Have a frank discussion about what home-related jobs you think you can accomplish and figure out a plan for the rest.

And if children are old enough to have their own chores, which can be a great independent activity to keep them occupied, lay out your expectations in advance. Ideally, they should do these chores without reminders (we can dream, right?) and help.

Tip: Integrate household chores into your movements around the house. Pick up toys as you go to the kitchen for coffee. Throw in a load of laundry as you pass by the washer.
Related Video
Establish Work-at-Home Ground Rules With Kids
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