Working From Home with Kids: A Problem unique to Corona Pandemic

Thanks Corona Virus for at least one month of concentrated family time while I’m working …

Robert McKeon Aloe
7 min readMar 14, 2020

The pandemic has arrived, and everywhere we turn, we are locking down. Every company that can is turning to having their employees work from home. We are in an unprecedented situation for working from home, but there is a catch: kids. How do we handle working from home and watching our kids at the same time? This situation was rare, but starting this coming week (March 16th, 2020) in California, it is a reality for millions.

Even walking in the open feels like the apocalypse is near.

For me, it started in January when my company was responding to the outbreak in China, and it ramped up a very pro-active response that evolved over time. Then a week ago, work from home for whomever can started. Then today, schools got canceled for a month.

The Impact of the Pandemic

Tech companies started working from home a week before schools did, but now the schools have shut down for at least two weeks. This effect isn’t contained to just schools. Daycares, nannies, and babysitters are by and large not doing business. This certainly has an impact on them financially as they are the first to feel the loss of income from the pandemic.

Leftover from the wildfires of 2018

For those working from home, especially for single parent or two working parents, this is not an ideal situation. It’s not even a regular weekend scenario because you can’t go anywhere or do anything outside the house. Everything is closing down, you don’t want to get sick, and staying indoors becomes the new norm.

Sports are OVER!

Entertainment is also shut down. Movies and tv won’t have much new content as even the production of most has stopped. Sporting leagues and events are suspended. Music festivals are cancelled. This is a whole new world that we are not accustomed to. It almost reminds of the 90’s summertime when boredom was just a fact of life.

As a result, kids are going to lose their minds, especially little kids. This situation would be difficult enough without trying to continue to work, and we definitely should be continuing to work when our jobs allow. That helps the economy recover a bit easier when this pandemic abates, and it might just keep a few people sane.

So how do we cope?

One way to cope is to panic buy

Coping Mechanism

Adjust expectations; this situation hasn’t happened before. Even in situations where a working parent can isolate in an office, their home situation is not going to be normal. Kids will scream and cry. They will disturb meetings and phone calls. They will stress out your workers, their parents.

On top of that, a person’s house is only so big, especially in the Bay. That makes confidential discussions difficult, and it allows for a lot of undesirable chatter.

Remember to mute your microphone when you’re not talking; nobody wants to know what a fart sounds like during a conference call.

Strategically plan meetings. For families with little kids, the most stressful times are around food, so breakfast, lunch, and dinner. As such, don’t plan essential meetings during the early morning, noon, or dinner time. For my kids, 5pm is their bewitching hour. This is a massive adjustment for normal work becayse these meeting times are the times when almost everyone doesn’t have other things going on for work.

A little Venn diagram for efficient meetings, so make sure you have snacks for yourself.

Shorten meetings and stick to the agenda. Your meetings should be as efficient as possible to help avoid the wrath of the attention monsters running wild (i.e. kids).

Eat healthy and regularly. Keep a health diet because the change in routine my disrupt your normal eating schedule. Let’s say normally, you stop by Tom’s desk at 10am to eat a clementine with your name on it. Maybe you buy your own clementines, write your name on one, eat one at 10am, and give Tom a call to talk about how much you love the Dodgers…

Don’t have lunch meetings

Keep a schedule both for work and kids. Kids work better on schedules and so does work. Usually that means coordinating work schedules if more than one person in the house has to work from home. It means keeping something normal the kids can expect everyday, not just ignoring them. Eat breakfast, get ready for the day, leave me alone, etc.

The “leave me alone” part is unrealistic considering they’re isolated from their normal peer groups and friends as well as having an early summer. The Pandemic of 2020 is the time to learn about your family bonds.

If only yelling “Leave me alone!” worked…

Plan activities to help keep a schedule. Plan for art, tv, reading, play, going outside, and quiet time. Coordinate your schedule so that you have periods of time where you have higher chance of being highly productive or creative. Creativity is difficult with split attention with the kids. Often, we have certain times of the workday where we really feel jazzed, and we have to modify those.

If you can, buy some new movies or tv shows. Get a subscription to some streaming service for a month, just to keep those kids occupied. Maybe even a gaming service. It’s a short term investment for a longterm payoff.

Improve your work efficiency. Part of this work from home with kids life is that you have to be highly productive when you get a few minutes. At most, I probably have one hour straight where my wife and I could both work without interruption. If you have ten minutes or thirty minutes, figure out how to use those chunks and not just take a break from the stress of the kids.

To do this, you have to become more efficient at task switching. Keep a list of tasks you need to do, refresh it everyday, and sort it by priority. Then be ready to knock those out because you don’t have the same external pressure as you have in the office.

Turn on Night Shift but for your work tasks

Shift to the night time for whatever work you can. Any individual tasks that don’t require much immediate input, those should be done when the kids are sleeping. It can feel like extending the workday, but the reality is that your day time work job and night time family job have been merged. Set the expectation, get them to bed, take a tiny break, and get to work.

My home barista station cranked it up a notch! Productivity, here I come!

Take breaks. In the office, it can be easy to take breaks because you feel like people see you working. At home, nobody sees you working, so some times taking a break seems like slacking rather than something that can help your work efficiency. Have coffee, take a break, then get back to work.

No Surprises, Over-Communicate!

Finally, make sure to communicate expectations to your manager and to your reports (if you have any). Talk about your work situation. We can’t fix problems for which we don’t have any visibility. By communicating clearly and frequently, there are fewer surprises when everyone returns to the office.

Communication with everyone else at work is important too. Considering this new norm, extra effort to communicate with those we would randomly run into becomes key to success. This idea of talking is tough for engineers at times, and some times it takes some forcefulness to call up another coworker or facetime them or try to start a conversation from nothing.

Ultimately, there’s a good chance you will survive this pandemic, so try to relax and enjoy yourself. This too shall pass, and we will all have stories to tell the youngings of “Back in my day” when there was a world-wide pandemic.



Robert McKeon Aloe

I’m in love with my Wife, my Kids, Espresso, Data Science, tomatoes, cooking, engineering, talking, family, Paris, and Italy, not necessarily in that order.