The world had a good laugh last week when a professor’s interview with BBC News about South Korea went awry as his toddlers decided to make a cameo.
Any parent can relate—whether a remote employee who works from home, or an in-office employee who occasionally brings work home—to the many cameos, leg clings, accidents, and full-on tantrums that come with at-home conference calls and presentations.
As much as I’d like to provide a secret sauce for navigating this kind of work environment, let’s be honest: There isn’t one. More often than not, it’s unpredictable. Luckily, we’re working parents, and all we really need are a few tactics for braving the home office with kids:
Survival Tactic 1: Be upfront
As you get to know your professional team, don’t be afraid to be straightforward about your home team. It’s okay to say, “Heads up, I have a 5 year old at home with me today, so please excuse any potential interruptions.” In many cases, mentioning your life outside of work can help build internal rapport, leading colleagues to root for your success both in your personal life and during office hours. This is especially a good idea for remote workers who are rarely in-office but need to establish effective communication with other team members.
On the flip side, know your audience before being too upfront, too fast. For example, if you’re on an important call with a new client, it’s probably not the best time to be forward about your kid’s latest finger painting on the living room wall.
Survival Tactic 2: Be quick on your feet
Try as we may to predict all possible scenarios, there will be incidents that would leave you in complete disbelief, except that the very paint that your child is drenched in is also smeared across the wall, right there in front of you. That’s when you have to act fast. You have to weigh your priority in that very moment (Must. Scream. Must. Also. Clean. Paint.) vs. what’s priority in the longer term (that important call with your new client).
In these situations, quickly press that beloved mute button and put the call on speaker if it’s not already so you can still hear. Do only what’s absolutely necessary as far as your young Picasso and the paint. Then, as hard as it is, step away from the scene of the crime and stay focused. I’ve even stepped into my closet for an important call. At the end of the day, your wall can be fixed, your child can be cleaned, and you’ve still successfully impressed your new client. Paint happens.
Survival Tactic 3: Be present
Working from home is a newer employment trend that continues to catch on. While many companies now allow flexible arrangements, there’s still a stigma that at-home, remote workers have a little more to prove than their in-office counterparts. You may be out of sight (unless you’re in the middle of a live video interview with BBC), but you must stay top of mind. That means taking advantage of opportunities to show you’re engaged and present.
My son reminded me of this not too long ago. I had just returned from three days of business travel and was still wrapping up a conference call when I walked into my house. Of course, I couldn’t wait to see my son, but quickly gave him the “Shhh” when I saw him running up to me. As I finished the call, my husband and son ran to the store. I was thrilled to finally give my son a big hug when they got back.
But before I could hug him, my son said, “Mommy, look what I got at the store. It is a phone. So I can TALK to you.” (Flash-forward past two hours of hysterically crying and my husband reassuring me that I’m not a bad mom.) Later, I realized that as a parent and as a professional, I’ll always be busy, but one of the most important things I can do is be conscience of where my attention is needed most. Weeding out the minutia of workdays (and parenting), and knowing when to hit the pause button to give something or someone your full attention is crucial to showing you care.
Survival Tactic 4: Be realistic
Simply put, be realistic with yourself about what can and can’t be done on any given day. Make a conscious effort to avoid setting unattainable expectations. As parents, there are a variety of online platforms—blogs, social media, you name it—that constantly make us feel like we need to step it up a notch. Some parents seem to actually possess superhuman powers, or at least a degree in baking, decorating, and birthday parties. In reality, we are pretty sure that’s not true. And we know that we can only do our best.
Next time you’re working from home and your child does something seemingly disastrous in the midst of a hot deadline, make it work as you always do, and know that it is good enough. Later, laugh it off and hope it becomes a viral video.
Jennifer Kochilaris is regional vice president of Adecco Staffing. She oversees 70 colleagues, 10 branches, seven on-site staffing programs, and one executive search team.