Aug 8, 2019 - Sean McGivern  

5 Things to keep in mind while working remotely with kids

A flex schedule, realistic expectations, and a positive attitude will make it easier to work with kids around.

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This is the fourth and final blog post in our series on working remotely with children of all ages. In part one we looked at maternity/paternity leave policies around the world; in part two Jarka Košanová shared her experience working at GitLab with a newborn; and in part three GitLab team members had good advice to make the most of workspace shared with children.

During GitLab Contribute 2019 in New Orleans, facilitators Lyle Kozloff and myself, Sean McGivern, hosted four unconference sessions about working remotely with children at home. GitLab team members had helpful and practical advice on everything from flexibility to time with a partner.

1. Embrace a flexible schedule

My son started playschool (recently) and it's only two hours. I don't go home because it's a waste of time so I work from there – no coding, no deep work, just going through mentions and stuff. – Heinrich Lee Yu, backend engineer

My daughter has always been a great sleeper, so my husband and I wake up around 5:00 each morning (he also works remotely) to get a head start on work. We are usually able to get a couple hours of work in before she even wakes up, freeing up our afternoon to spend time with her. – Annabel Dunstone Gray, product designer

By working asynchronously we can arrange our time to match our own schedules. (This doesn't only apply to parents, of course; anyone can do this.) Different roles have different expectations, of course. If you work in Support you’ll need to provide timezone coverage, but even within that, there is a lot of scope to arrange your work schedule to match your childcare, rather than the other way around.

2. Be more disciplined with that schedule

I had to get a lot more disciplined with my time. When I was young and single I could just get behind and pull an all-nighter, but I can't do that any more. I'm more efficient. There's a switching cost, but you'll be better in the long run. – Eric Johnson, VP of Engineering

Having kids will make you develop this efficiency, I have to pick my son up from kindergarten at four and sometimes no one else can do that, so I need to schedule my work around that. - Grzegorz Bizon, staff backend engineer

Being flexible doesn't mean being undisciplined. With children at home, there are a lot of competing demands on your time. For many people, this means that they become more efficient out of necessity. It’s hard to partly work and partly do something and then make up for it with extra hours at the keyboard, because there are no more spare hours.

3. The role of relationships

My wife and I made an agreement that we're not going to let kids stop us doing sports. We play on the same teams, and we just bring our kids. There's normally enough people around to help keep an eye on them while we're playing. It's hard when my wife's working one night, though. – Chris Maurer – manager, Customer Success, Public Sector

When we had the first kid, we were doing everything as a couple: whatever it was, we were together. Then, with the arrival of our second kid, we felt like we had to care for one kid each. With time, the fear of ending up alone with both kids had taken root. We had to change something: we simply had to let go. One person can care for both kids for the night, and the other one is free to go out and do whatever they want. Turns out this actually totally removed the fear of being alone. We both let each other go out to do something social to reinvigorate a bit. We even started bouldering, but we never go on the same night. – Micaël Bergeron, backend engineer

It's important to keep doing things you enjoy when you have children. It sets a good model for your children, and will make you happier which will help you be a better parent.

4. Set expectations

It took us an entire child to realise that while co-suffering feels like the right thing to do, it's less efficient – you both end up tired and exhausted. – Lyle Kozloff, Support engineering manager

Don't keep count of the things that you and your partner are doing, just do everything you can. I did the majority of the raising the babies, but my husband would take night things. – Karlia Kue, Business Systems Analyst

This relates to every other point here. The worst thing that can happen is that people get resentful or stressed, and that is more likely to happen when it's not clear whose responsibility it is.

On a personal note, and although it sounds a little goofy: The concept of directly responsible individuals we use at GitLab also helped my partner and I manage the way we think about who's responsible for our son at any point.

5. Enjoy it

My daughter is my best friend, and I am so blessed to be able to see her grow into her own little person while still accomplishing my professional goals. Seeing her interact ("Hi!" for everyone) with all of my GitLab teammates at Contribute was also very special. – Brittany Rohde, Compensation & Benefits Manager

I really appreciate the amount of time I can spend with my son. I see him for several hours every single day. Coming to New Orleans for Contribute was hard!

Having a child has been the best part of my life so far. A big part of that was having a job that meant I could spend a good amount of time with him every day without feeling like I was doing something wrong or not being productive.

Remote work makes it easier

Working remotely doesn't change the fact that being a parent is challenging, but it does help provide time and space to navigate those challenges.

What tips have you stumbled across while working remotely with kids at home? Let us know in the comments or tweet us @gitlab.

Photo by Baby Natur on Unsplash