HR Insights 9 min

5 Tips for Juggling Back to School and Remote Work

August 23, 2021

Trepidation, excitement, uncertainty—these are feelings that both children and parents typically share at the start of a new school year, but 2021 back-to-school jitters are in a class of their own. Families with school-age children already had to pretzel themselves around new and unexpected schedules in 2020, but the prospect of yet another school year full of uncertainty is creating a new layer of anxiety for parents, especially those who are still adapting to a “new normal” of remote work or hybrid work schedules.

To ease the transition, we’ve put together a few work-from-home (WFH) and back-to-school tips for telecommuting parents, including insights from our own WFH BambooHR parents. With the right mindset and a team-backed game plan, you can tackle back-to-school busyness while reaching your professional goals like the remote work champion you are.

#1 Take Stock of Past Wins and Shortfalls

Look back at how you handled things last school year. If your children were still in school when you had to start working from home, unlock your memory bank and make a list of what did and didn’t work during the adjustment period:

  • What were your greatest obstacles?
  • Did you take advantage of every available resource for help?
  • Were you able to carve out a suitable workspace?
  • How did managing meal plans go?
  • Were you able to make it to every important meeting?
  • Who took care of homework and extracurriculars?
  • How did you fit forty hours of work into the week?

Your transition from a sporadic summer schedule to a regular school-time cadence will go more smoothly as you identify lessons learned and apply new strategies going forward, and if this is your first time balancing a WFH schedule with children, don’t worry! We have plenty more advice to help you create a better experience for the whole family.

Insider WFH tip from a BambooHR parent:

“My kid goes to daycare or Nana’s house every day of the week. I don’t know how I would get anything done otherwise! It does help to have flexibility in my schedule when I need to take him to the doctor, like I have many times in the past few months. I’ve also embraced meal kits, grocery pickup, and letting my house be a bit messier in order to reduce some of the cognitive load outside of work and parenting.”

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#2 Stop Winging it and Make a Game Plan

As a professional with deadlines to meet and meetings to attend, you’re no stranger to calendars, but how familiar are you with your child’s or partner’s monthly schedule? Who maintains the household’s itinerary? Do you have one?

Avoid the headache of double-booking or overscheduling yourself by putting in the time and effort to consolidate the household schedules onto a single, universally accessible calendar. Meet regularly with all the members of your household, ideally in a weekly or bi-monthly family counsel, and get on the same page by:

  • Making sure everything that needs to be on the calendar is added
  • Resolving scheduling conflicts
  • Setting up recurring appointments and reminders as needed
  • Identifying and adjusting deadlines for time-sensitive tasks
  • Allocating essential household tasks to team players

Try to stay at least a month ahead of upcoming events to give you a better birds-eye view of the weeks to come, and make technology your friend. There’s no reason to be taken by surprise or miss important engagements when handy scheduling tools of all kinds are at your fingertips.

When you’re making task assignments, an added tip is to iron out transportation arrangements at the same time and make clear who’s responsible for making the different types of appointments (such as teacher meetings, dental cleanings, and time away from the kids.) Regularly occurring duties can have long-standing assignees while one-off tasks can be negotiated depending on individual availability. And remember, family schedules are only as tricky as they are uncommunicated.

Insider WFH tip from a BambooHR parent:

“What methods have made working from home with kids easier? Calendars. My husband and I share a workspace, so we share our calendars with each other to coordinate meetings. We also have a family calendar that keeps us all in the loop for events, doctors appointments, etc.”

#3 Be Flexible

We might currently think of flexibility as a prime benefit of remote work, but employees have wanted more flexibility at work since before the pandemic forced many organizations to take the plunge. A 2019 survey conducted by FlexJobs found that of the 7,300 respondents:

  • 30 percent reported leaving a job for lack of flexibility options
  • 80 percent said they would be more loyal to an employer that offered job flexibility
  • 97 percent were interested in being a flexible worker long-term

If you have the option to be more flexible in your work schedule and haven’t taken advantage of it yet, now is the time to use it. You may not be in a position where you can WFH every day, whether due to your work responsibilities or your organization’s response to the pandemic, but whatever your work arrangement, a flexible schedule will allow you to manage household responsibilities and work-related obligations more gracefully.

Insider WFH tip from a BambooHR parent:

“We opted to homeschool before the pandemic. My wife and I both work and we coordinate our schedules to make sure the kids are getting what they need. That requires flexibility in work schedules and we’ve been really privileged in that respect. It does mean that sometimes I’m wrapping up work (or my wife is) after the kids have gone to bed.”

“Just do the best you can to balance work and family/home, and know that that's enough. Your family loves you for helping support them.” – A BambooHR WFH Parent

#4 It’s Okay to Ask for An Assist

As the new school year kicks off and you’re still adjusting to WFH life, it may feel like the only way to get through it is with circus-level juggling prowess. But in the wise words of one of our own BambooHR parents, “Remember that this pandemic is world wide. This is probably the only time in your life that you can count on the entire world to have empathy for you. And then reciprocate that empathy.”

We’re all in this together, so identify the people in your circle who have your back like you have theirs. Make an emergency call list for those inevitable moments that a plan falls through or something unexpected creeps up on you.

Consider making another list for adults or parents outside your household whose schedules might align or intersect with yours. Think about:

  • Whose children go to the same school as yours?
  • Who shops at the same grocery store as you?
  • Whose kids are involved in the same extracurricular activities?

Work from home “must-haves” don’t have to stop with items like noise-cancelling headphones— carpools, nannies, daycare, and help from family or friends can make all the difference in succeeding as WFH parents. Scheduling apps are fantastic pillars to lean on as you’re organizing your life responsibilities, but human help requires more than a download. It requires communication. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if it will make life a little easier, and be prepared to reciprocate whenever you can.

Insider WFH tip from a BambooHR parent:

“Having outside help is great, whether that’s a nanny, a family member, spouse, etc. Having a flexible work schedule has also really helped so that my husband’s schedule and mine don’t overlap for too long. So he will be home while I work, then I will be home while he works, and we use a family member when we both work.”

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#5 Communicate Your Play-by-Plays

“Your work forms the foundation of your family life,” says another BambooHR parent, “so be ‘at work’ during your ‘at work’ hours.” One way to do this—and give employers and managers peace of mind about your productivity—is to overcommunicate.

  1. Drop a line in the team chat whenever you’re away from your desk longer than 20 minutes, even if you’ve included personal appointments or blocked out time on a calendar your colleagues can see.
  2. Be versatile in your modes of communication, whether you’re making it to stand up from your phone one morning, or scheduling an impromptu video call with a colleague when there’s too much to say over email or chat.
  3. Reach out to your manager and colleagues when you’re in need. Swallow your pride the instant you realize you may be in over your head on any given task.
  4. Return the favor when you’re available to reciprocate, and tell your team members you’re there to help.

More and more offices are embracing flexible work schedules, but successful remote work initiatives must address the underlying question: Is the work getting done? Making sure this question never applies to your performance requires mastering constant communication with everyone who depends on you. There needs to be clear expectations of when you’re available and when you can work early or late to make up for time spent taking care of the family during the day.

Insider WFH tip from a BambooHR parent:

“Communicate with the other caregivers in the house. Even though people know you’re working, that knowledge is fighting with years of expectations of availability when you’re at home.”

Breathe and Remember Your Why

You’ve got this. While the days and checklists swirl before your eyes, you’re not alone in the ongoing endeavor of providing, nurturing, creating, and contributing. And you can always draw from the advice and encouragement of others in the same boat.

Here are some parting words of support from our BambooHR parents:

“Just breathe. Some days go smoother than others. Make sure you fit in quality moments with your kids, as well as keep up with your own mental health needs in whatever way helps you: meditation, religion, hobbies, exercise. Breathe and remember your why.”

“Just do the best you can to balance work and family/home, and know that that’s enough. Your family loves you for helping support them.”

“Give yourself some grace and have realistic expectations for how your house is going to look. Don’t stress over whether the dishes are done or the toilet scrubbed. This is real life, people! Embrace it! If my kids are fed and alive at the end of the day, I just give myself a little pat on the back.”

“Give eight second (or longer) hugs. We notice a real energy shift in our home when we have more of those through the day.”

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Rebekah Cuevas

Rebekah Cuevas is obsessed with empowering the “human” in human resources. As a next-gen, Latinx, and LGBTQ+ author and editor with over a decade of B2C, B2B, and creative writing experience, she connects HR pros to impactful HR solutions through research-driven narrative with a special interest in promoting DEI initiatives that build stronger, safer, and more profitable workplaces for all.