Four Tips for Surviving Full-Time Remote Work with a Toddler

When the work-from-home directive came out, my first thought was to set up shop in our guest room. But spending all day, every day locked in a sparsely-decorated room, alone, was too much for someone who thrives in Atomic’s active and social open office environment. If I wanted to see the faces of other living beings (besides my cat) once in a while, I’d have to work on the first floor, where I’d be closer to my husband and one-year-old daughter.

1. Find a Good Spot

For the first few weeks, I set up shop in our breakfast nook, where I figured I would be protected from my roving toddler’s antics. While it was true that she couldn’t tug on my pant legs, I was in her line of sight without being available to her, which caused her great distress.

I solved this problem for a while by wearing her in a carrier while I stood at my desk, but she quickly grew bored. She wanted to be free to visit me when she felt like it and chase the cat around the house when she didn’t.

Woman in Kitchen with Baby in Backpack

We ended up moving my desk to a corner of the living room. I’m not on the main thoroughfare between the kitchen and the playroom where she spends most of her time, but she knows where to find me when she wants my attention. Of course, I can’t drop everything whenever she comes to my desk, which brings me to the next bit.

2. Make Time

My daughter sits on my lap for most of my video calls. Numerous video calls with her grandparents have led her to believe that any onscreen interactions require her participation. Initially, I thought this was going to be an issue, but since I don’t usually need to use my hands during calls, it’s turned out to be a nice opportunity to spend time together. My office chair rocks slightly, which keeps her calm, and remaining on push-to-talk mode keeps the chatter on the call to a minimum.

I’ve talked with other Atoms about what they’re doing to spend more time with their families while working from home. They’re taking long family lunches, blocking out naptime on the calendar, or just taking a quick walk around the block together.

3. Be Candid, Not Apologetic

When I start a call with anyone new, I give them a heads-up that they’re probably going to see and/or hear evidence that I’ve got a toddler around. What I try not to do is apologize. If something particularly disruptive happens, I thank my colleagues for their understanding and leave it at that. We’re all working in unusual circumstances right now; everyone knows that some grace is warranted.

4. Be Flexible

My mother-in-law told me early on that when a little one has been badgering you for an hour, sometimes all it takes is a few minutes of “diving in” to satisfy their desire for undivided attention and get them playing independently again. I’ve found this especially helpful during this time. I can often save twenty minutes of whining and pantleg-tugging by letting my daughter climb into my lap for three minutes, get bored, and take off to go cause mischief elsewhere.

There are, however, times during my workday when I simply can’t offer the attention my toddler is asking for. At those moments, my husband will offer her a particularly interesting toy or snack. Or if we’re both preoccupied, I’ll lock my phone screen and put her on a video call with her grandma.

This isn’t a perfect solution, and there are still times when I need to step away for fifteen minutes to help resolve a meltdown, take video calls in my backyard, or sign off for the day and work after bedtime. That’s life right now. We’re all doing our best. And as my daughter says:

“/.,lkoi8m.kmlll,ollllllllll;.”