Since mid-March, my husband and I have been working from home full time; our two teenagers also began online schooling around that time. Like many households, we suddenly had to figure out how to maintain harmonious relationships while keeping the same levels of productivity.
Influenced mostly by having to compete for office space and bandwidth, I was driven to instill some order in our household. As a delivery lead at Atomic and a product manager before that, I’ve long been a proponent of daily standups — short meetings where the core team assembles to coordinate activities that will move the project forward.
Since daily standups work so well in the office, it seemed like something we could adopt at home. We gave it a try, and things are running smoother for all of us.
1. Meet Every Day
We meet at 7:30 a.m. each weekday in the screened-in porch off our kitchen (where there are no computer screens or televisions to distract us). We decided to meet first thing in the morning before each of us was pulled in different directions. Meeting daily has been essential for coordinating work-from-home life.
2. Have a Regular Agenda
At first, our agenda consisted of coordinating who needed to be on a video call, for how long, and at what time of day. That way, we knew when to keep the noise and home-office disruptions to a minimum.
It wasn’t long before we realized that there was more that needed to be addressed. Since all four of us (plus the dog) are now at home all day, we needed to consider the home aspect of working from home. Now our agenda looks more like this:
- What’s the video conference schedule?
- Who’s tending to the dog’s food and bathroom schedule?
- What are the kids’ transportation needs (e.g., dental visits, part-time jobs)?
- What’s for lunch, and who will be home to eat it?
- What home projects need coordination (e.g., contractor visits)?
3. Timebox It
Just like at work, our home standups last up to fifteen minutes. We allocate a fixed time period to help keep us on track and to avoid getting off on unrelated topics. However, if we get through all of the items on our agenda in under fifteen minutes, we use the rest of the time to talk about personal things. This personal discussion seems to be what the kids enjoy most about standup time.
4. Encourage Kids to Join
When my husband and I started our daily standup, our teenagers brushed it off and sometimes poked fun at it. They were amused at the idea that we would take turns talking about what our plans for the day were. But a few weeks in, they joined us without coaxing from me. Now they often join us (especially if they need transportation someplace).
It seems to me that younger kids would find this routine fun and maybe even advantageous. Kids generally like to be involved in adult-type things like decision making. They might enjoy helping to make plans for how the day will take shape. It could also be helpful for setting their expectations about when and how much attention they will get during the day.
Through adopting a family practice of daily standup meetings, we’ve been able to maintain harmony in the household while keeping our work and school productivity levels high. We’re still figuring things out as we go. But the struggle for some orderly arrangement of work and non-work tasks has subsided considerably.