One of the advantages of working remotely and parenting school-aged children is the ability to accommodate schedule changes when kids are out for summer vacation, but adjusting to a new school schedule every year can be tricky.
Having just spent the summer with a more relaxed schedule, remote workers with school-aged kids are now faced with making sure everyone is awake, bathed, dressed, and equipped with everything they need before rushing out the door to school—and that’s just the morning routine! Add in school pick-ups and after-school activities, and it’s a slippery slope to missed practices and missed work deadlines.
While older children can help with the planning and preparation for the day, most professionals who work from home still find that their schedules need revisions with the start of each school term. Here are seven tips for remote workers to adjust their work schedules ahead of a new school year.
1. Get a thorough understanding of any new school hours and procedures
When children age into a new school or transfer schools, parents will want to ensure they know the new school hours and procedures, as well as how these factors will impact their work schedules.
Telecommuting parents should research this information as far in advance as they can to help with coordinating their work schedules and school activities. In addition to learning what the pick-up and drop-off times are for the new school, parents should investigate transportation options as well. Does the school have buses and, if so, how much earlier will the kids need to be ready to go in the morning?
Carpooling is another important option to consider. If there’s another family willing to share the driving duties to and from school, remote workers can gain a little more control over their daily work schedules. For example, if the parents in one family seem to have a lot of morning meetings, and the other family has an easier time taking a break for a 3:00 p.m. pick up, then it would make sense for one family to always do drop-offs and one family to always do pick-ups.
Of course, life is hardly ever that neat and tidy, but depending on workloads and extracurricular activities, carpooling can offer more flexibility when it comes to creating new work and school schedules among telecommuting families.
2. Plan for extracurricular activities
The new school year can also mean additional extracurricular activities that need to be absorbed into daily routines. For a lot of remote working parents, the hours between school and bedtime are the busiest hours of the day. And when new extracurricular activities are added, remote professionals will want to plan for the additional time they will need to devote to these activities throughout the week.
Some remote workers might want to investigate the possibility of working in the early morning hours or in the late evening after kids are in bed. This will allow for greater flexibility in order to shuttle their kids to activities during after-school times that fall within normal work hours (like from 3-5 p.m.). Or, if those activities only fall on one or two days per week, perhaps telecommuters can work a shorter shift on those days and longer hours on the days when there are no after-school activities.
3. Figure out a team of people who can help—including the kids!
The saying, “it takes a village” is one that most parents don’t take lightly, and for good reason. Every family needs help. Even in families where the children only do one activity at a time, that one activity can take up multiple days of the week, especially as the kids get older. More often than not, when there are multiple kids involved, it seems that activities end up scheduled for the exact same day and time. A lot of families have to divide and conquer when it comes to getting their kids everywhere they need to be.
Connecting with other parents within their same dance studio or baseball team can help remote workers share carpooling duties to those after-school activities, just as much as neighbors can help share school carpooling. Telecommuters who need help shuttling kids because they have a standing meeting every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon could offer to drive the activity carpool on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Older children of remote workers can help, too! Once teenagers get their licenses, they can help with driving younger siblings, and even running errands after school and on weekends. Most kids can also do their part by getting themselves ready for school and activities so that less falls on telecommuting parents. From packing lunches and laying out clothes the night before to ensuring they have all their homework, laptops, and supplies needed for after-school activities, these are all tasks that most middle and older children can complete independently.
4. Have a back-up plan in place
No matter how much planning parents do, even the best-laid remote work schedules will have interruptions once the school year begins. It’s important to come up with contingency plans to alleviate the additional stress of trying to figure out Plan B when the unexpected happens.
For example, remote workers should discuss who’s going to pick up sick kids when (not if) the school calls. Are both parents or guardians available to take turns with Sick Duty? Or does one person travel for work or work on-site, so sick-kid pickups will always fall to the person who is at home? It’s important to openly communicate about these issues before they come up—both as a family and with remote managers—so all parties understand each other’s needs.
And what about the homework or school equipment a child forgets at home and really needs for school that day? Remote workers need to set boundaries that work for them and their own beliefs about how those inconveniences will be handled. Is it a good life lesson for the kids to learn that if they forget something important then they will have to accept the consequences? Or is the telecommuting parent willing to take in the forgotten item because that’s one of the perks of working from home? For most people, it’s somewhere in the middle. And while it’s nice to have the flexibility to handle these minor urgent issues, it still impacts work schedules and should be figured out in advance, if at all possible.
Special scheduling tips for freelancers
Conceivably, freelancers will have more freedom in adjusting their work schedules for back-to-school mode. Due to the nature of their employment status, independent contractors can often make their own schedules and work the days and hours they want, as long as they meet their deliverables.
While some freelancers prefer to work at certain times, others are interested in using the back-to-school season as an opportunity to work a more traditional schedule. This is especially true if freelancers are interested in more closely connecting with co-workers. Working from home can be isolating at times, and connecting to a community of co-workers can help alleviate that feeling.
Or perhaps freelancers will want to learn more about regular employment opportunities available within the organization with which they are contracting. Connecting more with their team members during regular business hours could be the first step in transitioning from independent contractor to employee status.
Advice for management-level remote workers
Management-level remote workers have more to consider when they adjust their schedules for back-to-school; they have to address their own scheduling needs as well as the needs of their team members. For telecommuting managers, it’s important to set the standard of work scheduling and flexibility that they expect in their departments, and be role models for communicating those scheduling needs.
Remote managers usually attend more meetings than individual contributors, so there may be less flexibility in how they can adjust their schedules for the school year. The manager may have the authority to reschedule any standing meetings so that they are held during core hours of the day. If so, all team members would be more readily available for school drop-offs and pick-ups if needed.
By empowering remote team members to be proactive in adjusting their schedules, remote managers encourage team members to create calendars that work best for them and their families. This promotes a positive work environment and a strong company culture, and contributes toward increased employee retention.
If telecommuting managers want more concrete schedules for remote teams, it’s important to communicate what kind of schedule will best balance the needs of the business with the needs of a busy family with school-aged children.
Reminders for executive-level professionals
Every best practice starts at the top. It is important for executive-level professionals to not only communicate work schedule policies that align with the business and its goals but also model what they expect from their managers and employees.
Executive-level professionals do this first by setting an example with their own work schedules and flexibility—and by communicating their expectations of everyone else, too. An executive who kicks off back-to-school season with a reminder that they are going to adjust their schedule so they can drop off and pick up their kids from school sends a powerful message to their managers and team members of what they value. They can take it a step further by encouraging others to do the same—even if it means rescheduling meetings for a more convenient time that works for everyone.
Effective communication is the most important variable. Does the executive make changes to their work schedule, but not allow others on the team to do so? Making sure that all executives and managers are on the same page is crucial. And if there are roles within the company that don’t allow for those kinds of back-to-school work schedule changes (e.g. customer service), then it’s just as important to talk about those reasons openly and honestly—and maybe even come up with some scheduling alternatives.
These tips will help remote team members and telecommuting management professionals alike to think about the variables that change when children return to school and extracurricular activities are back in session. Taking a proactive approach to adjusting work schedules will allow everyone on the team to revise their calendars in a way that works best for professional and personal lives.