Communicate Professionally while Working from Home with Kids
We consistently hear about the importance of communication in our personal relationships, but how often are we considering the impact of our communication methods on our careers? Communicating within the workplace brings its own set of challenges since you are trying to balance coming across as professional, but also human. You want to be open and honest, without oversharing. And you want to be effective, without seeming manipulative. Even if you had settled into a good rhythm of interoffice communication within the workplace, working from home puts a different spin on things! Here are a few ways to communicate professionally while working from home with kids.
For more on this topic, check out the full Work Life Balance collection
Take Charge of the Situation
If you act like you are in control, then people will feel more comfortable. While working from home, there will be plenty of days where you feel pulled in different directions. Everyone and everything seems to need your attention, and you feel like you are completely at the mercy of everyone else. Even if you can’t fully regain control in that moment, you can communicate professionally as if you have everything handled.
When you are working from home, you quickly realize how few of the doors in your house actually lock, and how much your kids love being by your side. I have taken numerous important phone calls on the floor of my son’s bedroom because it is one of the only doors in our house that locks. I have also taken phone calls with my kids sitting in my lap under the promise that they will sit quietly until I’m off the phone. But even when you try to prepare, there are likely to be interruptions. And when that inevitably happens, you can stay calm and collected.
Kids as Little Coworkers
Nothing is more unsettling to the person on the other end of the phone than you scolding your kids and showing your (understandable) frustration. If you need to address your kids, simply do the following: Say, “I’m sorry, can I please put you on hold for one moment?” Mute the phone. Speak with your kids quickly. Jump back on the phone and say, “Sorry about that. I’m back!”
Think of your little ones as persistent coworkers. When you’re in an office environment, there are always interruptions. People are popping their head into your office with pressing questions or just to say “hello” throughout the day. It is normal to have to put people on hold, but it is unsettling to hear you put on your mom-voice or dad-voice and tell your child that they have to put their pants back on.
It is very frustrating when a project is being held up because you are waiting for one small piece of the puzzle. Or when you aren’t sure if your email was actually seen, or if it ended up in the spam folder. As humans, when we don’t get a response, we start to invent our own version. Our minds begin to get carried away. They must be busy. Or are they upset about something and not getting back to me? Maybe they’re not busy or upset, they’re just unprofessional. They don’t even care about this project. Maybe they aren’t the right person to be working with on this.
If you know that you think those thoughts, then flip that situation. You do not want to be the person that others are wondering about. Don’t leave communication up to the imagination!
Keep Quick Communication Simple
Responding quickly makes you look courteous, professional, and trustworthy. And the quick response doesn’t have to be the full response. You can simply reply to an email with something along the lines of, “Thank you for sending this over! I will take a look at it and get back to you.” People simply want to know that you received their message and are taking it seriously. Sending them back two sentences is a quick way to establish trust and goodwill and communicate professionally.
Since most of us carry smartphones around in our pockets, there is really no excuse for not responding promptly. It also allows us to keep our to do lists a bit shorter because if a message comes in that you can quickly give an answer to, why wait until later? Get it off of your plate!
The exception to this rule is when you are purposefully taking time away from work. However, it is a great idea to give the people counting on you a heads-up before going off the grid (even for a few hours). You can set up auto-replies that let people know that you are not checking email currently, but will get back to them by a certain time or day. Simply keeping people in the loop is appreciated by all parties involved.
When I say to keep people in the loop, I mean to keep them updated professionally. You certainly don’t have to share your entire reasoning for being away from your email. Early on in my freelance career, I did not understand the importance of this concept. Since I was a young mom working from home, I was worried that people expected me to be able to complete tasks instantly. In an attempt to show them that I was actually busy, I would make excuses that involved details of the mom side of my life.
Which one sounds more professional? “Sorry, I will have to get to this later. The baby is really fussy, and I’m trying to get him down for a nap.” Or… “Thanks for sending this! I will work on it and get it back to you this evening.”
Employers, bosses, and coworkers don’t need to know exactly why you can’t do something at that particular moment. You are allowed to have your own life, but the people you work with are entitled to know when they can expect to receive your work. As soon as I started to shift my language to communicate professionally, I began to feel more confident, and the people I was working for also felt more confident in my abilities. There were plenty of times where I responded to an email from my phone while breastfeeding a baby, but for all they knew, I was sitting in my home office typing it out on my computer. (note: everyone has stuff going on)
Similarly, try not to overpromise. If there is already a deadline in place, then you should absolutely be striving to hit that deadline. But if there isn’t already a deadline set, then don’t create an arbitrary one for yourself. It might be tempting to say, “I’ll get this to you by tomorrow.” But why not just keep the language vague and give yourself a buffer by saying, “I’ll work through this and let you know once it’s ready.” We are parents after all… you never know what the day might bring!
[ Read: How to Win at Networking ]
Shadow Their Language
Another simple way to establish great working relationships and communicate professionally is to shadow the other person’s language and communication style. This is an old sales tactic where sales people for generations have been taught to mirror body language and repeat phrasing back to the person speaking. However, in the more digital age that we are working in, the same principles can still apply.
It is very easy to mirror the language that others are using in their communication when it comes to you via email, message, or text. Does the person use “Dear,” “Hi,” or “Hey” as their opener? Do they sign off with “Best,” “Sincerely,” or “Thanks?” Do they use certain terminology to explain things? Are they casual and using smiley faces, or is there a very formal feel to it?
Once you get into the habit of noticing those details, you can simply shadow that communication style back to them. You are still sharing your own thoughts, opinions, and work in a way that is true to yourself; but you will likely benefit from packaging that message in the way that it will be best received.
[ Read: Time Management for Families ]
There is so much time wasted in working environments because we are not being clear and efficient with our communication. While we can’t control the behavior of everyone around us, we can at least make sure that we are communicating with purpose (and then hopefully others start to model the same thing). Whether you are sending an email or jumping on a phone call, keep in mind that the person on the other end is also swamped with various tasks. Try to keep things as short and simple as possible. Make an effort to organize your thoughts beforehand so that you can ask questions in an order that makes sense and take things one step at a time.
Working from home does not mean that all professionalism goes out the window. There are ways to adjust to this type of environment where interruptions and background noise come with the territory. And with professional communication, you are able to advance in your career from your couch.
For more tips on this topic, check out our book Parenting while Working from Home