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For remote workers who also happen to be parents, summer starts off with so much promise: Three months of not waking up before the sun rises to wrangle small, grumpy people out of bed! A break from scrambling to make lunches and detangling matted heads of hair! A chance to take much-needed family vacations and spend quality bonding time together!
But at some point during those long, hot days—when family trips are over, summer camps have run their course, and the novelty of sleeping late has become so last month—reality sets in. You’re sitting at your computer trying to get your remote work on, while your young family members are tumbling across the living room floor in one of those Tom and Jerry dust clouds, shrieking at an ear-splitting pitch—and they’re not going anywhere for weeks.
It’s in those waning summer moments that parents look to the cool promise of Fall—that cozy, burnt-orange time of year when school is back in session. We love our kids, but “to everything there is a season,” and the back to school season is almost here! With this in mind, I sat down for some virtual water cooler talk with fellow Skillcrush employees and remote working parents—Nurture and Sales Content Manager Lauren Lang and WordPress Instructor Maren Vernon—to compare notes and report back on what we’re looking forward to with the kids starting school this fall.
The Sound of Silence
Remote workers are a little bit spoiled when it comes to our auditory environment. We don’t have officemates or adjoining cubicles whose noise levels may or may not mesh with our own needs. If it helps us to have music or podcasts blasting while we work, we can do that—but we can also break it down to silence at the touch of a button.
Don’t worry, we get our comeuppance as soon as the kids are home—and when school’s out that can be all day long. Whether it’s the sound of siblings bickering, shrieks of joyful play, or the maddening strains of Minecraft’s theme music, the natural noise of a family home—while absolutely lovely in the right context—can be a huge productivity drain.
No More Mini-Office Managers
Another perk of remote work is being able to bypass a lot of weird office politics. Working independently and checking in for the occasional Google Hangout or HipChat streamlines the work process and puts the spotlight on productivity instead of personality quirks. There’s no proverbial manager breathing down your neck or micromanaging how you spend your time—that is, until the kids decide to fill this role themselves.
During the summer, these mini-office managers are in full effect—asking accusatorily if you’ve taken a shower today, demanding to know the plans for dinner eight hours in the future, imperiously vetoing those plans while scrutinizing and critiquing your haircut and clothes. Who can work under these conditions? With our amateur office dictators busy off-site, fall means an improvement in labor relations—until next summer!
Back in the Zone
One of the ongoing challenges facing remote workers—particularly when working from home—is being able to block out all of the domestic distractions calling your name (the fish tank that needs to be cleaned, the grocery shopping that needs to be done, the appointments that need to be scheduled). It’s hard to achieve anything of significance in chunks of time under an hour, and to really get into the work zone you need to be able to immerse yourself for several hours at a time.
That being said, during summertime the work zone is hard to get into. Whether you’re being stopped right on the cusp of productivity to make that next round of mac and cheese, convincing a child that a stubbed toe doesn’t require a hospital visit, or providing tech support for iPods, the summer is perilous when it comes to uninterrupted daytime hours. Fall means the work zone becomes a lot easier to reach—now we just need to get past our own self-created distractions.
While summertime work interruptions can be annoying, at a certain point “parent mode” kicks in, opening the floodgates for waves of guilt. That nagging voice chirping away at you is your child after all, and suddenly it occurs to you that you’ve been ignoring them all day, letting them go feral and half-crazed from hours of unchecked screen time.
Working remotely isn’t a substitute for childcare—it’s important to let the people in your life know you’re “at work” even though you might be working from home—but according to USA Today, full-time childcare for one child can cost anywhere from $10,192 to $28,900 a year. With a median U.S. income of $56,516 in 2015, that’s simply too much for many families to afford, which means the parent at home becomes the primary caretaker whether or not they’re also working. We’re then faced with the choice of focusing on work and neglecting the kids, or taking our kids to the park, the pool, or a friend’s house and neglecting our work—not a fun choice, especially during those times when we really can’t set work aside.
The return of school structure in the Fall makes it so much easier to balance kid time and work time and take some of that guilt off our plate. Of course, we’ll be burnt out on that structure and looking for a break from it by next summer.
Let It Go (During Meetings)
Remote workers walk a precarious line when it comes to their personal appearance. On one hand, if you want to work unkempt or undressed no one (except maybe a family member) is going to stop you. But this also means when it’s time for a video chat with a client or co-worker it can be a scramble to make sure you and your on-screen environment are presentable. During the summer the kids become an unpredictable factor in this presentation. You can be sitting there, dressed to the nines with your hair combed, the piles of unfolded laundry shoved off-camera, when suddenly a child stumbles into view belting out an unfortunate rendition of “Let it Go.”
Since meetings and chats often coincide with school hours, Fall eliminates the kid variable from the list of what can go wrong on-screen. No more itchy trigger finger poised on the mute button or looking over shoulders to block an undressed kid from streaking by—thanks, Fall! Now we just need to worry about our own disheveled appearances.
Breaks are an essential part of being productive at any job—you need that time to recharge and refocus—but like everything else with remote work, it’s on you to make sure breaks happen. This can be easier said than done during the summer, when a ten-minute coffee break is likely to be steamrolled by kids needing you to find their swimsuits or asking for another round of popsicles. If you play your cards right you’ll still get that coffee, but it’ll be cold, and drinking it won’t be relaxing.
Come Fall, though, there’ll be nothing standing between remote working parents and a warm, leisurely cup of coffee—and we won’t even need to hide in a coat closet to drink it. Cheers!
Playing Adult Hooky
Once the kids are back in school, we certainly wouldn’t condone them cutting class or playing hooky. When it comes to their remote working parents, though, now’s our chance!
During the summer, almost any time spent away from work gets siphoned over to kid care, but the school year gives a bit more breathing room. There’s nothing better on an occasional crisp Fall day than to take the afternoon off and go out to lunch or a movie with a partner or friend. You’ll be done before the kids are even out of school—so no babysitters required—and although it’s not something you can get away with all the time, once in awhile won’t hurt. In fact, it will help. Self-care is important, people!
Summer, we don’t want to bury you completely. It was great that remote work let us clock in from hotel rooms, amusement park lines, and campsites (pro tip: keep the s’more goo away from the keyboard)—we wouldn’t have been able to stretch our summer vacations out as long with conventional office jobs. But there comes a time when absence makes the heart grow fonder, and that time is now. Bring on the pumpkin spice!
Ready to tackle the Fall from the comfort of your own home, or anywhere else you feel like working? Download the free Ultimate Guide to Getting a Remote Job You Love. Learn the steps you can start taking today to prepare yourself for the remote job market, what a day-in-the-life of a remote team is really like, and what skills you’ll need to land high-paying remote work.
Scott Morris is Skillcrush's staff writer and content producer. Like all the members of Skillcrush's team, he works remotely (in his case from Napa, CA). He believes that content that's worth reading (and that your audience can find!) creates brands that people follow. He's experienced writing on topics including jobs and technology, digital marketing, career pivots, gender equity, parenting, and popular culture. Before starting his career as a writer and content marketer, he spent 10 years as a full-time parent to his daughters Veronica and Athena.