Once upon a time (in the distant era of circa 2019), having a baby meant putting your career on hold or outsourcing parenting to someone else and missing out on all the magical moments. It was basically a “Career of family” decision. Fortunately, times have changed, and now people recognize you can work from home with a newborn. In this age of remote work, aspiring parents can have their cake and eat it, too — right?
Well, you may not have to choose between a career and a family anymore, but as a new parent, I can attest that even a veteran remote worker needs to learn how to manage a baby while working from home. Here’s what I learned in my recent quest for work-family balance.
How Do You Balance a Newborn and Work?
It takes a village to raise a child, but two people are a good start.
I understand not everyone is in that position, and some people — by choice or by force of circumstances — are single parents. (You guys and ladies rock, by the way!)
There will be some tips for people in that situation later on, but this article would be accurate if it didn’t acknowledge that having your partner’s support is crucial when working from home with a newborn.
1. Take Turns Feeding To Minimize Sleep Deprivation While Working From Home With a Newborn
Having a baby made my life better in a million ways, but my improving my sleep patterns was not one of them. Even if you are lucky and have a quiet child like my wife and I did, they’ll still wake up needing to eat in the middle of the night. Unless you’re a heavy sleeper, it doesn’t matter who is responsible for feeding the baby; you’re also likely to wake up.
There are no two ways about it — lack of sleep impacts work performance. We can’t eliminate that impact, but we can think of ways to minimize it.
The first thing is to ensure both parents can feed the baby. If you’re doing milk formula, that should be easy enough. The logistics get a bit more complicated if you’re doing breastmilk, but it’s worth the effort. First, get a breast milk pump that’s comfortable and efficient. Stash the milk in the freezer in plastic containers and pencil in the milking date. They should keep for at least a week — but never re-freeze after unfreezing.
That way, when the breastfeeding parent isn’t available or needs extra rest, the other can heat the milk and feed the baby. (Pour some milk on your skin before serving; it needs to be room temperature, I.E., not feel warm to the touch.)
2. Get Your Calendars Straight
Having your calendar in sync with your significant other was always one of the best tips for maintaining a work-family balance, but now, it is essential. A routine is critical for a baby; a newborn consumes so much time that you won’t have a chance unless you and your partner plan your day.
You should be aware of each other’s meetings and the time you block out to work on project X or Y, and organize so one can work while the other cares for the baby and prepares meals.
The reality is that your home will be chaotic for the first few months, and that’s ok — a mess is to be expected. Prioritize sleep and healthy meals regularly (for you and the baby).
Try to get some fresh air and sunlight every day, too — if you can schedule work calls and take them while out on a walk, that would be ideal.
3. Make Your Calendars Flexible
Even if you follow the above plan and your calendars look like a pro team of synchronized swimmers, the baby will make a mess of it at one point or another. Emergencies happen all the time. The diaper could leak — impromptu bath time! The baby could get a fever (expected, but always incredibly stressful), forcing a trip to the nearby pediatric emergency. Or they could just… feel hungry suddenly, as babies do.
So try to build flexibility into your calendar. Whenever possible, pad out meetings with breaks. Assign plenty of time for preparing and consuming meals — a hungry kid can delay them by up to thirty minutes. Of course, this is easier said and done and will depend massively on your workplace culture. More on that later in this article.
The Way You Organize Matters
Whether you have your partner’s support or are a single mom or dad, you can do a couple of things to stack the odds in your favor when it comes to maintaining (or at least safeguarding a decent chunk of) your productivity at work.
Here are some easy tips for working from home with a baby you can implement:
Have A Dedicated (Physical) Location
Once upon a time, I was happily working from my living room. It was wonderful. I had my little work cranny behind the couch, and if my wife wanted to watch TV or play video games, all I needed to do was turn on my directional mic and put my noise-canceling AirPods Pro, and none would be the wiser! If I felt I was getting distracted, I opened a folding screen between my desk and the couch. Instant cubicle!
That doesn’t work when you work from home with a newborn baby. For one thing, noise-canceling doesn’t work that well with crying (and that’s a good thing because you want to know when your baby is crying.) More to the point, there will always be a baby-related activity happening, and if it happens in your vicinity, you won’t be able to keep your focus.
Finally, no matter how well you plan with your partner, the reality is that we all despair plenty of times in the first few months, and we seek help from whoever is at hand. It’s easier to curtail those instincts if we have a wall or a closed door.
Do you need to find a new place to live on top of the stress of managing a baby and working from home? Probably not. One of my favorite anecdotes from Stephen King’s “On Writing” (authors are the original work-from-home crowd!) is one where he describes working on his first manuscript from inside the broom closet at the bottom of his home’s stairwell. Sure, it’s not glamorous or comfortable — but it gets the job done. In the great writer’s words: “You need a door that you can close.”
Maybe you need to take over the pantry. Perhaps you have to take over the bathroom (virtual zoom backgrounds to the rescue!) Could be time to put a heater in the garage and work from there. You’re going to need to be creative. But a home office is a must when you’re trying to work from home with a newborn.
Get Your “One Thing” In Order
What is the one thing you must get done? What is the most critical thing in your day? Yes, I know you have a to-do list as long as twice the length of your arm, and you are a long-armed fellow to boot!
Forget about that to-do list. You couldn’t get it done before the baby, and you aren’t going to post-baby. Hone into the Top 3 things. Commit to doing one during that day. Treat the other two as bonus credits.
It’s going to be hard at first. A part of your brain holds this logic: “I’m a Very Important Person, and so every one of my tasks is Very Important. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be my tasks.” I’m a fan of high self-esteem, but in this case, you’ll have to pare it down and accept that you, like anyone else, have about 80% of tasks on your plate that aren’t going to move the needle that much.
Figure out the 20% that are, and attack!
Embrace Your Inner Teenage Girl And Master The Smartphone
Working from the phone feels like cheating. It doesn’t look professional, and it doesn’t feel like “real” work. But guess what? I wrote half this piece using an app on my iPhone, while holding the baby in my lap.
If you´re wondering how do you bond with a baby when you work full time? Easy, changing your work dynamics, like working sometimes from your smartphone when you need to tackle something urgent!
Unless you are feeding or changing diapers, being with a baby often means having one free arm. Put that free arm to work! It’s the ideal time to catch up on email and Slack, review reports and project lists, and work on writing-heavy projects.
I know it feels awkward. The screen is tiny, and the keyboard is even more so. Practice makes perfect. I have fat fingers and one of the smallest iPhones. I turned on the swipe keyboard functionality, and within two weeks, I was writing on my phone like a champ. There aren’t many tips for working at home with a baby that will make as much difference as this one, as long as you are patient enough to keep at it until you get the hang.
Caveat: Don’t make every time you have the baby into working time. This tip is supposed to get you more family time, not less. Enjoy watching your kid grow! That is one of the best perks of working from home!
The Company You Work For Really Matters
How do you survive working with a newborn? Honestly, having a great and company time by your side.
The above tips for working at home with a baby will prove valuable to you, but if your company is in your corner, then you’re golden. I saved this section for last because there’s not much you can do about your company culture. Either it is new parent-friendly, or it isn’t. But if you think it isn’t, I invite you at least to check those assumptions and approach your manager about it.
Companies that allow employees to work from home tend to be more parent-friendly than their employees imagine, and it’s just that they might not have a specific policy in place.
Work Under The Assumption That 30% Of Your Energy Is Gone
Factor in sleepless nights and the need to spend energy caring for the newborn, and the reality is that you will be running on 30% less fuel, no matter how supportive your partner is and how well you organize. You are not likely to find hidden reserves that will enable you to keep your pre-baby productivity. Work with your company to mitigate it.
If you’re an employee, be straight with your manager. Explain that you’re organizing to do your best, but you’ll probably need to reset some deadlines and trim down task lists.
If you’re a manager, it’s time to go hard on delegation. Ideally, you’ll have done that before the baby was born, but if you didn’t — now is the second best time. Get the superstars under you to step up and give them the extra responsibility they crave. Of course, be available to mentor them and set up the expectation that failures are learning opportunities. You don’t want them to feel like you threw them out to sink or swim.
Async is The Way To Go
Drop as many meetings as possible. Explain the situation to your managers and colleagues, and promise to be responsive to Slack texts and emails. I’m not saying to never have meetings again — I quite like meetings for bonding with teammates and discussing career advancement, for instance — but ask to be excused from as many as possible.
Whatever meetings you can’t avoid, coordinate with your partner as described above. But the reality is that no matter how well you do, you’re never going to be able to guarantee you’re going to be at your best in terms of focus and energy at a pre-set time. The flexibility of async enables you to give your input when you’re at your best, so favor that approach.
Bonus Tips On How To Manage a Baby While Working From Home
Baby Carriers Rock
What a seriously fantastic piece of technology. Do you know what’s better than carrying your baby while having a free hand to work? Having two free hands to work! Over the past two months, I’ve done a crazy amount of work while having the baby hanging from my chest. Meetings are off the table (you want to be quiet so the baby sleeps), but for anything else, you’re golden!
Don’t Forget Family And Friends — Or Hired Help
Adding an extra person to the mix is incredibly powerful, even if only for a couple of hours daily. It can help you reach out that desired work-family balance.
I was lucky to have my mother come in every morning to stay with the baby, which allowed me to start my day right. My wife got some much-needed extra sleep, and I could get a head start prepping lunch and tidying the place, so the rest of the morning could be spent on focused, uninterrupted work.
Don’t be afraid to ask for the support of friends and family. Chances are, they’ll be thrilled to help. But if you have no one to lean into, consider getting hired help. You might not want a stranger to care for the kid, and that’s perfectly understandable — but at the very least, you can get someone to clean the house, do the laundry, and prep your meals. Ask your company’s HR if there’s a stipend to help new parents with such matters. More and more companies have this.
And that’s it. Remote work offers you the unique opportunity to work without losing a single moment of your baby growing up. I feel lucky every day that I get to hang out with my kid; in my old job, I would leave home before he was up and come back by the time he was asleep. There are challenges aplenty when you work from home with a newborn, definitely — and we hope the tips in this article have helped you mitigate them somewhat — but the payoff is incredible!