When you work at home with small children, one big consideration is how you deal with the kids while you’re working. Smaller children need a lot more attention, and it’s not always easy to figure out how to make it all work. Combining office and playroom is hugely tempting. But is it a good idea?
That depends on a few factors. We’ll start with the problems with adding a play area.
Disadvantages Of Combining Office And Playroom
Not All Employers Allow It
You may not always be able to combine office and playroom. Many work at home employers do not allow distractions in the same room. If you work a lot on the phone, they probably especially do not allow background noise.
And we all know how good little kids are at making background noises.
Don’t risk your job just to keep your kids nearby while you work. If it’s a problem for your employer, find another way to keep your kids busy while you work. Trade babysitting, work hours when your spouse or someone else can care for your kids… whatever it takes, find a solution.
Kids Are Distracting
Let’s say you work for yourself or background noises aren’t a problem for your employer. Having kids in your home office can still be a problem.
Kids at play are distracting. Possibly less distracting than wondering what they’re up to in the other room, but still distracting.
Distractions mean you work more slowly and get less done. Odds are that it means you earn less money if you’re paid on productivity or by project, or that eventually, your employer will realize you aren’t as productive as you should be.
That’s a problem. A big one.
If you can’t cope with the distractions, don’t let your kids into your home office.
Adding a play area for your kids may mess with your ability to take a home office deduction. If you aren’t taking that deduction, obviously this is not an issue, but it’s something to consider and bring up with a tax professional if you want the deduction. I can’t tell you for certain how it works if they only play while your work, but if the kids use your office for a play area or homework at other times, it’s absolutely not going to work. A home office must meet an exclusive use requirement, and letting the kids play in there is going to mess with that.
There are risks to having your child play in your home office too. Odds are there are a lot of power outlets with cords coming out, your chair may have wheels that can roll over small fingers or feet, kids may knock things down. If you want your kids in your home office, make sure you look at how you can make it safe for their age.
Advantages Of Combining Office And Playroom
Kids Are Right There
This can be a huge advantage with small children, if they let you work. No worries about what they’re getting into. They’re in easy reach if they need you. They get to spend time with you even though they aren’t your main focus when you’re working.
An infant, for example, only needs a crib or playpen much of the day. If you’re into baby wearing, you may be able to do some work that way, so long as noise and speed don’t matter.
When my kids were toddlers, I used a combination of baby gates at the doors and play yard panels to keep them near and safe. I did medical transcription at the time, so I could generally respond quickly to their needs.
You’re Setting an Example
I believe that work at home parents can set a very good example for their kids. You’re showing them how to make work a part of their lives, how you help support your family. I like making sure my kids know that there’s more to life than being a mother, even when I’m prioritizing motherhood.
They Will Grow Out Of It
Your kids will only need to play in your home office for a relatively short time. Soon enough, they will be old enough to play in their bedrooms or other parts of the house without leaving you to worry about what they’re up to. Then there’s school, friends and all kinds of other reasons why they don’t want to be limited to the home office playroom anymore.
My kids almost never come into my home office anymore unless they need help with homework. It’s a lot quieter in there now than when my kids were little… although it helps that this is the first home we’ve been in where I have a door to close.
On the other hand, that door means that my home office is also the guest room. Sometimes there’s just no way to keep a space all to yourself. At least it’s mostly mine.
How To Make A Combined Home Office And Playroom Happen
If you really want your combined office and playroom to work well, you need to play it out. Don’t just throw a few toys around and call it good. The room has to work for both of you.
Set Up The Home Office First
The first function of your home office space must be as an office. What do you need to set up your
Even if you have a laptop computer, I recommend having a desk and chair. These give you a defined place to work.
When the kids were little, I liked having a big enough desk that I could give them a little space on the desk too. This allowed them to pretend they were working too. But consider your work needs before you do this – for some jobs, it may be too much to have your kids right at your desk.
Consider what else you will need in your home office. Do you need a place to store your supplies? Do you need a printer?
Make the space as comfortable and productive a workspace as possible. Combining office and playroom creates enough challenges as is – consider your work needs before your child’s play needs, or this isn’t going to work.
The next thing you want to do is make your office as safe as possible for your child. Exactly what this means depends on your child.
A child young enough to mostly be worn or limited to a play area won’t need a lot of childproofing. One who can wander the entire room but is still young enough to get into things will take more work.
As I said above, I used play yard panels to keep my toddlers out of the way. I wrapped them around my desk, so my toddlers had plenty of room to play and I didn’t have to worry about rolling over little fingers.
In general, you want to keep cords out of reach and make sure kids can’t punch the power button on your computer. There was a time when I had to cover the power button on my desktop computer with cardboard because the pretty, shiny light was too attractive to my kids. Toddler-induced shutdowns are a bad thing!
Get anything else you don’t want the kids to reach in a safe place too.
Make It Fun
Once everything is productive for you and safe for your kids, make it fun for them. The more fun your kids can have, the more they’ll let you work.
Pick out special toys that your kids love but are just for when you need to work. I always liked to include an old keyboard when my kids liked to pretend they were working too. Young enough kids never notice that it isn’t attached to anything – in fact, we removed the cord too.
If you need quiet in your workspace, think carefully about how you set your child up. It will be hard enough to have quiet with them in there – don’t make it impossible with noisy toys.
Art supplies are a great choice once the kids are old enough. Set up an easel or small table with protection for the floor, and let your kids go at their favorite art supplies.
A chalkboard wall is another fun idea. Then your kids will have a space where they can draw on the wall.
A cardboard box playhouse can also be a great idea, and
Don’t Forget A Spot For Naps
Young children fall asleep at the most random times. Make sure they can do that in your office too – you might just get some extra quiet work time you weren’t expecting.
A blanket and some pillows can help with this. Kids don’t mind sleeping on the floor, but you can add some cushions for them to curl up on if you want.
The blankets may also be good for making a blanket fort, which all children enjoy.
Make The Most Of Storage Space
Just because the kids play in there doesn’t mean your home office needs to fall into chaos. It’s okay if things get messy when the kids are actually playing, but you don’t want a mess all of the time. Set up enough storage space to put your things away as well as the kids’ toys.
Storage bins are great for children’s toys. They can handle odd shapes easily. Have a little fun with color to make the room more interesting for the kids.
Bookshelves and file cabinets can be a help too.
Whatever you do, make sure you don’t allow clutter to mess up your workspace. If a clutter problem develops, find a way to control it. Add more storage space if necessary and possible.