I Let My Kids Interrupt My Zoom Calls Because There Are Benefits to an Open-Door Policy

This story originally appeared in Working Mother Magazine by Jolene Cramer. 

We’re all human, let’s start acting like it.

If you work with me, you know my two 6-year-old daughters. You’ve seen their faces (or toys, hands or maybe even feet) pop into video calls and you’ve seen me mute myself to assure them I’ll be available soon. Inconvenient? Definitely. Embarrassing? Once in a while. Worth it? I think so.

After six months of remote work, I had to decide on some sort of home policy that would help my girls understand how our new normal would work. I’ve landed on an open door policy with my kids and I’m already seeing benefits in the form of their wellbeing, the natural flow of our household, and a deeper understanding across my team that we’re all human beings doing the best we can in an extremely challenging situation.

When I co-authored Take Care, a children’s book about bringing the childhood value of care to the workplace, I thought about how my daughters probably envisioned my job. They likely saw it as a place where I get dressed up, sit at a big desk, eat snacks and talk to people. (I wonder what they think we talk about?) At the time, I had no idea they’d get a front-row seat… that starting in March and extending into the foreseeable future, the fancy outfits would be swapped for yoga pants and that my big desk would become a chair in our spare room.

Yet the premise of the book—take care of yourself and others at work—is truer than ever before. Research shows that when employees feel like their company cares about them as individuals, they are 10 times more likely to recommend their company as a great place to work, nine times more likely to stay at their company for 3+ years, four times less likely to suffer from stress and burnout and twice as likely to be engaged at work. I, for one, have experienced the difference first-hand.

There are endless ways to show how we, as leaders, managers and individual employees, care about our colleagues. Maybe it’s taking an entire one-on-one meeting to talk about life and how we’re feeling. This can be just as productive—and definitely more energizing—than walking through a to-do list. Maybe it’s offering to help out on someone else’s project when they’re clearly losing steam and you happen to be having a good day. For me, it’s showing that I’m juggling life as a working professional and mom, and doing so to the very best of my abilities. As working moms, we should be proud of what we’re facing, not feeling the need to hide it. What might feel embarrassing to me, might give a colleague a deep sense of relief that they’re not alone.

A few other tips that have worked for me while working from home with my girls:

Block out your calendar, clear it with your manager and communicate.

Do your best to arrange your calendar in a way that works best for you, and don’t be afraid to ask for support from your manager. I know that if I’m able to sit with my kids through breakfast and we start our day together, they seem to be more content.

Set the ground rules.

My kids know that if they’re in my office, they can say “hello,” and then generally need to be quiet. This works part of the time, but at least gives us all some common language to use.

Get help.

Maybe it’s a babysitter a few times a week. A spouse. A partner. A neighbor. We have a part-time sitter who helps us during the week, which allows me to better focus. While this isn’t an option for everyone, I encourage others to tap into their support systems in whatever form that might be.

Let me be clear: I am very lucky to have a dedicated workspace and an understanding employer. Not everyone has this, and not everyone will benefit from my personal approach. But what we can all benefit from is giving ourselves some grace—or dare I say care—and treating each other like the human beings that we are. If we do this, we’re going to get through this doozy of a year (please say it’s only a year) in one piece.

And if I’m really lucky, my daughters will see that it’s not just about what I wear to work or the desk that I sit at. It’s about being proud to be their mom, being proud to be a working mom and always taking care of myself so I can take care of others.