Life as a work-at-home mom (WAHM) is filled with unpredictable moments of chaos and unexpected moments of peace. When you have to communicate with clients and co-workers through email, chatting, Skype, or phone calls, it can seem more chaotic than calm, but there are a few things you can do to create the best chances for clear communication that help you get both of your jobs done – WAHM work and mom work.
This is probably my favorite method of corresponding with clients as a work-at-home mom, because it is also the safest. The kids can interrupt with squeals of joy about a new discovery or cries of sibling angst and it won’t infiltrate my communication with my client. I can receive all of the messages I need, and respond to them between Band-Aid applications for skinned knees and knock-knock jokes. A few extra tips will help you keep your sanity when it comes to working-at-home and emailing with clients and coworkers.
- Keep separate email addresses, or at least separate folders within one main email for work related items.
- Don’t become a slave to the email, unless it is in your job description. Just like a ringing phone, there will be times when you just can’t answer it, and the world will still revolve.
- Keep up with your email etiquette. Make sure that you are professional and keep things like emoticons to a bare minimum.
- If you read an email but don’t have time to respond, mark it with a flag so that it doesn’t get pushed to the bottom of your email list and you forget about it entirely by the time you’re reading bedtime stories.
Chatting Online in Real Time
If you have clients and co-workers with whom you chat, make sure that you don’t leave the chat feature enabled when you step away from the computer. Thirty seconds too long on your bathroom break could have your 6-year-old responding to your client’s question.
I have developed a few key phrases I can say to my kids when I jump into a chat with a client so they know that I’m not just idling typing at the computer (when does idling typing ever happen anymore?):
- I’m talking with a client now so my fingers need to concentrate.
- I need 5 minutes while I finish my chat with my client, then you can have double that.
They immediately realize that is my signal to them that my fingers, my ears, and my mouth can’t coordinate between the conversation I’m having with the client about editing guidelines and the one they want to have about what is for dinner and which friends they want to invite to eat over with us.
Skype and Video Conferencing
When you work from home Skype and video chat features can be extremely beneficial in communicating, especially for people who are better at communicating through voice inflection and body language. However, when you’re a work-at-home parent Skype can be scary. You never know if your toddler might streak through the background naked or your teen might walk through the door with a herd of friends all singing “Stronger” at the top of their lungs.
- Schedule your video chats for times during the day that fit your children’s schedule. I avoid the rising crescendo just before lunch and the mid-afternoon energy level.
- Take 15 minutes before your video chat to quiet the kids and get them involved in an activity.
- Remind them that your video chat is just like any other adult business meeting.
- Give younger children time parameters they can understand that have end goals. Maybe you can let them know that your business chat will last about 15 minutes, and after that you will get to go outside and play together.
The last time I used Skype was of course the day I had given myself permission to stay in my “comfy clothes” and get some household chores accomplished. Then a client from Spain requested a meeting within the next 30 minutes. I ran to the bathroom and did my best Superman impression, whirling out of the door assembled in a business shirt (and cut-off sweats – what he didn’t know wouldn’t scare him – too much). My oldest son looked at me and said, “You put on make-up for a Skype call?” First – I didn’t even know he paid attention to make-up, but more importantly it did make me laugh at myself in my cut-off sweats and artificially long lashes. Then I took the laptop, turned the screen to avoid catching the last of my children’s science experiment in the background, and made my chat time before my client left for tapas – happy hour treats in Spain.
Children have a sixth sense when it comes to knowing when you’re on the phone. It is when every inquisition, emergency, and dilemma unfolds. If you’re a work-at-home parent and need to communicate by phone with clients, there are a few things you can do to survive the phone call.
- Use sign-language with your kids. My kids know my look and my hand gesture (no – it’s not anything inappropriate – it just gets the point across).
- Take 15 seconds to explain to your client that he might hear background noise, but that you are fully participating in the conversation.
- Have a paper sign or door knocker you can use to signify that this phone call must be taken. Just don’t abuse that quiet luxury by spending too much time on the phone.
- Schedule return phone calls during times when the kids are napping, reading, or occupied with a quiet activity.
My kids are my favorite, top priority clients. They get all of the best treatment, the red carpet in my life. Some days it is really a challenge to communicate clearly and effectively with clients amid the swirl of activity my children bring, but without their swirls, my days at home would be boring in black and white.