23 energy-efficient ways to keep the kids entertained while you work from home

Kid on laptop

For a lot of Aussies, working from home is just ‘working’ now.

And for some, that means learning to work more collaboratively with strange new colleagues – ones who want your love, attention and something to eat but they’re not sure what and no, they’ve already had peanut butter toast.

Yep, your kids are your colleagues now. (Incidentally, so are your pets but they’re probably just happy you’re home.)

These newly onboarded workmates can make things tricky. They don’t seem to understand the natural flow of the organisation, or have much respect for your workload. And when they want something, they want it now. Talk about deadlines.

You’ll know by now that it’s pretty easy to sit your new workmates down in front of a screen for some ‘eLearning’ – but as you spend more time at home this could start to push the power bill up.

So I asked a few of my colleagues to share their screen-free tips for inducting new teammates into the organisation. Fair warning: there’s mud involved.

1. Find a rhythm

Let’s face it. Work-you is boring. Work-you doesn’t play games or indulge sudden, urgent needs for horseback rides. Regular-you, though? Total legend. Living hero. True idol.

Finding a rhythm where work-you and regular-you can tag team in a way that makes sense to your kids is key to having the rest of this list run smoothly. Mitigate possible employee dissatisfaction by setting up the day to follow a predictable routine.

2. Establish an office gallery

Have you got a regular (non-turtle) Michelangelo on your hands? Get them to craft works of art that’ll go in a special spot in your office. Give them a bit of direction with a daily theme (safari, underwater, nature) and encourage different mediums – recycle bin materials, Lego, leaves and sticks. Once they’re done, get them to talk you through their process and mark it off against their KPIs.

3. Employ them

(Hopefully) in a way that doesn’t compromise your actual work. If you’ve got old papers to get rid of, tell them they need to be scribbled on or cut up. If your new associate is a destructor, this is the kind of work they won’t believe they’re getting paid for.

Add a new level by marking their success on a chart. Maybe they can even make (or design) a machine that will help you do your work faster (and feel free to send in the prototype).

4. Scavenger hunts

Get them to find a list of hidden things around the house, with the ultimate prize being something they really love – a treat, an episode of Paw Patrol, tickets to that leadership summit they keep sending you links for. Keeping your team on track is important, so jump in with a helpful ‘hotter/colder’ as required.

5. Empty the cupboards

As a junior employee, I used to rummage through the pots and pans for exactly no reason, and it was excellent. Give your tiny people a (tiny person-friendly) cupboard to explore and pull things out of. Older kids might even help you work out which bits of Tupperware you just don’t have the lid for anymore.

6. Get them a furry sibling

Has getting a cat or dog been on your mind? Perhaps you tossed it aside because it was too good an idea. Right now, shelters are looking for anyone who’s able to give fostering a go. Pets may take some getting used to, but they make excellent babysitters (and popular colleagues).

7. Water stations

The wetter, the better. Set up a table with all sorts of vessels, into and out of which your pint-sized cohort can pour water to their hearts’ content. The good thing about this one is you’re only one ingredient away from…

8. Mud pits

The clean-up aspect of this isn’t for every senior manager, but if there’s no better distraction for your fellow worker than the quest for the perfect mud pie, you might be able to make an exception. Once again, the more work resources (vessels and utensils) you can throw at it, the better.

9. Play dough

Play dough
Many industries now recognise play dough as a specialised skill.

There I said it. And why wouldn’t I? Play dough is easy to make, and gives kids unbridled crafting scope. If you’ve got a number of miniature colleagues, they can work together or get competitive in making you the sculpture, cake or formless oddity that might just score them that promotion.

10. Forts forts forts

How you execute this one will depend on the seniority of your co-worker. Either way, they’ll have an exciting new universe that makes everyday activities inherently more exciting (much like hotel rooms when you’re a grown up).

11. Obstacle course

Without wanting to encourage anything too dangerous, there are plenty of things around the house that, when appropriately arranged, make for a challenging climb, crawl or jump. Arrange furniture (safely) to give your freshmen something to scramble over and see what sorts of adventures they find themselves on.

If you have stairs, this is a good time to think about safe (and I must stress, safe) ways of using them as a slide. In case they’re climbing that corporate ladder a little too fast, if you know what I mean.

12. Make it, play it

Kids love making noise. You’ll know this from yesterday morning when you were presenting The Serious Thing to your team, and your oblivious team member burst in with a (non-diarised) tin whistle performance.

So it’s nice to know that when you give, or build them something to make a bunch of noise on (a drumkit made of buckets, or a tissue box guitar), they’ll be glad to indulge you. Till at least the second chorus.

13. Dress ups

Dress ups
When James presents to important stakeholders, he really puts on a performance.

This morning, no less than 5 of my colleagues shared photos of their slippered or Ugg-booted feet. If we’re indulging in a little out-of-the-ordinary work attire, why shouldn’t our newly onboarded friends? Get out the dress up box, or if you don’t have one, a bunch of your own clothes.

Incidentally, this is a good opportunity to take note of any ‘normal’ garments that look too convincingly like dress-ups, and redefine their destiny.

14. Give trash new life

Upend the recycle bin, get out the PVA, and put on your creative hat. As new additions to the company, your junior colleagues might have new ideas on the best approach to take with egg cartons and pizza boxes, and you should encourage that.

Be sure to consult your occupational health and safety team in regards to sharp edges and dubious liquids.

15. Draw a mega colour-in

If you’ve got a little creative flair, take a big piece of butcher’s paper and fill it with a picture scape to colour in – a circus, a jungle, a party, you name it. If you’re less artistically inclined, just draw a big loopy line that crosses over itself to create little colour-in sections. Staff members often turn to the lessons of industry expert, Mr. Squiggle, at this time.

This is a good move for you career-wise as your new team will be impressed that you’re skilled at both delegating, and executing.

16. Paper mâché

Is it messy? Yes. Is it a project towards which your team might direct their efforts for maybe hours at a time? Also yes. And it’s got the added bonus of being entry-level friendly. Because while there is such thing as being bad at paper mâché, there’s no such thing as not being able to do it at all.

17. Dominoes

Please don’t hate me.

Because if your newfangled colleagues are aspirational, dominoes are a hole in one. No matter how intricate their latest performance, there’s always something that can make it better. You might find your 7-year-old getting Pavlovian with your thousand-year old cat, teaching it to swat a golf ball off brick to initiate the next sequence. Will you complain to your line manager that they are too motivated?

18. Diving pit

Set up all available soft resources in a single space, into which your team can jump for maximum joy.

Consult your OH&S team for their advice on a safe way to execute this idea, and please only move forward if your new team can be trusted to work at this level.

19. What can you use this for?

Kids are creative. They haven’t learned ‘the right way’ to do most things, and they are often joyfully irreverent when it comes to learning them. Which is why when you pick a regular thing from around the house and get them to tell you all the things it could be used for, your new recruits are likely to blow you away with the things they think of.

20. Target practice

Whether it’s paper planes, soft toys, balls, or even the humble toilet roll, there’s always a game of ‘get the thing in the other thing’ to be played around the office. Activities like these will teach your new recruits focus, discipline and (come competition time) sledging. All should be welcomed and encouraged.

21. Fairy house

Kid on laptop
Use volunteer leave to build houses for neighbouring communities.

This company recognises that if you have a garden, you have fairies.

Encourage your pocket-sized companions to use their day of volunteer leave to give back to their still smaller communities by constructing new homes for their winged friends. Rest assured that the company is comfortable donating such things as hair clips, small jars and ribbons to this cause.

22. Treasure hunters

What the Board wants, the Board gets and if that happens to be an assortment of bugs from available outdoor areas, you’d be wise to let your junior team know that they will be responsible for sourcing one.

Even if demands expand to (company-sanctioned) flowers, coloured stones, or fallen leaves, you’ll be responsible for motivating your team and ultimately driving success.

23. Bubble wrap

It’s 4:30pm on a Friday. Your team have been pushing to meet deadlines all week, and they’ve done you and the wider team proud. You walk over to their desk and slowly lower their laptop screen, placing a sheet of pristine bubble wrap on top. They lean back in their chair and take it gratefully in their hands. They’ve earned it.


End of year bonus

If your team has done really good work, they deserve a reward. So if you’re happy giving out a little screen time, here are a couple of extras we thought of.

24. Get their typing skills going

Typeracer is a game where you race to type out paragraphs from films and against other players. If your new workmate likes to sit with you (and you’ve got a spare computer they can use), this is a nice way of them feeling involved while fostering the competitive spirit that might help them make partner one day.

25. Go to the zoo

…Kind of.

Right now, the Melbourne Zoo is livestreaming its enclosures so kids can still see what the critters (and their minders) are up to. Look the other way when you catch them streaming on work’s time – maybe they’re just doing some research for their latest gallery submission.

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