Book: No Office » Part 2 - What if there was no office? » Chapter 22 - Balance work and home | balance.md

Chapter 22 - Balance work and home

How to deal with family life and other work-at-home challenges.

Your work is important – even though it’s done from home!

If there’s one thing that I can thank this awful COVID-19 pandemic for, it’s the fact that it has finally legitimized work from home as actual… work.

Before that, people who were working from home in the eyes of everyone else weren’t really working. Everyone thought we were pretend-working. Can this even be called real work if we’re staying at home all day?

In my household, my wife is the one going to a fancy office while I stay at home in my not-so-fancy home office. Most of her colleagues for a very long time would just assume that I was unemployed. I was that guy who’d stay at home with a power woman wife who’d actually go to a real job.

I’ve learned to live with that kind of perception, and I don’t really mind that people don’t take me working from home seriously. After all, the 700,000+ Nozbe users don’t feel the same way about me, and online I’m very much well respected as that productivity guy.

However, as I was interviewing other remote workers for this book, I realized that it’s something that actually stings. It really hurts that people think less of you because you work from home. It even translates to our spouses and friends who subconsciously treat our work with lesser significance.

That’s why I’m hoping that this pandemic has taught them all a lesson or two that working from home doesn’t mean working on less important stuff. After all, work is not a place you go to – it’s a thing that you do, right?

The difference between working from home and working from an office is only the location part. There’s nothing inherently superior between one or the other. At least there shouldn’t be!

Stuff you can do when you’re working from home

One of the core benefits of working from home, besides not wasting time on commuting to work and stressing out about traffic jams, is the fact that you can also run some useful family errands in the meantime.

You can put in laundry. After all, it takes a few hours to wash, so in the meantime you can have a nice chunk of focused time for work. Once the laundry is done, you’ll be in need of a short break from work, so stretch your legs and take the clothes out for drying. And get back to work.

People who work from home usually work on their computers, so these natural breaks of laundry, cooking, cleaning or just fixing something around the house give us a break from work, let our mind rest and give our body some much needed movement before another session in front of the screen.

That’s great, but it’s a double-edge sword, because the rest of the world starts assuming that, by default, we should be the ones taking care of these things. And this can lead to frustration.

Set expectations with your family

Just because you can put in laundry while working from home, it doesn’t mean it should make you the “laundry person.” That’s why the key to keeping your sanity while working from home is to talk to your family and the people around you to set expectations.

Talk to your partner about family chores

If these things are not talked about and planned, they’ll become your responsibility by default, as you’re the person who’s always at home. That’s right, I’ve been through this time and time again. I’m a man, a father and a CEO of a global company, but because I’m working from home, when it comes to home-related stuff, my wife tends to assume that I’ll just take care of them.

People who have to dress up to go to an office naturally tend to feel like they’re doing something of more significance. It’s not their fault. It’s human nature.

That’s why it’s key to find time after work to talk with your partner about family stuff. You need to be able to go through the upcoming responsibilities and divide them in a fair way. Otherwise you’ll go nuts.

Kids are sick? You take care of them – after all, you’re at home anyway. Nothing for dinner? You cook – as the kitchen is right next to your home office. Shopping needs to be done? The supermarket is right around the corner from our house, so it clearly makes more sense that you do it.

The good thing about these kinds of discussions is that they force you to talk more with your significant other. This ultimately leads to a better connection between you two. Many remote workers I’ve spoken to have had similar perspectives.

In my case, it went even further. My wife ultimately noticed the benefits of working from home, and when her employer let her do occasional teleworking, she went for it and started working one day a week at home. Now she works two days a week like this and we get to do some of our errands together at home. And have coffee breaks, of course.

Talk to your children about boundaries

Another reason I love working from home is the fact that I can take my kids to school every morning and pick them up in the afternoon. I feel like I have more contact with my three lovely daughters just because I’m around more.

However, it can also be a disadvantage. Even though my home office is on the top floor of our townhouse, the kids like to come by when they’re bored and say hi, draw on my whiteboard, or play with my old iPads. It’s hard to keep them out. However, sometimes I actually like it when they’re around and I’m finishing off stuff for the day. It’s pretty cute…

Until it isn’t and I need to focus on writing something1, record an episode of a podcast2 or be interviewed about running an all-remote company. Then it’s crucial that I not be disturbed. Here are a few tricks I use to set these boundaries:

  • I clearly communicate what’s up: Daddy has to work for one more hour, so he’ll be with you at 6pm. My kids are finally starting to embrace the concept of time and this usually works. If I promise them that we’ll do something together at a certain hour, I can safely assume they’ll be entering my home office at that time, so I’d better be done with work by then.
  • I also use visual cues. I’ve set up a lamp outside of my home office and have written on it “On Air” with a sharpie. When this lamp is on, it means daddy is recording something or is on a meeting, so they need to stay quiet and stay out. It works pretty well, until of course it’s getting late and they’re losing patience. Then they’ll come to my home office to ask how much more time.
  • We do homework together. If I need to finish something that doesn’t require much of my focus, I just stick around and work on my iPad while they do their homework. I’m OK with being interrupted every now and then to help them out. I get to do some final things for work and be around my kids. Another perk of working from home!

Talk to your children about your work

Another issue with kids is that you’ll need to explain to them that your work is meaningful. The fact that you’re sitting at home and typing something on a computer is also work and it can be really impactful, but it may not be so obvious to them.

I’m not a policeman, not a firefighter, not a teacher and definitely not a doctor. So I need to prove myself to my kids constantly. That’s why I try to explain to them what I do and why this app called Nozbe is so important – not just to me, but to everyone who’s using it. When I’m about to run a webinar, I tell them that hundreds of people online from all over the world are joining me for this event and at that moment I am kind of a teacher, as I preach productivity.

Yes, we need to do some internal marketing for our work in the family. Otherwise they will not treat us seriously, regardless of how much money this work brings.

Find time for sports or just simple walks

My favorite benefit of working from home is that I can decide when I do sports and regularly get that much-needed boost of endorphins. I’m an amateur triathlete and I compete for fun in Olympic-distance triathlons at least once every year.3 This means I need to swim, run and ride a bike frequently.

I usually do it in the middle of the day. This is a perfect break. Once I’ve done a few hours of good work, I’m already getting a little tired or bored – I need something to shake things up, and for me sports is just the thing.

I usually catch the best weather in the middle of the day, so it’s a perfect moment for a run or a short bike ride – or even just a walk if you’re not a sports fanatic like myself.

You could even take a nap in the middle of the day. Napping is not really my thing anymore, but I used to nap every time I felt stressed and tired at work. Lying down for 30 minutes in a completely dark bedroom did the trick and helped me get back to it. Some people drink a shot of coffee right before napping, so that when the caffeine kicks in half an hour later, they’re perfectly ready to continue with their work day.

Plan afternoons actively

People often ask me if I feel lonely working from home.

Not at all.

First off, as I wrote in Chapter 7, I have very few meetings, but at least one meeting a day so I feel connected to my team. I also sometimes have one-on-one meetings. And even though these are all video meetings, I don’t feel like they are any different than in-person meetings.

Second, because I work from home and get lots of meaningful work done during the day without others interrupting me, I crave social connection by the afternoon. I actively plan our social life and meet-ups with friends.3

Very often people who work in a traditional office after a whole day of work are tired of seeing other people. They’re fed up and want to be left in peace. I’m quite the contrary. I want to meet people after work. I want to see my friends, and I get to choose the folks I have fun with. This is so much better than being forced to interact with the same bunch of people every day and later being drained of energy to be around those you really like.

Set a predictable schedule and stick to it on most days

We humans are creatures of habits. That’s why it’s very useful to experiment with workdays by planning your weeks and days in advance and communicating that to the people around you.

I’ve written much about planning your week in Chapter 15, so here I’ll explain how I approach my day. But before this, a disclaimer – this is how my usual day looks like now, but it might look completely different in a few months. I review my workweek and my workday every quarter when I’m doing my quarterly review.

  • 7-9 am It’s family morning time – we prepare breakfast, get ready for school and I drive the kids there.
  • 9-10 am It’s work start time – I usually answer the most pressing questions from my team.
  • 10 am-12 pm I block off two hours for special projects. Right now, my focus is on writing this book. (It’s 11:50 on November 18, 2020 and that’s what I’m literally doing. I’m almost done for today.)
  • 12-1pm Sports time – I usually go for a run, a short bike ride or even a tennis practice.4
  • 1-4pm I usually schedule my meetings during this time, and when I’m not in a meeting, I spend this time giving feedback to my team.
  • 4-6pm Another two hours of focused work. Most people don’t interrupt me then, and I have my last stretch of focus before finishing off for the day.

Later, it’s family time. We’re all night owls here, so we spend time together until 9pm and then put the kids to bed. Between 10pm to midnight is time for me and my wife. My aim every night is to get at least seven hours of sleep.

This is just my example. You should adjust your routine to you and your unique situation. The key is to communicate it with the family. This way, people know when they can reach you or when they can expect stuff from you. They know when you need to get your work done.

In sickness and in health?

What happens when your kids get sick? Or when you get sick? Figure out a plan in advance with your partner and your employer. Just because you’re at home, it doesn’t mean it’s you that has to stay with the kids. You might have something really important to do and you might need your spouse to help you out.

When you’re ill, don’t fake work. Communicate with your team that you’re not well, stop working and relax. Your body deserves rest to fight off your illness.

Having said that, many of my remote-working peers told me that when they’re just a little unwell, they prefer to work for just a few hours and then relax. Or when they feel better, catch up on some work and then get back to curing their body. Otherwise they feel bored and useless. I get it – I’m the same. In that situation, talk to your boss, and just let them know that you’ll be working much less these coming days and later you’ll re-calculate your sick days based on the hours you worked.

Be sure not to take on any new ambitious projects when you’re sick. It’s a good time to do some house-cleaning or administrative tasks that you’ve been postponing forever. Do them now, and once you’re cured, you’ll be ready to face new challenges.

The one thing: talk to your family members.

The key to successfully working from home is to learn to communicate expectations. Talk to your partner and have a chat with your kids. Communicate clearly what you’re working on, when you’re planning to do what and exactly how much you can do to help out the family chores. And enjoy the work-life balancing act that’s so much better than commuting every day to an office!

  1. That’s why my daughter believes that my official job description is: “Writes random stuff on the Internet”: Michael.team/dad 

  2. I record four podcasts: No Office FM in English and in Polish, The Podcast FM and Team Productivity Show. 

  3. Now that we’re in pandemic times, we meet with friends very rarely and we’re always very cautious, of course.  2

  4. Olympic-distance triathlon means a 1.5KM swim followed by a 40KM bike ride and a 10KM run. You can read more on that and my new affection for tennis on my blog: Michael.team/tag/sports 

Next: Chapter 23 - Hire remotely

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