As I write this post, my desk is littered with toy cars my 3-year-old is trying to get me to play with. It’s a scene familiar to many remote workers who have had to juggle work and family life in recent times.
In February of 2020 – yes, this is about to get pandemic-y – when my kid was born, I took two weeks off of work to be with my family. The first day I returned to the office, I was told to pack up my desk and work from home until the shelter-in-place mandate was lifted in our area. It’s been over three years, and I’m still working from home.
Initially, I had a few concerns about working from home and distancing myself from work.
- Will I be able to compartmentalize work and life?
- Can I remain productive?
- How can I get the company to pay for all these AAA batteries I’m using in my headphones to drown out the sound of a newborn?
The last one was a bit of levity; I digress. Luckily over time, I feel like I’ve come to a good routine that addresses things like this, and I hope my insights can help you as well.
Compartmentalizing Work & Life
As I said, when I first started working from home, I was worried about how I would be able to separate work and personal life. It can be challenging to create a routine when your work and home environments are so close together. It can feel like a blurred line between work and personal time, and it’s essential to establish clear boundaries to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Dedicated Workspace Alternatives
Having a dedicated workspace, like a room where you can shut a door or an office separate from your house in the backyard, would be ideal to create the separation between being “at work” and “at home.” However, for many people, this is not an option.
In my case, my desk is in my bedroom, literally five steps away from my bed. If this is the case for you, I’ve found that is one way of keeping yourself in the mindset of working and also indicates to others (small children included) that you’re working. My wireless headphones are what I use to create this distinction. If the headphones are on, I am at work. If they’re off, I can have a conversation.
Another simple yet effective suggestion is closing the door when you need uninterrupted focus. Conversely, keeping the door ajar can indicate you are available for a chat. You can get creative with it and use Post-it notes of different colors to inform what state you’re currently in. The key is to find a physical or visual way to help create a psychological separation between work and home.
Say No to Staycations
When your office is just a few steps from your bed, it can be hard to switch off from work entirely. However, taking time off is essential for maintaining a healthy work-life balance. One way to make sure you are fully disconnected from work is to plan an actual vacation. Go somewhere you haven’t before, away from your “office.” Being in a new setting will help you recharge and serve as a reminder that you’re not supposed to be working.
If you do decide to stay home on vacation to catch up on your favorite shows or enjoy some much-needed downtime, it can be tempting to quickly respond to an email from a client or co-worker. I’ve lived this scenario once or twice. Responding to work emails or messages may seem harmless, but it can quickly erode the purpose of taking time off. Instead, I recommend setting the expectation with your team or clients that you’ll be unavailable. Time off should be just that: time off. Or else the purpose of it gets lost in a sea of Slack messages that you couldn’t resist.
When I started working from home, I thought I’d have a rough time being productive because of the many physical and mental distractions at the house. However, as time passed, I realized that being in an environment where I have control over my surroundings actually helps me focus better.
In a traditional office setting, you can’t control the temperature, the lighting, or the smell of someone microwaving fish in the break room. At home, you can adjust your environment to suit your needs to get into a good workflow. For me, personal quirks like blasting metal in my headphones, fidgeting, or playing imaginary double bass at my desk help me focus on the tasks at hand. That being said, not everyone would find this a great environment for their work style – trust me, I’ve received complaints.
It’s important to remember that you’re not always going to be able to be productive, and that’s perfectly fine. For example, you may need to make a call between babysitting a pipeline to see if it fails in the same spot or going out into the living room to help your significant other or child. In the grand scheme of things, it’s essential to strike a balance between work and personal life and recognize that there will be times when life outside of work takes precedence.
Results Only Workplace
Not everyone has the luxury of working at a company that is very understanding when it comes to balancing work and personal life. However, at Frogslayer, what sets us apart is that we understand that developers are people too. When I first joined the team, I learned about our Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) policy, which means it doesn’t matter where you work as long as you get the job done. Whether working at the office or from home, this approach has done wonders for balancing work and life. It allows us to do the best work in the places that work best for us and has fostered a sense of trust within our team.