Tips on working from home while being around your spouse and kids
When my partner and I started our agency in 2011, we couldn’t afford a physical office and had to ‘work’ from home. I considered this liberation from an actual work place to be the most enjoyable part of my new life. High on entrepreneurship ideals, I wrote proposals from my bed, took naps during working hours and stayed in my comfy pyjamas for days. But alas, after a few months, my wife was sick of me lazing around at home all day and forced me out and Ishtehari had to find a proper office.
Nearly a decade later, I’m back to square one. This time, however, things are a little different. Our five-year-old is in the mix too, and I now actually want a dedicated physical office to ‘go’ to. Suffice it to say that the last two weeks have been interesting. I’m no expert, but here are some hacks that might help you juggle work and family in the same physical space a little better.
1. Set Boundaries Around ‘Busy Time’
Assuming your kid is old enough to comprehend this concept (and hopefully your spouse too), establish the sanctity of work time. Declare a start and an end time for your day and be disciplined about sticking to it with yourself and your family. If you are in advertising this will be tough… but the other alternative is burnout and/or insanity. I have told my son to video call me on WhatsApp if he wants to ask me something in my busy time, even if he is literally across the table from me. If I’m busy, I can choose to decline the call and he gets the message.
2. Be Generous With Breaks
Breaks are about balancing the rigidity of busy time. I have a hunch that most of us don’t realise exactly how much unproductive time there is at the office as well. Now that you don’t have co-workers to distract you, you can funnel that into family time. If both parents are in WFH mode, you will want to schedule this properly. Use these breaks to do essential but unconventional activities together, like making a healthy snack or fixing some Dalgona Coffee.
3. Explain Your Work Persona
Most people have a different personality at work compared to how they behave at home. This can be disorienting, especially for spouses when they eavesdrop on your calls (“OMG you are such a take-charge type with your co-workers, while with us you are a disorganised lazy bum!). You may want to explain this concept to your significant other and let them discreetly sit in your virtual meetings so they can discover this other side of you.
4. Recognise the ‘Home’ in WFH
Your home is a sacred space that you share with family members and is not designed for work productivity. I know it’s a necessity in Covid times, but most of us are effectively invading our kids’ spaces, behaving like the Somali pirate in Captain Phillips. So be gentle and accommodating and remember that everybody is in the same boat. If your kid accidentally bumps into the webcam frame, don’t be embarrassed. Introduce him/her by name as your ‘helper’ and I’m sure the other side with understand.
5. Rediscover the Power of Audio
Now is the time to put those headphones and Bluetooth speakers to good use. Queue up some brown or white noise playlists to help block out household sounds. This is also a great opportunity to introduce kids to podcasts. There is an entire world of amazing audio content out there which is free and caters to almost every age group and topic. Best part? No screen time!
6. Create a Worry-Free Perimeter
If you have kids in that age range, now is the perfect time to map out a worry-free zone in your house. It doesn’t have to be super big. Cordon off one area and put clear markers around the boundary so that your kids know where it begins and where it ends. Within it, take out all the things that could be dangerous or potentially messy and put in all the things they will enjoy. Don’t overdo it, use this space strategically when you need to focus and want to let your guard down. You can probably try this on your spouse too, but discreetly (evil grin).
They say that Covid-19 will fundamentally change the way the world behaves. Who knows? Maybe commuting and physical office spaces will be relics soon. Will the home-office become a standard feature of our life? Will we have to re-evaluate the importance of family-time versus work-time in our waking hours? Whoops, I’m getting a WhatsApp call from my son/helper. Gotta go!
Umair Kazi is Partner, Ishtehari.