How to Balance Remote Working with a Hectic Family Life
Published 20 May 2020 at 19:42
When I started my entrepreneurial journey, working from home was new for me. My fledgling business could not afford the monumental rentals on Hong Kong properties. While working from home had its benefits like saving time, money, and travel efforts, it came with challenges. The biggest challenge was staying focused on my professional work. Everything about home, housework, and children always seemed more urgent and important and took precedence over the professional work. Then there were days when the housework was get neglected and professional work took the lead. Irrespectively, at the end of a 17-hour day, there would be a nagging question on my mind – am I doing enough?
COVID 19 has brought most of us to where I was, just a couple of years back. I found my friends and acquaintances exhausted from trying to balance work-home. Imbalanced life resulting in stress and fatigue, loss of control. It leaves one feeling exhausted and resentful, and there seems to be so much to do, yet so little time to attend to every single task on the 'to-do' list. All this can come at a heavy cost of strained relationships. The very people for whom one puts in all the work for, tend to become estranged because of this stress.
So how does one find a balance when surrounded by everything that is seemingly urgent and important?
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Why things go wrong when we work from home?
Stepping into one’s own work area at the office aligns one’s body and mind to the tasks at hand. Home-related issues though still there, take a back seat for some time. Until something comes up at the home front, one is totally immersed in work, blissfully oblivious to the functioning of the house. Even when something comes up, we solve it and go back to focus on work. When one comes back home, one leaves a large part of the office and related issues behind, and ready to be with the family.
When working from home, this demarcation is gone. Now there is no leaving home or office behind. They are both there. Competing with each other for the limited time attention and energy of the individual. The soft hum of the office activity that one is used to and that works as a white noise helping one focus on work is replaced with the loud, unfamiliar sounds. There could be a washing machine running sometimes when one is on an important call. Or while focussing on an especially challenging task, a brawl over a toy between the twins might leave you irritated to the core.
To top it all, there is that nagging feeling of being stuck at home without an end at sight.
What does one do?
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Start with conquering your own resistance. Most of our problems arise from thinking of how things were or could have been or should be. It creates resistance in finding the best solutions for the current situation. We have to remember, home is not an office. Home is accommodating the office and not the other way around.
We are no strangers to accepting and adapting. We adjust to a new work culture when we change job. We have all adapted to a new Manager’s way of working. There is no reason why this should be any different. One must accept that working from home cannot be as structured as at an office.
Once that is accepted, find out the daily pattern of the household activities and noise. Every household has a pattern. There are quiet hours and there are peak hours of noise and activity. If possible, schedule your important meetings/Zoom calls during quiet hours. Along with that, try to create a quiet corner for yourself. In a city like Hong Kong, where space is a constraint, this can be really challenging. Here, technology can come to one's rescue. Investing in noise-canceling headphones would be the best investment you will make for yourself and your family. Whether you are on call or not, once you have them on, you can practically be in “not-unavailable” mode.
There have been times when I have woken up exceedingly early in the morning or worked late at night when I needed peace, quiet and intense focus. These are the times when there is pin-drop silence and I am not disturbed for the smallest of perceived emergencies. Once one has accepted things the way they are, it just becomes easy to come up with your own solutions.
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Your family is your team too. We all know that for a team to work best, communication between the team members need to be transparent and clear. It falls upon the leader of the team to keep the communication flowing and to keep the team together.
In this context, it helps to communicate your expectations and understand the family’s expectations. While you expect not to be disturbed during an important meeting, the family would have their own requirements from you: like playing/spending time with you, watching their favourite shows, having friends over, helping with household chores, just to name a few. Once these two things are enlisted, it’s just a matter of coming up with how to go about meeting these expectations.
My husband usually has late-night calls. That is a time when my daughters and I gather around the table and share our day. When this process started, he would be doing his calls from our living rooms and our chuckles would distract him. When this continued for a few days, we decided to talk it out. It was not possible for him to change his call schedule, we decided to move him to another room if his call was happening during our “happy hours”. It was a win-win for both parties. Reading this instance, you might be thinking it is just pure and simple common sense. I would agree with you. The point though is common sense prevails when we are open to seeing each other’s point of view and needs. In the absence of that, it becomes a conflict.
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I just cannot emphasise enough on this one. Even our “smart” phones cannot work without a charge. It is a must to recharge oneself. Different people have different ways to recharge themselves. For me, spending time alone each day is a must. Know what helps you recharge. Then find out what time of the day would work best for you to recharge yourself. It's just as simple as that. Here are some of the ways I have come across on how people recharge themselves: hiking, meditation, watching something funny, volunteering, cooking, reading, listening to music, playing games, playing an instrument, gardening, a few from an endless list.
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It takes time to get used to it all. It becomes even more challenging when it was meant to be like this for only a few days. Only to realise this is steadily becoming the new normal. The faster we find our way through this, the better for us and for our relationships.
This new way of working can give you a lot of flexibility and opportunities to do things you could not do earlier. A friend of mine with a 3-year-old child said, "While it is challenging to work from home, I can see and record the antics of my child. Previously, I missed out on watching him grow up."
With a little self-realisation, a bit of planning and some self-discipline, we can make working from home a long-lasting memory.
By Shalini Bindal
About the Author:
Shalini Bindal is a Professional Coach certified by International Coach Federation (ICF). She focuses her coaching efforts on Teens, Parents and Women. Her one-on-one Cut-the-Clutter programme is designed to change the child’s thinking from negative to positive. Before becoming a Coach, she was a Human Resources professional and Corporate Facilitator. A mother of two teenagers, Shalini has lived in India, Belgium and now in Hong Kong. Email her for a 30-minute free in-person or virtual session email@example.com.