After working remotely for a little over a decade now, one of my most difficult and rewarding aspects is family. My family includes my partner, 2 boys, a mother-in-law, and our dog. While this isn’t a huge family, in a 1000 sq ft house it can be hard to find space and time to concentrate on work. However being able to take a lunch break and spend time with everyone is a great way to recharge in the middle of the day. For me and my family we needed to find a balance between work and interacting with each other.
The Three Rules of Working from Home
At the start it was chaos. It seemed great, but there were underlying things that eventually caught up with us and slowly started to work away at our happy little home. These unseen issues resulted in symptoms like longer work days, negative family interactions, and general slobbery. After a bit of discussion we determined that the root cause of our issues was always being available/engaged. We came up with three simple rules to set boundaries.
Dedicated Work Space
When first starting out I just found wherever to work around the house. Ended up being the dining room table most of the time. The problem with this is I was always around and usually in the center of the house where the family was coming and going.
I created a dedicated work space in our bedroom. While not ideal it was the only choice to put me outside the normal flow of our family in our limited space. We have since moved to a new location. While we were house hunting, I was specifically looking for a space that would be my office, away from the daily distractions.
With a dedicated work space I can keep that space as a place for work only. It helps me to separate that mentally so I can stay focused, and then be able to walk away when my work day is done.
Treat Work Time as Away Time
Another issue when I was starting out, it was easy to drop work and take care of something around the house. This would happen because I heard the kids crying or my partner would need help with something. There were two problems with this. One, it kept interfering with me getting work done which resulted in having to put in longer hours. It also created an expectation that I could drop things and help out, which wasn’t always the case. This caused resentment all around.
This rule is basically saying, we treat my home office as if I were heading into an actual office. My family knows that I should only be contacted if they would contact me at the “office”. It also means I am heads down trying to get work done. Trusting that anything that comes up can be solved by my family.
Another symptom that this solves is working in my pajamas all day. I get up, take a shower and get ready like I would if I were heading into an office. This greatly improved my mental state. While being able to work in pajamas can be cool, doing it all the time got me depressed.
Before Work, Lunch, and After Work is Family Time
I still wanted to take advantage of working from home. In order to facilitate that, any time that I am not at work is time we can spend together. Having breakfast together, having a consistent lunch time, and greeting my family when finished with my work day were all purposeful acts.
Rarely do I go to my work space after my work day is done. This helps with that mental separation that keeps me from working long hours and keeps our family relationship strong.
Bending the Rules
After we had established our rules and had followed them for a while, we learned we could bend them a bit and not fall into old habits. When I started working remotely, my boys were 2 and 4 years old and were home for the most part. Now that they are older, they aren’t home for lunch.
Instead taking mini breaks during the day allows me to go check on them and see if they need help when they get home from school. These mini breaks are also a great time to play with our dog. She is a great stress reliever, that never fails to put a smile on my face. Always wagging her tail, ready to play.
Lunchtime is precious. Some things are better to do in the middle of the day. Getting my lunch delivered during work so we can spend time riding bikes or working in the garden during my lunch break.
When we lived in our smaller house, it was harder to separate work from home. Some days I needed an escape plan. A place I could go to get away and focus on the work at hand. This started off as a once-in-awhile trip to the local coffee shop. Since I don’t drink coffee, I definitely felt out of place. Also, it wasn’t all that quiet. The ultimate solution was once a week heading into a local coworking spot. It was perfect. I not only got the separation and quiet, but I also got to meet new people in the same kind of position I was in. Some of my best friends I enjoy hanging out with I meet while at the coworking place.
Now that I have a dedicated place in our new house that is very separated from the daily routine, I haven’t really had a need/desire to head back to a coworking office. Now I just enjoy my daily commute down the flight of stairs into my home office.
While our solution might not be for everyone hopefully there are some good take-aways in there for you. Figure out the root cause of your working at home woes. Come up with some rules to fix the root issues. Adjust as needed.
It took me quite a while to get to where I am at today, but it is well worth it.