A SYNCNI article passed by on my Twitter feed this morning, talking about balancing work life balance while working from home in these times of COVID-19 inspired lock down. The associated Twitter thread expressed an interest in some words of advice from men to other men (because of course the original article has the woman having to do all the balancing).
This post does not contain the words of advice searched for, but it hopefully at least offers some reassurance that if you’re finding all of this difficult you’re not alone. From talking to others I don’t think there’s anything particularly special we’re doing in this house; a colleague is taking roughly the same approach, and some of the other folk I’ve spoken to in the local tech scene seem to be doing likewise.
First, the situation. Like many households both my wife and I work full time. We have a small child (not even a year and a half old yet). I work for a software startup, my wife is an HR business partner for a large multinational, dealing with employees all over the UK and Ireland. We’re both luckily able to work from home easily - our day to day work machines are laptops, our employers were already setup with the appropriate VPN / video conferencing etc facilities. Neither of us has seen any decrease in workload since lock down; there are always more features and/or bugs to work on when it comes to a software product, and, as I’m sure you can imagine, there has been a lot more activity in the HR sphere over the past 6 weeks as companies try to work out what to do.
On top of this our childcare arrangements, like everyone else’s, are completely gone. Nursery understandably shut down around the same time as the schools (slightly later, but not by much) and contact with grandparents is obviously out (which they’re finding hard). So we’re left with trying to fit 2 full time jobs in with full time childcare, of a child who up until recently tried to go down stairs by continuing to crawl forward.
Make no mistake, this is hard. I know we are exceptionally lucky in our situation, but that doesn’t mean we’re finding it easy. We’ve adopted an approach of splitting the day up. I take the morning slot (previously I would have got up with our son anyway), getting him up and fed while my wife showers. She takes over for a bit while I shower and dress, then I take over again in time for her to take her daily 8am conference call.
My morning is mostly taken up with childcare until nap time; I try to check in first thing to make sure there’s nothing urgent, and get a handle on what I might have to work on later in the day. My local team mates know they’re more likely to get me late morning and it’s better to arrange meetings in the afternoon. Equally I work with a lot of folk on the US West coast, so shifting my hours to be a bit later is not a problem there.
After nap time (which, if we’re lucky, takes us to lunch) my wife takes over. As she deals with UK/Ireland folk she often ends up having to take calls even while looking after our son; generally important meetings can be moved to the morning and meetings with folk who understand there might be a lot of pot banging going on in the background can happen in the afternoon.
Having started late I generally work late - past the point where I’d normally get home; if I’m lucky I pop my head in for bath time, but sometimes it’s only for a couple of minutes. We alternate cooking; usually based on work load + meetings. For example tonight I’m cooking while my wife catches up on some work after having put our son to bed. Last night I had a few meetings so my wife cooked.
So what’s worked for us? Splitting the day means we can plan with our co-workers. We always make sure we eat together in the evening, and that generally is the cut-off point for either of us doing any work. I’m less likely to be online in the evening because my study has become the place I work. That means I’m not really doing any of my personal projects - this definitely isn’t a case of being at home during lock down and having lots of time to achieve new things. It’s much more of case of trying to find a sustainable way to get through the current situation, however long it might last.