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Maintaining the Work-Life Balance
Lately, I've noticed a lot of articles and Internet discussion about one serious downside to working at home: as the lines between work and family blur, it can be difficult to ensure that the time we spend with our kids and partners is "quality" time, and not constantly interrupted by technology (email, PCs, Blackberries, etc.). Here's one recent discussion, from the Times:With more of us working at home at least part of the time, balancing work and "life" is a real and growing issue. That said, a lot of the comments I've seen on this topic suggest that many parents who work at home do so without any daycare for their younger children. That's a mistake. You should treat a home-based work day as you would an office-based one. You wouldn't take your kids to work; having them home while you work isn't really any different. So if you are working from home on a regular basis, make sure the little ones have childcare in place.
But what about those of us who are juggling work and family outside of normal business hours? You don't have to officially work from home to work from home-everyone I know in a knowledge-based industry takes their work home with them, whether it's on a mobile device or a PC. From 5pm-10pm I routinely check email and work on projects in between family-related activities, including making and eating dinner, helping with homework, reading bedtime stories, tidying the house, paying bills, and, if I'm really lucky, catching up on Lost. I'm guessing you do, too.
Unified communications is supposed to make us more productive. But does it? Frankly, I'm not sure. Twenty years ago, I worked as the entertainment editor for a major consumer magazine. We did page layouts on paper; it was quite literally impossible to work outside the office, and we didn't. But we also rarely stayed past 5:30pm, and few of us arrived before 9:30am. Today, magazines are laid out on computers, and thanks to technology, writers and editors can do their jobs from anywhere. But my friends in the industry routinely work late nights and on many weekends. And yet, funny thing-they're still putting out a magazine that looks and feels a lot like the ones I worked on.
If you ask me, the biggest difference between then and now is the level of distraction in the workplace. Twenty years ago, it was pretty easy to focus on work while at work; with the exception of the occasional cubicle visit or birthday celebration, there wasn't all that much else to do. (It's not like you could sit there and read the paper without everyone knowing.) Today...well, we all know what it's like today. When was the last time you had eight full, uninterrupted hours to focus on anything?
Of course, there's also the pull of 24/7 availability, which allows us to answer emails and IMs at all hours of the day and night. The truth is, for most of us, those messages could wait for a response. But we've all gotten habituated to immediate feedback, a kind of instant call-and-response.
The only fix, it seems, is to retrain ourselves and our colleagues: During business hours, work hard to stay focused on your business. Use presence information to signal unavailability; turn off your wireless router and decouple yourself from the Internet; decline meetings unless they are critical to the job you need to get done. Then, after hours, hide your iPhone in a locked closet, and give your kids the key.
And as for whether we're robbing our children of precious parental attention? I'll take some comfort in this comment on the Times blog, from a poster named Gatreell: "My Mom was a stay at home Mom til I was in high school. That didn't mean I had her undivided attention. I was supposed to go out and play, or read, or somehow entertain myself, and if I had an emergency, she was there. She cooked and cleaned and gardened and visited with friends and ran errands."
What do you think: