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Adjusting to the Freedom of Working From Home

Remote

10 May, 2021

Jean du Plessis
Jean du Plessis

Director of Engineering at Sourcegraph

Jean du Plessis, Director of Engineering at Sourcegraph, found himself mastering the art of working remotely long before the practice became as common as it is currently.

Problem

I started working remotely in 2019, before it became the norm due to the coronavirus. This was after fifteen years in a traditional office. That was all that I knew at the time; my management style was based on being with my team face-to-face in person.

Working remotely full-time was something that I needed to adapt to, and, at first, I was scared of it. The transition turned out to be great, however; in fact, I found that some of my relationships with my colleagues had actually become much closer.

By coincidence, we had enrolled my kids in a homeschooling program around the same time due to illness unrelated to the pandemic. One of the first things that I remember from this time was the joy of being able to be present for moments that I would have never been around for otherwise while working as I was before. When working in an office, your life is ruled by the clock. You spend so much time in traffic and doing other things that take so much away from your real life. The stress of trying to fit the important parts of life around the necessity of work, and even the mundane ones, such as doctor’s appointments and the like, can be very difficult to contend with at times. It is so much less stressful to just be able to live and to do things without being bound by this obligation.

I see them right now. They’re learning to read and to write. Working from home, I have so much more time to bond with them than I did before. It can be difficult to find a way to break away in order to do my job.

Actions taken

Like with any job, some separation is necessary in order to close the door when the time for business has come. I actually have a sign that I put on the door to my office; one side is red, and the other is green. My kids know that when it’s flipped to the red side, I’m in a meeting or need to focus on a task. It doesn’t always work, but it gets us through. Little things like this will help you manage the balance when juggling family and work in the same space.

I’m very fortunate to work for a company that doesn’t mind the occasional interruption. Everybody gets it; these things come with the territory. I tend to work later hours in order to stay within reach of colleagues in different timezones. I’ve personally embraced nonlinear days. I generally will not work from nine to five. Sometimes, I’ll take an extended lunch with my kids and compensate by putting in a few extra hours at the end of the day. You can break up your time as long as your job is getting done.

What is important is to block out your family time on your calendar. I have a recurring event on my calendar between six PM and nine PM set aside for my family specifically. Are we always able to accommodate this? Sometimes, an important meeting comes up. At least I know that this is the time that I always try to carve out for them.

Lessons learned

  • One of the traps that you can fall into when working from home is not switching off, especially when working in a company that spans multiple timezones. It honestly takes more self-discipline in remote work to create that balance, but the opportunity to have a much more flexible life is so rewarding.
  • In this same vein, notification overload, especially in big companies that rely on Slack communication and the like, can be overwhelming at first. You can get caught up while spending too much time trying to stay on top of everything. You need to find balance in terms of filtering through all of this noise. What are the things that you really need to be aware of? What are the things that you can ignore? This communication is asynchronous. It’s okay to not answer every single message immediately. You want to create a pulling type of relationship with the information, as opposed to being pushed by it.
  • Having a dedicated work space helps you to mentally disconnect when you leave that space. You can close your laptop and leave the room, entering your home across a line that may otherwise become blurred under these conditions. This allows you to be fully present for your family life.
  • Balancing work and life has less to do with how much time you devote to either side. For me, it’s about the one half being able to accommodate the other when the need to focus on something important presents itself. It’s not about trying to shut either down. It’s a give and a take and harmony between the two frees you to be yourself in both spaces.

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