Engineering Happiness as a parent

We often hear about the benefits of remote/distributed work as being able to travel the world and work from anywhere with an internet connection. Something I feel that needs prominence would be how this can help when you have a “caretaker” type role – for me, this is as a parent, but it isn’t limited to just that.

My journey to working at Automattic accelerated due to wanting to work from home and allow me to spend the most amount of time with my family and friends. When I applied, my son was just under a year and a half old. I had been working partly from home for six months and could feel the benefit already.

I’ve briefly written about this before on my own blog but not having a commute of any sort is incredibly freeing. In a normal week I take my children to school and nursery, I make the dinner, do household chores, and am able to see friends during the day. Often it is even the menial things like hanging up a washing during the day when the sun is out which really help overall.

We schedule our own work day and this allows us to fit in non-work events. I know what my schedule is in general so I can plan my work shifts to match that. I have a shared family calendar – I put in my work shifts, and my wife and I put in everything that is happening. That isn’t specific to remote work, that is just sensible in my view. We can see what is happening each week. Aside from my “general availability” at work, I can move things around week-to-week if I need. Dental appointment, parent/teacher meeting, catch up with a friend, these are all things that working in an office on a fixed 9-5 is extremely frustrating to plan in. Now, I don’t need to think “Do I have to put in for a full day holiday in five weeks on Thursday so I can make this 30-minute appointment?!”, I can have that follow up with my dentist because they have a slot at 2.30pm and that helps because I’m picking up the kid from school anyway.

This ability to set my schedule within reasonable hours that work for me really has made a difference, I’m able to be around for my family more. I worked in a shop when my son was born until he was about four months old, I luckily didn’t miss out on any milestones but I am now around to see them when my office door isn’t closed. I can catch those fun interactions with my almost-four-year-old son like when he doesn’t understand a street sign.

Now two and a half years on from starting full time, I still stop and think “What would I do if my wife and I worked 9-5 typical jobs? We wouldn’t be able to do this.”.
I’m able to take them to school and nursery, pick them up, share their days, spend time with them during the day when they’re at home. When I worked in the shop, I was out of the door for just after 8am, five days a week and not home until after 6pm. Young kids mean you want to have the evening meal at a sensible time, you can’t just make something at 8pm. I’m able to start dinner during the day, do most of the household duties like washing and dishes, and still work. This means more time in the evening to spend with my wife, more time on the weekends not doing a frenzied cleaning spree, being able to eat dinner and put the kids to bed at a sensible time.

This tweet by Dan Kim really sums it up:

I haven’t had 2.5 hours a day commute but rough math makes my total about 20 days. Over three work weeks of time saved every year because I can work from home when I want to. Nevermind the time saving, the cost factor is huge as well.

Plus, when I choose to do Live Chat at 6am, I get to do work when everyone is still asleep and I haven’t had to travel far. Literally get out bed, make coffee, then go into my home office wearing a t-shirt and pajama bottoms because that is how I work best in the morning.

I’m so thankful that doing great work supporting customers around the world doesn’t mean I have to put on a suit and go into an office – been there, done that, not for me.

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Checking Slack and someone else is making sure you are working hard.

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