As the wife of a HelpDocs remote worker, I've read many blog posts that talk about what it’s like to work remotely. A quick Google search returns pages and pages of listicles full of top tips and tricks to be a better remote worker. They generally cover the good, bad and ugly consequences of fusing work and life so close the line between them is somewhat fuzzy.
What you don’t hear about is what it is like being married to one of these “I’m going to make the whole house my office” creatures. Is it really a dream? Does their work-life balance influence your work-life balance? Are they really working, or is this all some clever rouse so he can stay at home and play Xbox all day?
The short answers are: For my husband Matt (HelpDocs’ star marketer who totally didn't edit this!), yes; Sometimes; and, it seems legit (in the non-sarcastic sense)—though I’m still not 100% convinced. 😄
But, indulge me a moment and let’s have a chat shall we—though, we better not talk too loud as Matt’s in the other room zoned into his latest blog post, video or random marketing experiment. All movements and noises at such times are to be kept to the absolute minimum for the next 10 hours!
Rather than simply banging on about how amazing it is, or moaning about how one person can commandeer an entire house, and how “work-life balance” can often mean working until midnight because they’re “in the zone”, let's take a more balanced look, shall we?
The good, the bad, and the ugly
There are loads of benefits to having a partner who works from home. They’re always around for Amazon deliveries, and you never have to worry about what the dog is getting up to. Whenever something needs doing with the house—inspections, repairs, random visits from people who just want to say hi to the dog—you can be pretty confident they’ll be around. It's pretty great.
Hands down, my favourite perk of being a remote-work partner is chancing your luck as you run out of the door of a morning. A loud yell of “Oh! if you get a minute could you just do the washing up, hang the laundry, walk the dog and hoover the whole house” never fails to yield at least some results.
I know Matt knows I don’t expect him to do all the things that would normally take us a whole day to do. He knows I understand he’s working. It’s a joke. Kind of. Maybe a half joke!—Hey, even one of the things is ticked off the list when I get home it’s a bonus. 😄
In any case, don’t go feeling sorry for the poor “trying to juggle it all” remote worker just yet. It all comes full circle. I often receive a message on my way home with a list of errands: “Can you pop to the post office/ tip/ nip to the shop to pick up bread/ milk/ toilet roll/ snacks—always the snacks!—on your way home”.
I'm already out, so might as well stay out and do all the things, right? 😑
These messages always come when I’m 5 minutes from home—so close my brain and body are ready to surrender to the day. To be honest, I probably do it around 80% of the time—the other 20% I pretend I just didn’t get the message. Pro-tip: Sorry, I was driving is a great excuse!
Yes, these chores add a couple of hours on to my day. And yes, I have to divert into town at rush hour to complete them, but I’ll do it anyway—despite none of these stops being on my way home. Because I know he would if the welly boot was on the other foot.
Eventually I arrive home, soaked to the bone after beating back the lashing rain in the woods all day. There’s a 50% chance of sincere remarks about how he “had to turn the heating on because the weather’s been miserable”. Has it really, Matt? I hadn’t noticed!😠
I think that's one of the drawbacks to being a remote worker's other half. That slight jealousy-meets-irritation. Those bad weather days are when it really kicks in.
Leaving the house during torrential downpours, knowing you have to spend your day in it is made so much harder when your other half doesn’t have to. You look behind you on your way out the door and catch them switching the kettle on and making their workspace comfortable for the day. It’s heartwarming and infuriating all at the same time.
Then, there are the days when you don’t feel 100% but haven’t quite reached the “pull a sickie without self-judgement” level. It’s all made worse knowing working remotely isn’t even close to being an option. Being a forest school leader—a teacher of sorts—I think it would be a little inappropriate to invite a class full of kids back to our house for the day. And there’s no chance a video call would help me to teach the sessions either. In any case, I doubt the 3G coverage in the woods would be reliable enough.😩
Getting the balance right
One thing I have noticed is Friday evenings, although worth a nod, are no longer put on a pedestal. #FriYAY is a distant memory of an office we’re both happier without.
Instead of the conventional 5pm logoff, coats on, stumble out the office door and into your personal life, getting into the weekend is more a gradual fade than a clean break.
Until the blog post, video, or newsletter is finished, Matt will keep working. Often I think he finds extra things in that time too. Nevertheless, I know to stay quiet and out the way. Usually retreating to a warm bath with a good book. It's a hard life.
As a remote worker plus one, you also have to be proactive at
forcing encouraging more social interaction and adventures out of the house. And over time you discover ways to lure them out at weekends. Not pleading or begging them to put the damn laptop down, but little tricks that result in trips to see people and places.
It’s a strange one. I love being outside and going on weekend adventures, though as the one who’s out of the house all week sometimes I just want to curl up into a ball. So, finding that balance can be a challenge.
I do persist in my quest to keep at least some part of the weekend work free for us both—though occasionally I’ll have a woodland party to take, or Matt will need to write something.
The trouble with staying at home is that’s Matt’s workplace. And he enjoys his work so much he’d quite happy to adopt his usual spot on the sofa of a Saturday morning.
Once that laptop’s open, that’s it. Game over. He’s lost in his world of work.
And once he’s gone, he’s gone.
Getting out of the house at the weekend—or even midweek if we can—is good for us both. For Matt, I think being away from the workplace helps bring a fresh perspective. Often, our walks in the woods or along the seafront include formative discussions around blog posts, or what’s on in the coming week.
We often stop and sit to workshop ideas while exploring somewhere new or taking a leisurely trip for coffee in town. It’s not rare these expeditions lead to Matt’s “I’ve got it” moments and set him up in a positive, productive mindset for the week.
When it happens, I always feel a little bit helpful and have usually managed to divert our walk onto a longer path—or ordered a sweet treat to go with my coffee as Matt’s been immersed in the flow of his ideas. He rarely notices. Or if he does, he doesn’t let on. 🍰🥐
Remote Ps and Qs, and mastering facial expressions.
The thing with remote workers is they can be working at any time of the day. As a result, there's a little etiquette to observe, and a lot of it involves mastering the art of reading facial expressions.
There are looks, and then there are looks. Over time, I’ve learnt to tell the difference. I still have a little way to go I’m sure. But I've noticed most faces are a variation on one of three stock expressions.
The crinkled up face with deep brow lines 😐
This is a staple. Probably the most common expression I’ll see as I glance over. This face means “I'm fully focused on my work. If you talk now you will either not get an answer, or you’ll get a response that doesn’t match the question you have asked”.
It is characterised by intense focus and an angry-yet-soft and expressionless crinkling of the brow, coupled with rapid eye movements and minimal blinking—and the occasional pout when it’s super serious stuff.
Soft and relaxed with smiling eyes 🙂
This is the second most common—or the most common if there’s not much work to do! It means “I am working, but could spare a little brain capacity to take in a few words. You have a 50% chance of successful conversation”.
This face consists of a more relaxed focus, a slight smile in the mouth and eyes, and more of a raised brow than an angry crinkling.
The most tricky face is the “amused and chuckling” one. This could mean anything.
It could be that Matt’s talking to other team members of HelpDocs and perhaps they're engaged in their usual bouts of sarcastic banter. This still means he’s "working" and shouldn’t be interrupted just yet.
Or it could mean he is taking a break. In which case he’s probably watching a video of a Hedgehog dressed as a Unicorn on YouTube and I should quickly get in there. That’s funny shit that I don’t want to miss!
There are a few trickier aspects of remote etiquette to observe as a plus one. Things like listening before entering the room where Matt's working, when I am wandering around after showering, in case Matt’s on a video call. I imagine a semi-naked person bumbling about in the background, trying to locate a missing item of clothing might disrupt their focus and workflow.
I should point out, I have been successful in avoiding this situation to date, though there is bound to be a first time. I apologise in advance for when that moment comes.
All jokes aside, I love being married to a remote worker. Seeing Matt happy, content and fulfilled in his job while living his lifelong ambition to work from home in his pants is something I will never seriously moan about.
The fact is, Matt’s remote work is the most convenient situation for us both and has helped us find a great balance between work and life together. While I might moan about working in all weathers, he always greets me with a cup of tea—and the occasional bath—when I walk in the door. He’s usually walked the dog, and ticked a couple of things off the list. Like I said, bonus! 💫
The good things far outweigh the not-so-great, and I hope Matt can always live his work from home dream.