Maybe it’s the time of year, and we’re feeling a warm and fuzzy feeling — one only amplified by strings of twinkling little lights and the promise of food-filled family get-togethers. Maybe it’s the overly saccharine overtones Mariah hitting the high notes in ‘All I Want for Christmas is You’ on repeat. Or maybe it’s that we’ve learned that one of the best things about remote work had nothing to do with work at all.
Over the last couple of years, many of us have slowly come to the same realization: that working a 9-5 meant we could only be with our families and loved ones from 5-9. And in retrospect, that didn’t seem like a very good trade-off.
Because even if companies say that their culture is like a family, it’s no substitute for spending time with the real thing. As our priorities have begun to shift, we’ve recentered our schedules around spending time with people that make our lives better.
That means taking your kid to the park, or spending time reconnecting with friends. Or as Chris says later on in this episode, getting more time with the people we care about the most, and doing the things that make us the happiest. And once you realize that, the whole work/life balance thing seems pretty simple. Because at the heart of it, it’s giving us time back to reconnect.
In this week’s episode, we’re getting right to the heart of what makes remote work so special. Carlos, Clare, and Chris reflect on how remote work has given them more time to be present with those most important to them.
“I can be there for bathtime, or if my daughter wakes up crying. So many parents don’t get that chance.”
Carlos Silva, SEO Content Manager, Chili Piper, Valencia, Spain
Carlos’ favorite thing to do is take his daughter to the park. His daughter, Chloe, is 15 months old, with dark brown eyes and rosy, cherubic cheeks. Her current favorite things, Carlos says, are Disney’s Frozen, tangerines, and opening the fridge. She hates having her hair brushed.
“She’s at that age where she’s starting to discover things,” he smiles. “She’s getting more comfortable with running and jumping and learning. She’s so much fun.”
Carlos takes Chloe to the park all the time. He’s there when she wakes up from her nap, when she needs dinner, or if it’s playtime. And he can because he works remotely, and because his company trusts him to have a life on work time. And that, he says, means the world to him.
“You see all these remote workers working in coworking spaces with their three screens,” he says. “They just go there for eight hours a day instead of an office. Their working environment and circumstances have changed, but their mentality hasn’t.
“Remote working means I can set my own hours. I might work really early in the morning, or really late at night — but I don’t mind, as long as I can spend time with Chloe.”
Carlos originally started working remotely because his life, in his own words, fell apart.
“I moved here from Venezuela eight years ago. And one of the things I always wanted to do was set up my own business. My wife and I set up a little coffee shop… But things ended up not working out with my wife. I lost the business along with it. I was in a really bad situation — I was not in my home country, and I didn’t have a job.”
But if remote work was the catalyst that helped Carlos get out of a bad situation, Chloe is the reason he keeps doing it. Now, he runs a popular newsletter called Hello Remote to pay it forward to other marketers looking for remote roles — because he wants others to have the same opportunities that he has.
“People send me emails to say ‘thanks’ all the time. They tell me they got the job. I wanted to help people like me, in bad situations, to find access to opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have.
“Because for me, having that trust to work remotely and asynchronously — and to be a dad at the same time — is huge. Nobody expects me to be at my desk for eight hours. When I’m not working, I’m taking Chloe to the park. I can be there for bathtime. I can comfort her if she wakes up crying from her nap. So many parents don’t get that chance.”
“I’m not that interested in the future of work — I’m far more interested in the future of living.”
Chris Herd, Founder and CEO, Firstbase, Aberdeen, Scotland
Chris says he missed a lot of his daughter’s ‘firsts’ when he worked in an office. Like her first steps, for example. Or her first babbled words. But he’s missed a lot fewer of these moments since he went remote and founded his company, Firstbase, from the north of Scotland.
Chris founded Firstbase to help companies deal with the logistical complexities of remote working, like sourcing desks and chairs for ill-equipped employees globally. But it was those missed parental milestones that became the catalyst for remote working, rather than the promise of solving a growing problem.
“I missed my daughter walking for the first time,” he says. “I missed her laughing and talking. That was the real reason I decided to go remote. I wasn’t around to see the people I care about progress.”
Chris now defines the rhythm of his day by his life, not his work. He puts in a few hours of work in the mornings before he takes his kids to school. He goes for a workout when he needs a boost. He’s there at the school gates when it’s hometime.
“It doesn’t really make sense to put myself and my team in a position where they’re not able to do great work,” he says. “For me, that’s getting up super early, working for a few hours, and taking some time off to reinvigorate myself. I’m able to produce far better work than I’ve ever been able to produce in my life, because I’m able to focus on how I work best.
“But I’m also able to be there for my daughter. I can be there to drop her off for her first day of nursery, and pick her up at the end of the day.
“I'm not that interested in the future work, if I'm honest,” he adds. “I don’t think people care about that. I think what people care most about is the future of living.
“Remote work has let me live closer to my family and the friends I grew up with. It meant I got to experience some of my daughter’s milestones, like her first day of school. It meant I could build a global technology company from a small city in the north of Scotland.
“I can be there to drop my daughter off for her first day of nursery or school — or attend
things I otherwise wouldn’t, because I’d be traveling. Ultimately, I get to spend more time with the people I care most about, and doing the things that make me happiest.”
“I have more connection, less stress, and less guilt.”
Clare Jones, Digital Marketing Manager, Custom Neon, Perth, Australia
Clare says one of her greatest fears when she was remote working involved a Nerf gun.
“I was always wondering if a child or a foam bullet would come whistling past me in the background,” she laughs. “I started sticking a sign on my office door saying ‘call in progress’, but they got wise to the fact that sometimes that was a lie.”
Clare is a busy mom of three, and it turns out that her fears that her teenage stepsons would storm her home office and pelt her with aerodynamic foam projectiles in front of her whole company were definitely founded. It happened more than once, she says.
But for Clare, these initial fears of losing face professionally gave way to something she valued much more. For the first time, she was able to experience more of those little family moments she’d been missing, like coaching her youngest son to ride a bike for the first time, or hunting for pine cones in the forests that border Perth, where they live.
“He had a fear of riding a bike ever since an accident when he was two,” she says. “We’d take just a few minutes every day on our lunch break to really focus on it and he finally cracked it. We’d go on a walk each day and play outdoor bingo. We followed the journey of a family of purple swamphens, watching their two chicks hatch and grow over the months. I really valued that time at home with the boys — even just a few days a week means I have more connection, less stress and less guilt.”
If there’s one thing that Clare hopes for the future, it’s that organizations start to re-examine their biases around working parents, and how remote work can enable them to do both, better.
“I think that it goes back to that feeling of having to choose between work and your kids — feeling like you might have to show up earlier, work harder, or that your efforts aren’t quantified in the same way as an employee without children,” she says. “I do both — I’m a full-time working mom. Organizations are starting to see employees as the people they are. That can only be a good thing.”