Executive Insider

Working from Home During the Holidays

Freelance writer

5 Tips to Mix Family with Work Without Losing Your Mind: “I worked from home at my parents a few weeks ago and really struggled,” Says Claire Donald, VP of Engineering at Moo. “Nobody actually believed I would (or could) work! Constant interruptions, visitors…I had to go to my sister’s empty house the second day for some peace and quiet!”

Thanks to cloud computing and remote collaboration tools, you can work from (nearly) anywhere. This is a boon for workers who wish to plan extended visits with distant relatives. However, mixing business with family comes with challenges.

Use these five tips to get work done without ruining family relationships:

Tip One: Schedule Space for Family Time, Ahead of Time

“When I’m visiting family, I’m there to see them and I’ve learned to be flexible,” says Chrystal Akor, Manager at Kaplan Test Prep. “My four-year-old nephew gets up early when he knows I’m there. Our visit goes better if I take time to play with him for a few hours in the morning before making my calls.”

Creating space for family time means choosing which to-dos to complete before your trip. You might assume that you should get all of your meetings out of the way before you go. In reality, there are many virtual options for attending meetings from a different location. It’s work that requires focus that suffers. Spend the week leading up to your trip knocking out the tasks that require you to think for longer stretches without interruption.

Tip Two: Create a Schedule Together

Business leaders create buy-in through collaboration. Ask your family stakeholders for their input. Then display the schedule so everyone knows when it’s time to visit and when it’s time for work.

Molood Ceccarelli, CEO and founder of Remote Forever Summit, uses the principles of Agile to do so. She creates a Kanban calendar ahead of time and uses sticky notes on the fridge:

“Every Christmas, when my mother-in-law visits us, we spend a few minutes creating a backlog of all the activities we could potentially do during the week. Every morning, when we’re gathered in the kitchen to have breakfast, we collectively pick a few activities from the backlog and put them on the day’s agenda. At the end of the day, everyone is happy, because essentially every one has been involved in making all the decisions.”

Tip Three: Explain What Working from Home Means

Sometimes family members interrupt because they don’t understand the nature of your work. “I wish I had spent some time explaining what working from home would have looked like beforehand,” says Ms. Donald, quoted above. “They really didn’t get what I was doing on Slack and video calls, which are all instant. They envisaged me typing documents on my laptop or something!”

Other times, relatives don’t connect the faces in your laptop with “real” people. “One of our people’s mum was convinced she was involved in some sort of scam,” says Tim Burgess, CEO of Shield GEO. “Then one time she went to her mum’s house to stay for a few days. One of those days she worked. Her mum came to peek at our video conference and was finally satisfied that she had a real job with real people!”

Depending on your company culture, introducing your family to your colleagues can sometimes resolve the problem. But use caution before doing so. Your uncle may be less likely to interrupt your meeting if he has to say hi to your employees, but your sister’s toddler may take that as permission to join all of your other calls.

Tip Four: Unplug during “Visiting Hours”

Alexander Embiricos, CEO of Remotion, says, “It’s important to help your family feel acknowledged. I find it easier to carve out time for work if I make sure to be as present with family as possible during meals or other activities, which I block out on my calendar.” Make use of the do-not-disturb feature on your device if you have difficulty ignoring its pings and tweets.

To truly unplug, manage your colleagues’ expectations. They won’t remember when you’re available and when you’re not. Leave a detailed out-of-office message on all the platforms where you collaborate. Jane from marketing is less likely to text you during family time if she knows you’re coming back online in an hour.

Tip Five: Craft a Plan B

The internet at your parents’ house may be weaker than advertised. Your brother’s kids may play ‘Baby Shark’ loudly on repeat. As any veteran remote worker can tell you, it pays to know where the nearest library, coffee shop with WIFI, and coworking spaces are located. Put the information into your phone and note their hours of operation.

Mixing relatives and work may sound like a recipe for disaster—but it doesn’t have to be. Pre-emptively lighten your workload before you visit, collaborate on creating a clear schedule, and keep a Plan B in your back pocket. You’ll carve out the time you need to deepen your relationship with your family while also forging ahead in your business.


Have you read?

For those who are planning their next business trip, read on for our list of the world’s best cities for bleisure travelers. As you continue to travel, we continue to listen: Here are the best hotels for business travelers to stay in Athens, Crete, Kefalonia Island, Corfu Island, Santorini Island, Halkidiki, Mykonos Island, Rhodes Island. Skiathos Island, Kos Island, Lefkada Island, Zakynthos Island.

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Teresa Douglas
Teresa Douglas is the co-author of Working Remotely: Secrets to Success for Employees on Distributed Teams. She has worked remotely since 2010 in a variety of management-level roles. She resides in Vancouver, British Columbia. Teresa Douglas is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine.
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