Working outside of business hours

Thanks to the rapid change in technology, communications and travel costs we no longer find ourselves doing business with local partners, but in fact are working more globally than ever before. This might mean dealing with a contractor or supplier in another country, or even conducting a large part of your business overseas. Technologies such as Skype and Lync and the prevalence of mobile access be it WiFi or cellular make this a lot easier as we are now able to access these technologies from any location and on any device.

Unless you are Dr Who – time still matters, and with it come time zones and the challenge of international conference calls.

So while it’s easy to send an invite to someone in another country, find a suitable time for both parties is a bit trickier. This can especially be hard when you are dealing with people in multiple continents.

Being in Australia we are second only in time zone to New Zealand (and a smattering of islands) – the downside of this is that our European and US counterparts are coming online when we are finishing work or asleep. My basic rule of thumb is that my European colleagues are online towards the end of my day, whereas my US colleagues are well into their afternoon when I am waking up – the next day (according to the calendar). What this means is that for me to converse with European or US colleagues/partners/MVPs/vendors I either need to make calls in my evening or early in the morning.

How does this affect me as a father, as this can quite easily consume precious morning time or take up my evening relaxation time?

The concept of having a global role is not unique – many people already have this, and I deal with some on a regular basis. These people are quite amenable to having calls late at night, early in the morning, or even the middle of the night as their job requires it. The benefit of being a work from home dad is that I (nor my fellow employed fathers in Paradyne) don’t have to do the traditional 8:30am-5pm shift and can instead work around our conference calls. For example this morning I had a 7am conference call with a vendor in the US as it worked out to be the end of their day. Sometimes these calls occur with me in a robe (apologies for the visual), sometimes I’m already up and dressed in jeans and company polo – it comes down to whether I’m doing video or not. J

In exchange for starting so early I chose to sit and have breakfast with my wife and daughter, and instead got back to my desk closer to 9am. The flexibility extends to being able to finish earlier in the day to spend time with my family again, then to return to the study and finish up some work from earlier in the day.

For some this level of flexibility is not required. For others the continual flipping of work vs. non-work modes is not something they would feel comfortable with. As long as I’m available during the day when most of my local peers work – I’m also available the rest of the time when those in other parts of the world are too.

The fact remains that thanks to the cloud work is something I do – not somewhere I go or have to be at a certain time. Business hours are no longer just those in your local time zone.

Focus on fatherhood

Chloe

This is my daughter Chloe. She’s 16 months old and a complete dork. I love her to bits, even when she’s sick and wakes me up in the middle of the night with a gentle cough.

The thing with Chloe is that I’ve spent almost every day of her life at home with her since she was born. However clearly I’m not a stay at home mum – I’m something a bit different: a work from home dad.

Just before Chloe was born last year I made the decision to close the Paradyne physical office in Melbourne and went back to being a work-from-home company. It was purely coincidental that my wife was due to give birth a month later which as a father-to-be meant I would be around more to help her.

At first working from home with a newborn was challenging, especially as I had no dedicated workspace at the time due to giving up my study for Chloe to have her own bedroom. Within a short period of time we moved to a bigger place with more space and something important for me – my own study to create a physical separation between home and work lives.

Ok, so I work from home – big deal, lots of people do it. This isn’t news is it? No, it’s not.

The difference however in my situation is that it isn’t just me who benefited from this arrangement.

While the return-to-work mother who works from home part time and looks after her kids story is not new (and I employ a couple of them), I believe a new story arises about the work from home dad.

As I said it isn’t just me who benefits from working from home. Several of my male staff at Paradyne have kids of various ages. The ages vary from teenagers, to primary school, down to pre-school and toddlers like my own.

Having a full time job can be demanding in this day and age. We’re expected to do longer hours, be available out of hours, and even be online and checking emails in the evenings and on weekends. This is not necessarily true for all organisations or employers but is certainly a common theme amongst todays workers. While it is not something I expect of my staff the nature of our business (Office 365 migrations) requires that sometimes we do work after hours.

Being the son of Russian immigrants who came to Australia with empty pockets I was raised to be a workaholic. I have many memories of seeing my parents working day and night, and recall my father spending most evenings on the computer doing the company accounts. Weekends and school holidays as a child were often occupied with me spending time sitting in the car waiting for my father to finish working at the site he was on. While I have taken after my father and started my own business I have learnt the mistakes he made of not spending quality time with his child.

When I started Paradyne the goal was to have a lifestyle business – work 3-4 days per week and take home a good salary but have more time for life. Unfortunately that didn’t last long as my thirst for cloud technologies kicked in and my workaholic nature took over. As you can expect in the early years of the business I worked crazy hours as we were small and had a lot of work to do. Now the team has grown and our systems are strong  so while I still have a lot of work to do – I am more flexible about how and when I can do it.

Every time I sit at the computer in the evening or weekends the memory of my father doing the company accounts at night flashes into my mind, but there’s a very big difference here – I can stop during the day and spend time with my family.

Something we have to admit to ourselves as humans is that we all work for personal reasons. We can say that we’re in this for the common good, or to help customers, grow the business, or whatever other reason exists – and while those are definitely true the key reason we work is to earn money and put food on the table for our family.

In the cloud era where we don’t need to necessarily come into a physical office the dynamic changes and not only does our work allow us to feed our family, but the work style allows us to spend more time with them.

Where normally we might get up and spend fleeting moments with our kids as we rush out the door to beat traffic and get to the office, the work from home dad is able to sit and spend time with their kids and helping out their partner. Usually it is business owners that have the luxury of being more flexible with their hours, but in the cloud era that benefit is extended to all staff in the business.

At Paradyne full time staff are not required to be at their computers and online between 8:30am – 5pm. There is an expectation of being available during those hours, but not of sitting at the desk.

Out of the 11 male employees at Paradyne, 4 have at least one child and 1 is a soon-to-be father.

For those fathers we save at least 1 hour a day in travel time, which is an extra hour in the day we can spend with our family. If our partners or children need us we can stop working and help out, then come back and make up the time (if required) at a later point.

Personally I find the end of the day to be the busiest, which usually means that at 5:30pm I’m still working at a blistering pace. Between 5:30pm to 7pm Chloe has dinner, a bath and a play. Even though I still have work to do I step away from the study, leave my phone behind, and work on squeezing the last bits of energy out of Chloe before she goes to sleep for the night. The best of doing this is that we can get to the park while there’s still daylight!

Recently my wife (who works part time in Paradyne doing change management for our larger customers) has had to travel interstate for a customer project which has meant that I’ve had to spend more of my daytime hours being a dad. Easy done! I simply blocked out the times I needed to be 100% focussed on my daughter, left my phone in the study, and switched to dad mode. When she went to sleep at night and the house was in order I then went back to the study to catch up on my work. This didn’t mean I was working longer hours – I simply shifted them.

While many organisations support working from home, often these programs fall flat due to managers within the organisation not being comfortable with the concept and wanting to see their staff in the office. Many of my Microsoft colleagues have families and will often work from home (it was one of them who suggested I write about this topic) as their technology stack is built to support this. Another key partner of ours Telstra promotes this, however several of my colleagues there have told me that their direct line manager wants to see them in the office 5 days a week during business hours – despite the organisation promoting flexible working arrangements.

I believe that with recent changes to technology such as cloud and mobility – the nature of our work can change. While working from home can impact the way teams work there are things that can be done to address this in other ways. The thing we as fathers need to seize upon is this change in technology and use it to spend more time with our kids.

I’ll be writing a few more posts about working from home full time and what that means as a father, so stay tuned!

Chloe-me-park