The School/Work Juggle

Before we had children, I thought I was an empathetic boss who understood the needs of my team. In those early days, James and I would often wake up just after 7 in the morning, he’d have a coffee, I’d have a cup of tea and we’d be at work just after 8 in the morning. I’d watch as some of our team would hustle in after school drop off and secretly think to myself that I’d already been at work for at least an hour. 

As the team would queue up out the door, anytime from around 3pm to 5pm, we’d often squeeze in additional hours at work. Eating dinner or holding late board meetings in the office wasn’t uncommon, it was in fact more our norm than not. 

And then we had kids and we both had a light bulb moment. 

Everything changed and I finally understood something critical. 

We didn’t have children not to raise them but also we hadn’t worked so hard at our career to not maximise the opportunities presented to us

So how do you make this work? 

James and I quickly realised that the ideal of “work/life balance” was more of a lie than anything else and what we needed to strive toward was work/life integration. 

We also quickly realised that if people aren’t happy at home – they aren’t happy at work and that these two aspects of our life really impact each other. 

So our philosophy quickly changed. We chose happiness, and that has meant that for us we actively choose our family. One, or often both of us are there at drop-off and pick-up. We refuse to sit in traffic and we manage our time in a way where we try to be as efficient as we can be both at work and at home. 

With Leila just starting school this week our life has again turned upside down. Mornings are slightly more rushed as we aim to get everyone ready for the (walking) school bus. At the end of the day we have to pick her up from her classroom, rather than the simple roadside pick-up with our big year 4! 

But the truth is, I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I wouldn’t miss walking to school, or the opportunity to chat with her teacher for five minutes about her day. Or simply hearing first hand how her day was and what’s been top of mind. 

At the same time, I’m not needed at work during these times. Those who work with us have been conditioned to book meetings when they know we are in the the Tend office and often this means that they themselves feel liberated in prioritising their family, their furry animal(s) or their hobbies. 

When I jump back online again, I don’t expect to see my team working. But I do expect to see my team working in a way that suits them. 

For some of our team this means emails at 1 am in the morning (night owls) while others start churning through their work at 6. Some people work more from the office and others more from home. We’re trying to create an environment where people can work in a way that suits them, which in turn suits the business.

I’ve always said that I believe in doing the right thing for our customer first and then the business. I apply the same philosophy to our people. I believe in doing what’s right for our people first and then the business because more often than not these two things align.

And yes there are roles where this simply doesn’t work, where there is a business and customer need which means you must be available during certain times of the day – but we’re even starting to change the way this works. Through virtual working and good tools – we can be far more efficient with how and where people work, enabling them to work in a way that suits not just us, but them too.

6 Tips to Managing the School/Work Juggle:

  1. Prime your team in advance – communicate that your schedule is about to change and that you will not be available around school start and finish times. Give as much notice as possible and start to shift any meetings that clash with this. If you are in an employment scenario, negotiate with your employer some flexibility around this. Establish clear boundaries and expectations to ensure you feel supported in getting the required work done while ensuring you meet your family responsibilities.
  2. Use tools to maximise your efficiency – the age of the internet and remote working has made it so much easier to do many forms of work at a range of times and locations. If you haven’t already, delve into tools such as Zoom, Slack, Asana, Google Drive and more to find ways to communicate and collaborate remotely.
  3. Inspire confidence and excitement in your kids before the big day – where possible, make trips to the school to meet everyone prior, and talk with your children about how exciting starting school is. Let them know that you know that they’ve got this and will be totally fine. On the day, give them a kiss and a cuddle and send them off to let the teachers do their thing. The more you act calm and instil confidence in them, the easier the drop-off will be. If you find yourself getting emotional, take some time after the drop off to yourself.
  4. Accept that the perfect work/life balance doesn’t exist – accept that life gets messy and you’re not going to get things right all the time. Strive instead for a work-life integration. Find a method that works for you in incorporating both your professional and personal priorities and do what you can.
  5. Do what’s right for the people first, then the business – this one applies more to those who own their own business. We’ve always believed in doing the right thing for the customer and for our people first, and the business second. Frequently, the right thing for both parties tends to align, which as a result benefits these key stakeholders as well as the business.
  6. Make sure you ask for help! From your partner, your family, colleagues and friends. Don’t suffer in silence!