It was Sunday night and Ryan’s flight was delayed. He needed assistance reworking transportation in both his departure and arrival cities. Sunday night. I was straightening the house after hosting my extended family for dinner. Work could wait until Monday morning – until it couldn’t.
This is typical for my “work” schedule, and typical for working with an entrepreneur who started his business just a few short years ago. We are a start up. Everyone on our team works when it needs to be done. We aren’t tied to times or days – we just make it happen.
A few years back, I wrote about work-life balance and what that meant to me as a working mom. I strongly believe that every person has to make their own decision about what works for their family at the time. As a professional with three children in middle school, I have worked full-time, part-time and not at all. I have worked in an office and from home. Each time, the situation was the right decision at the time. Now, I work full-time from my home office. But as a key support to Ryan Estis, a small business owner, my “full-time” means something different every week. I’ve come to think of my work life as the new normal.
The New Normal
I’ve always prioritized having a full life — at work and outside work. I worked in the corporate world for 15 years, and it was important that my company valued my life outside of work. In my current role, I feel that Ryan absolutely values my priorities and my personal life. But what happens when your work and your life become so intertwined that there is no dividing line?
I talk to more and more working professionals who find themselves in the same position. What I’ve realized: We haven’t set rules to organize or understand the new normal at work. When I worked in sales for a big company, I drove to work, started my day, got everything done from 9 to 5, then went home. Work was over. But my job now doesn’t work like that — almost no one’s does. Following old-school rules and holding outdated expectations about what work looks like will only leave you frustrated and confused. So, I’ve had to write my own rules to help me set fair expectations and cobble together a work/life blend that’s realistic for how work works today..
I Set Boundaries
My biggest challenge is setting boundaries on work and life.
I have been given the gift of workplace flexibility. I can work in my home office. I can work at a coffee shop. I can work while at the mall as long as my phone can access all the information I need. I always have my laptop in the car with me and a notebook in my purse because I know my work day is 24/7. Prompt replies are the hallmark of our client experience.
But this always-on mindset also means I have to set personal limitations that aren’t always easy. First, my whole family has to understand my work commitment. I make sure they know that it’s a give and take. My kids and husband get their mom and wife more than a typical working mom because I’m at home. I can pick my kids up from school and take them to the dodgeball tournament, but I also have to give work my full attention when a client needs me. My family understands that sometimes an important conference call has to be my priority. And when it’s over, my family will switch back to priority No. 1.
I also set work boundaries. This is a tough one for me. I’m a hustler. If there’s work to be done, I have to keep my nose down until it’s finished. Because I work from home, the work is always there, looking at me, daring me to finish. When I found I was making more and more trips to the laptop after dinner, I decided to put my computer out of sight around 6:00 p.m. I still monitor email from my phone in case of an emergency, but I make a conscious effort to downgrade work emails when it’s family time.
These limits are the only way I can make this work actually work. I have promised Ryan my 110% effort in return for our “work when you need to in order to get the job done” agreement.
I’m Transparent About My Priorities
I am transparent with Ryan and the rest of our team about my responsibilities and priorities outside work. When I started working from home, I struggled with making sure Ryan knew I was working all the time. That wasn’t his requirement — it was mine. I felt like I needed to reassure him that I was giving as much as I was getting. When I began this journey, I felt guilty about stepping away from my laptop to get the kids at the bus stop.
But after a few conversations with Ryan, I learned that he values my life outside of work and always supports my blend — because he wants the same space to build his own work/life blend.
I Shrug Off Judgement
Another important rule: I ignore other people’s judgment.
I’ve learned that it takes some people a little longer to understand big changes. Not everyone is on board with the new normal. Just like when I was a stay-at-home mom or a working mom, I still feel the judgment from others as a work-from-home mom. People assume my job must be easy or not as serious as one in an actual office.
I regularly hear: “What do you do all day?” “Must be nice to work from home so you can do laundry whenever you can.”
If only they knew that my kids still never have anything to wear (so they say) because I don’t do the laundry fast enough! Because, like any other full-time working mom, I find it hard to carve out the time. There are days when I don’t leave my home work space for hours – just like a “typical” job.
The bottom line: It doesn’t matter what other people think.
I Don’t Aim for Balance. I Shoot for Work/Life Blend.
I doubt that being a “mom who works from home” makes me all that much different from most entrepreneurs or remote employees. After all, about 10 years ago these were the best jobs out there. While companies were focusing on finding ways to balance employees’ lives to make happier workers, entrepreneurs were cutting edge. But as I’ve settled into this new work style, I wouldn’t use the word “balanced” to describe my life. What I have is a work/life blend. It’s all mixed together in each 24 hours, flowing this way and that, crashing, colliding and then flowing parallel again. It takes getting used to. It’s hard. And it takes support – from the company (which I have – yay!) and the family (which I also have – double yay!).
Being a working mom has made me a better professional and a better mom. I value each role so much because having this blend allows me to have both a fantastic career and be a present mom – whether the laundry gets done or not!