The remote lifestyle can be lived in a wide variety of ways. Some of us choose to be digital nomads, moving from country to country; others move back and forth between the country they live in and holiday destinations; others still stay at home to take care of their family.
Rheinard Korf, Solutions Architect at X-Team, falls in the third category. I asked Rheinard about the benefits and drawbacks of working remotely as a parent.
Hi Rheinard! Thank you for taking the time to talk to me. Tell me a little bit about your journey into remote work. How long have you been working remotely and why did you decide to go remote?
I started teaching programming to adults very early on in my career, which meant I saw more classrooms than I did office walls. But that career inevitably led to higher duties that involved working in an office. I was fortunate that we had multiple campuses over large geographic areas, which meant that I was able to negotiate my working arrangements to work "on-site", albeit in a small office.
This was my base. From there, through video conferences, I taught other trainers all over the state, as well as remote students via partner organisations who let us use their video conference rooms. Eventually though, policies and politics entered the scene and I ended up teaching compliance and less innovative practices.
So I longed for something simpler and left the big player to work for a smaller training organisation. This meant a sacrifice in my income, but I was happier. For a while at least... I knew that this kind of work was not for me.
Eventually, I negotiated that I could work from home two or three days a week. I realized I was more productive working from home. It was the first time I thought I could work remotely all the time. So I set some plans in motion writing plugins and got my first remote gig. This was 2014. I've never worked a "regular" job since.
What do you mean with a plan writing plugins? You programmed plugins that you used for your programming portfolio to get gigs?
I've been programming since I was almost twelve years old. Then, in my late teens (1999-2002) I used to do some freelance coding for small businesses. I also did some freelance system integration work inside factories (2002-2004) where I got to build GSM modem front-ends for machine alarms and monitoring for industrial scales and SCADA systems.
I wanted more than freelancing, but that would've meant moving to the city and working in a cubicle (or even worse, an open office). So I turned to my other passion: education, where I remained for almost ten years.
Tech in education is fun, so I started building tools that I wanted to use myself, but that I realized would be useful to others too. WordPress offered a pathway for me, so I made a plugin during some vacation time. I tested it at the organisation I was working at and then sold it as a premium plugin.
I had my first sale only hours after launch. The next day, I had more sales come in. It was then that I realized that what I was taught about work was wrong. I don't live in the world my father grew up in. I don't live in a world with physical constraints anymore. I could choose how I wanted to work. Out there would always be someone who wanted what I have to offer - my products, skills, and personality 😉.
I landed my first post-teaching gig at a really big plugin agency. Soon after that I ended up at XWP, which is now well integrated into the X-family.
Let's turn to your family. What does your household look like?
Our household is made up of my wife, twin daughters (eight years old), a son (two years old) and myself. We live in a modest house in rural Australia. I prefer smaller localities over cities. Working remotely meant that I am able to do the work I enjoy doing from anywhere.
Not having all the hustle and bustle of city life didn't just mean that I don't have to commute, but also that the kids don't have to endure sitting in traffic with me or my wife on the way to school (it's a ten-minute walk). It means spending more time with my family and being able to participate closer in their school life - attending assemblies, chapel services, concerts. I also do some volunteering in the classroom on Friday mornings.
What do you like most about working remotely while being a parent?
My absolute favourite thing about remote work is that I predominantly choose how I distribute my time. This allows me to truly be present in the lives of my kids and able to contribute to the daily life of managing a household with my wife.
What would you say has been the biggest challenge combining parenthood with remote work?
Early on, when I was only at home a few days a week, I thought the kids would distract me all the time. However, because my girls were only little back then, they knew no other way of life. I would say goodbye in the morning and close my office door. At lunchtime I'd emerge and make a big thing of it that "daddy is home!"
That said, the big challenge is when kids are being kids and I have to discipline myself not to run out of the office every time they cry or get into an argument with one another. The urge to storm in, clear up the problem, and head back to the office was there for some time. But this wouldn't allow my wife to do what she needed to do. So I built my outside office and got out of the house. My commute increased from thirty seconds to probably a minute 😉.
Tell me about that remote office? Is it a converted shed in your garden?
When my wife suggested I get out of the house, I made several plans for how this could work. The initial design was to close off our back veranda. When I drew it up in 3D and put a full-scale model, my wife freaked out. She didn't want to look at me all day through the kitchen window 😉. So plan B was to divide up my garage and use the back half of it for the office.
I am not afraid of building things. My dad is an electrician by trade and I picked up a lot simply watching him, particularly when he built the houses that we ended up living in. So I set out to convert the garage. I am happy to say that it is still standing and working a charm as an office. In fact, I think it's more structurally stable than it was before the conversion.
Did your kids go through a particular period of your life where combining remote work & parenting was much more difficult?
Fortunately, my working remotely is so much part of our household culture that I don't think it's any different than the challenges of not working remotely. When things were difficult it was really a blessing to be there when my family needed me, rather than escaping the situations 😄.
What are some of your tactics for focused work? Any household rules?
- Although remote work offers flexibility in time, the general rule is that I'm working from 9 AM - 5 PM. As a family, we will discuss the desired availability of the day, and then I can be a bit more flexible with the time.
- There is always time for a cuddle! The kids know that I'm not far away. Although I can imagine that they would like more access to me, the cuddle rule is important. I'll stop what I am doing (except when in a meeting) and give them a hug when they need one. Always.
- In terms of focused work it depends on the kind of project I am working on and the roles that I play. For example, although I like deep working sessions, a recent project doesn't quite afford me those chunks of time. So I have to settle for short stints of work with breaks in between. I used to have software that would lock my laptop and tell me to stretch, but these things have now become habitual. That doesn't mean bad habits can't sneak in, so I do an inventory every so often. I read Getting Things Done annually to help me get back on track (even though I am not a big GTDer).
Do you also travel with your family while working remotely or do you work from home and take off when you travel together?
We mix it up a bit. Working remotely means we get to do more things as a family, but we're really homebodies. We like small day trips or overnight adventures. That being said, if I'm asked to go for a client on-site and it's a significant distance away on a school holiday, then the whole family comes with me. I fondly remember a family "workation" in Sydney.
That sounds wonderful. Do your kids talk about how your working situation is different from the other kids they're friends with?
My kids probably don't realise exactly how different my work is from the work of the parents of other kids at school. Around here, people are into trades, education, health, farming, engineering, retail or professional services (finance, accounting, etc...).
That makes sense. And what do other parents say or ask when you tell them you work remotely?
For other parents or adults in general, my work is a mystery. The fact that I am working in this industry at an enterprise scale from a town of only 24,000 people is really something else.
Some good friends of ours always joke that I don't really work. I look forward to doing my annual tax lodgement with our accountant. He seems to be more confused about what I do than anyone else. He thought it was the funniest thing when I told him that I was a Software Architect. He barely accepts Software Engineering.
That sounds familiar. My extended family still gently tries to push me toward what they consider a "real" job. I'm guessing it's no different for many remote workers. Thank you very much for your time, Rheinard!