How to keep things clear when work and life all happens under one roof.
This week Frankie Tortora and Steve Folland have a chat in response to a question from Janie Skuse. Janie runs a digital marketing business with her husband, she says:
“Emotional soup! I work with my husband, both at home. He does full-time hours up in the bedroom/batcave, I look after our 3-year-old full-time and have 2 hours ‘off’ each day while she’s at nursery and evenings to work (ha!). If EVERYTHING happens under one roof, how do you keep things separate/clear?”
Take note dear listener! We might swear a bit. This one’s for the parents. To be enjoyed at your desk or once the kiddos are in bed.
Here’s what was said in this episode:
Comments on the previous episode:
[00:00:22.690] – Frankie
Hello, you’re listening to the Doing It For The Kids podcast, where we swear a bit too much and talk a bit too fast about freelance life with kids in the mix. I’m Frankie, and this is Steve.
[00:00:33.330] – Steve
Hello! This time we are actually sitting next to each other in a cafe. I feel like lots of people are looking at us… but they’re not.
[00:00:43.940] – Frankie
They’re really not. They’re eating their quin-oh-a salads. Is it keen-wa? I got it wrong.
[00:00:48.620] – Steve
Did you actually mean to say it wrong?
[00:00:51.610] – Frankie
No, I didn’t.
[00:00:53.110] – Steve
You realise they’re going to take away your North London badge if you can’t say that word right? So, anyway, yes.
[00:00:57.800] – Steve
Basically, each week we take a question from you, the Doing It For The Kids community. We answer the question best we can, but we also feedback the answers that you’ve given to last week’s episode.
[00:01:07.840] – Steve
Now, last week’s episode was about what to do when a client calls and you’ve got kids at home — do you hide the fact that you even have kids? Thank you so much, by the way. The comments were so nice.
[00:01:38.390] – Steve
Why don’t we start with the comments from last week?
[00:01:39.720] – Frankie
Yes. Judy Craffield says:
“While taking the most important call of my business on the phone to producers at ITV’s This Morning, my daughter aged about 18 months, put her hand down the back of her nappy and smeared poo all over me. Yeah, that’s pretty bad. How do you hide that one?”
[00:01:58.260] – Steve
I’d be tempted just to hang up and say you got cut off!
[00:02:30.330] – Steve
Anyway, maybe we should read another comment because people also said they like the fact that it was under 20 minutes.
[00:02:35.390] – Frankie
Also true. Jo Breeze. Hello! Jo says:
“Ah, the sling as a tool for client calls. I have a lot of business calls whilst in the park with a child on my back staring at ducks and pacing up and down.”
That’s nice isn’t it?
[00:02:47.940] – Steve
Aw, nice. Here’s another comment. Kelly Lavender says:
“Why do toddlers INSIST on following you around the house shouting, “who’s on the phone, Mummy? Is it Daddy? Is it Granny? Can I speak to them? But who’s on the phone, Mummy?” When they were left quite safely in the company of an iPad while you tiptoed out to the kitchen to take a client call.”
[00:03:06.590] – Frankie
Spidey Senses, man.
[00:03:07.760] – Steve
Maybe we have different voices when we’re on the phone.
[00:03:09.710] – Frankie
Oh, we definitely do. Oh yeah, everyone has a phone voice. “Hello? Frankie speaking”.
It’s not that. That’s my QVC voice.
[00:03:18.510] – Steve
“If you’re looking for tips for taking work calls with kids, either you take the call in the bathroom as long as it’s not too echoey, or shut them in with an iPad and some chocolate buttons. I read that in a parenting book.”
[00:03:31.290] – Frankie
As in shut them in the bathroom?
[00:03:32.620] – Steve
With some chocolate buttons.
[00:03:34.270] – Frankie
Also, there’s an assumption there that the kids won’t follow her into the bathroom. Like my toilet door is never shut, literally never shut.
[00:03:40.930] – Frankie
So I’m doing some work for somebody in the DIFTK community called Nicola. Hi Nicola.
We had a call this week about the work I was going to do for her and literally my son was clawing at the door going, “Mummy, Mummy”. And her, I think son as well, or daughter? I can’t remember, sorry Nicola, was literally going like, “Paw Patrol, Paw Patrol, more bananas!”. It was just really funny, she’d listened to the podcast something like the night before we had that conversation.
[00:04:04.320] – Steve
It happens. You need Paw Patrol on Netflix where it just segues from episode to episode.
[00:04:09.230] – Frankie
But again, it was like the minute she picked up the phone, they wanted to be in on the chat having been quite happy watching TV up until that point.
[00:04:15.660] – Steve
That’s because they’ve got so many questions to ask about Paw Patrol. I mean, that kid opens himself up to a litigation crisis, if you ask me.
[00:04:23.230] – Steve
Anyway, like I said, they want us to keep it under 20 minutes.
“Generally speaking, most of my client interaction is via email. When I do have calls and I have my little humans around, I tend to be honest with the person at the time of scheduling the call, i.e. ‘Sure, I can do a call on Tuesday at 10:00 a.m. Just letting you know that on Tuesdays though, I have my two sons at home with me, so you’ll likely hear them in the background'”.
That’s good, you see.
[00:04:45.930] – Frankie
Honesty is the best policy!
[00:04:46.980] – Steve
It’s like, “sure I could do it to your schedule, so long as you appreciate that this is going to happen”.
[00:04:51.110] – Steve
“I haven’t had anything but positive responses so far, anywhere from ‘no problem’ to ‘I’ll have mine around too, so the more noise the merrier’. Maybe this is because my clients are pretty much all parents too, so they’re either in the same position or totally understand the juggle struggle”.
[00:05:07.050] – Steve
So, yeah, I think that’s cool.
One thing I thought as well (this comment comes from Steve), whilst listening to the episode back, I realised I don’t put my phone number on my website.
[00:05:21.930] – Frankie
Neither do I, that’s so weird!
[00:05:22.520] – Steve
It’s not on my business card, it’s not on my email signature.
[00:05:25.850] – Frankie
Yeah, same. I took it off. It was on there at one point.
[00:05:28.120] – Steve
Yeah, it’s basically because I have had people in the past going, “I’m trying to find your phone number, Steve”. Yeah, you can’t! You can’t find my phone number. But I realised that actually, that is a purposeful thing. It’s me trying to say the best way to contact me is by email, right?
[00:05:42.590] – Frankie
I’ve also made that decision independently without really thinking about it. It’s been a slow, gradual thing, but, yeah, I don’t want people randomly calling me when I’m wiping poo off my hands.
[00:05:58.150] – Steve
By the way, how’s it going? Because you’re back to work this week, right?
[00:06:01.520] – Frankie
I am. And this is actually day two. So my husband Rob is on shared parental leave because he’s in an employed job. So he’s on shared parental leave for the next four weeks. And this is day two of him doint that — we basically swapped. Like, literally swapped. He is at home in the flat with a bottle of my milk, with a screaming child probably.
And I’m really enjoying it. It’s amazing how fucking easy parenting is when you work full-time! Like, yesterday I did 8 hours and then I had like an hour at the beginning of the day and an hour at the end of the day to do my parenting duties. And it was great. It was a joy.
[00:06:37.130] – Steve
Oh, I see what you mean. Yeah.
[00:06:39.850] – Frankie
I really enjoyed being with my son and the time I spent with him is really positive and we didn’t argue and I didn’t shout at him and that was only day one.
[00:06:49.330] – Steve
But the set up is that you’re working from home?
[00:06:52.910] – Frankie
Yes, so it’s a bit different. When I had that call with Nicola, he was literally, like, under the door in my office, like scraping at it like a cat, which is actually weirdly apt for this week’s subject.
Our answer to this week's question:
[00:07:03.070] – Steve
Right, let’s go to this week’s question, which comes from Janie Skuse. Janie, apologies if I said your surname wrong — please Skuse me. Do you see what I did? I’m a dad, I’m allowed. Right?
Anyway, Janie says:
“Emotional soup! I work with my husband, both at home. He does full-time, so I work with my husband…”
[00:07:26.790] – Steve
So does that mean they work on the same business?
[00:07:27.480] – Frankie
They literally run a business together, yes.
[00:07:29.150] – Steve
“I work with my husband, both at home. He does full-time hours up in the bedroom/batcave. I look after our three year old full-time and have 2 hours ‘off’ each day while she’s at nursery and then evenings to do (work), ha. If EVERYTHING happens under one roof, how do you keep things separate/clear?”
[00:07:57.900] – Steve
So he works full-time up in the batcave… She has the three year old, except for two hours each day when they’re at nursery… But if everything happens under one roof, how do you keep things separate/clear?
[00:08:14.180] – Frankie
Where to begin? I don’t know where to begin.
[00:08:16.510] – Frankie
Okay, so the first obvious thing, we’re dealing with the messy emotional soup of tears, and working and childcare, the obvious solution is to have like literal physical boundaries, which it sounds like they have.
Some people are working at their kitchen table, and if you’re doing that while your kids are on the floor and your other half’s doing what they’re doing, that’s obviously going to be an absolute nightmare. So at least they’ve got that door — I hope! — to close.
[00:08:45.050] – Steve
And it does sound like she isn’t trying to work when the child is around.
[00:08:50.256] – Frankie
That’s true, that’s a whole different conversation isn’t it?
[00:08:50.080] – Steve
Because that is another thing you could do.
[00:08:54.420] – Frankie
So the first thing I would suggest is physical boundaries, but they’ve definitely got that down and a ‘batcave’ sounds great.
[00:08:59.530] – Frankie
So then my other suggestion would be around more metaphorical boundaries. So, making it clear, particularly when you work together…. Obviously I don’t work with my husband, so I can’t speak from experience but…
I imagine when you work together, it’s about communicating who’s doing what and when and what’s going on in your head in terms of your schedules and your deadlines. Because there’s nothing worse than being really stressed about feeling like you have to get something done by a certain day and”’I need some time to work now, please”, but not really communicating that to your other half.
And then I’ve definitely been there where I’ve just snapped and said, ‘No, I really have to work tonight because I’ve got shit I need to do!’ but Rob didn’t even know that I was under any pressure to get that thing done. So I think, like, communicating a lot about what’s going on, who needs to do what when, and potentially swapping roles as appropriate.
[00:09:44.380] – Steve
So much of it does come down to communication, doesn’t it? At least they’re both working on the same thing. I mean, I’m sure they’ve got separate roles within it, but if you imagine that you were both freelancers but doing separate things, then you have no idea what each other’s workloads are like.
[00:09:59.800] – Frankie
Yeah. And that could get really messy really quickly. More Google Calendars!
[00:10:03.970] – Steve
Sort of like “my thing is important too”.
[00:10:05.430] – Frankie
Exactly. And particularly if you do work that requires going out of the house, like, I know people are actors or whatever, or run events, and you need to be really clear on when that’s happening and how long you are going to be out.
[00:10:18.100] – Steve
And you have to be clear. I think you have to have that conversation, don’t you? As in, right at the beginning, we’ll say “we are going to keep having these conversations” because otherwise what ends up happening is that you end up feeling resentment.
[00:10:32.660] – Frankie
[00:10:33.030] – Steve
And actually it’s an unfair resentment because you haven’t even told that other person that you need to be doing something.
[00:10:37.600] – Frankie
I think the key to it is making zero assumptions. And I would approach that like when I was an employee as well, in terms of working in a team — make zero assumptions about what other people know within that team, about what you’re doing and what you know.
You have to just be communicating all the time, whether that’s literally like you have a breakfast ‘meeting’ with your partner every morning, where you’re like “this is what’s happening today — this kid’s got after school stuff, you’re doing this with work, I’ve got this that I need to do tonight” or whatever. Just like, building that time in to make a framework.
[00:11:07.880] – Steve
Huddle and cuddle?
[00:11:11.030] – Frankie
Aw, that’s nice, yeah.
[00:11:12.810] – Steve
Huddle first, cuddle second.
[00:11:14.490] – Frankie
That sounds great. Even if it feels like you’re going a bit over the top and you feel like they should know all of that already, just making it 100% clear about what’s going on, then there’s no room for that resentment to build up and no room for miscommunication because you’ve always got an opportunity.
[00:11:37.350] – Steve
And the other thing, so Janie says: “If everything happens under one roof, how do you keep things separate/clear?” Yeah, I mean as freelancers, I don’t know about you, but it always feels like it’s permanently in your head anyway.
[00:11:47.530] – Frankie
I totally agree, yeah. I feel like the boundaries between life and work are so blurred when you work for yourself and particularly when you have kids around because there’s all that extra life admin that’s ticking away in the background.
[00:11:58.620] – Steve
I mean, one thing… and listen, obviously we’re answering your question Janie, but the fact is I don’t know anything about your situation! So please don’t take anything too personally.
But in this scenario what you could also take is — what is the husband in this instance but it could be the other way round — what if the person who is spending all day up in the batcave actually spends 5 hours in the batcave? And then looks after the child for 2 hours or 3 hours while you do work in the batcave?
So you switch. And I say that because actually I find with my 5 hours between dropping the kids off and picking them back up from school — that can make me more productive. Like I can have 8 hours but do the same as I do in 5 hours.
So maybe that time constraint might make that person more focused on what they’re doing? But it means that you then get to do your work and you will be focused because you’ve only got 3 hours in which to do it, for example. And then it means that you both get to have the evening without work.
[00:13:09.030] – Steve
There’s certainly some potential there, right? So they’ve done their work, you’ve done your work. Then in the evening there’s at least a potential to switch off once the kids are asleep, or to go out! It means that you don’t feel like you need to be working in the evening because you’ve maybe done it in the afternoon, it might at least be worth trying?
[00:13:26.890] – Frankie
Yeah, I agree. And also, if you’re in that batcave… I talk about physical boundaries, but if you’re in that batcave, you’re also quite hidden from what’s going on in the house. Again, from my experience, if I’m that person that’s away in the office, I might actually work a little bit longer than I might have done if I was away from home.
There’s less of an urgency to get back. What I’m saying is, like, full-time hours might actually creep into 8am till 6pm, and then you’re doing a hell of a lot of childcare et cetera. So maybe your partner could afford that little bit extra a day to allow you to do stuff and work less in the evenings?
[00:14:00.870] – Steve
The alternative as well, but obviously there’s more cost involved… Is there somewhere nearby that you can go and work in? Because they’re talking about emotional soup under one roof, but sometimes when you’re working and living at home, especially if you’re all at home, that could be a lot.
And so maybe it wouldn’t do either of you any harm to get out to a co-work space or whatever, to a library. So that you’ve got a bit of a commute, a bit of separation between work and home going on. And obviously there’s a perk between all being at home and being able to help out if needs be and so on, but maybe that might help?
[00:14:43.730] – Frankie
And it’s also about watching the creep between life and work in that, yes, it’s okay to talk about stuff outside of hours or in the evenings or whatever but you don’t want it to become a thing that you always talk about over dinner though. Again, I don’t know what their situation is like… Maybe they’re really good at turning off at 6pm? I know I’m not! And I imagine if I worked with Rob, it would become quite full-on, like, we’d probably talk about work loads.
[00:15:10.890] – Steve
That’s kind of nice as well.
[00:15:12.740] – Frankie
Yeah, true. In fact, I remember talking to someone, was it Rose Parkin? About that? About like, having the space and the time to talk about those things in the evening, and then you feel refreshed the next day, and it’s like, “okay, what are we doing the next day?” Rather than having colleagues that you only speak to in working hours. But equally, it can go the other way and the balance is off.
[00:15:38.430] – Steve
That was a good laugh in the background in this cafe just now, by the way. It sounds like Barbara Windsor!
[00:15:45.330] – Steve
So the fact is, it’s a really difficult question to answer because so much of it is based on that situation and those people. But actually, I think all of that advice should help.
[00:15:58.690] – Frankie
Yeah, it should apply to different scenarios. And I wonder if maybe Janie likes working in the evenings as well? Because there is that. I don’t know if it’s, again, a mother thing or it’s a pheromone thing. But when your really small kids and babies are in the house and you’re working in the house, it’s so hard! It’s so hard for you to deny the crying that you can hear.
But equally, it’s so hard for them because they can sense that you’re in the house. And that makes it… it’s like this push and pull, which is really distracting when you’re trying to get work done. So maybe in the evenings, that’s actually easier because the kids are asleep and there isn’t that same, like, messy soupy stew, emotional stew going on?