What helps you achieve a good work-life balance? Can you give us a few tips?
Frank Delporte: When you start a programming career, you discover that there is still a lot to learn, even when you have just graduated. Or when you start a new job, there will be a lot of tools and techniques that you have to get to know to fit in the new team. So, it can be very tempting to go the extra mile and work too many hours. I’ve made that mistake multiple times, but now I consider myself to be an “old wise and grey man”, someone who can give advice to younger people. Yes, you should give all your best to be productive, support your team, and build amazing stuff. But you can’t do all of that at the same time for more than 8 hours per day. You need enough hours of sleep and time for your family, good food, relaxation, and fun.
I have been in multiple projects where deadlines were approaching. We worked more and longer than was healthy, and it’s OK to do so for a short time. It will even make the team stronger if you all go the extra mile together and deliver (almost) on time. But those periods should be exceptions, not a recurring theme.
And, if you catch a bug and you’re still searching after a few hours for the cause late into the afternoon or evening: stop! You won’t fix it anymore. Go home, eat, and sleep. I’m sure you will find the solution the next morning within a half hour.
Marco Schulz: One thing I learned in Austria, is that there are graveyards full of irreplaceable people. So I try not to take myself too seriously.
Since I’m lucky enough to be able to do the things that interest me, I have to force myself now and then not to finish work late at night. It’s also important to me to have an appealing work environment. From experience, I know I’m not equally efficient the whole day.
Especially after lunch, I like to close my eyes for 15 to 20 minutes and gather strength for the second half of the day. These habits are difficult to maintain in an office. This is one of the many reasons why I only accept remote contracts.
This allows me to arrange my daily schedule flexibly, as needed. If a project is slow and I have to wait a little longer for assignments, I can use this time for short personal errands.
Elena Bochkor: From my point of view, the most important thing is to separate working time and free time. Especially if you work from home, you should set up a separate workspace and try to use it only during working hours. Creating a schedule for work and leisure activities is helpful. This way, you have a good overview of both areas and can make sure that neither is neglected. Regular breaks during working hours is also a must. Just get up, stretch your feet, eat an apple, and, depending on the weather, soak up some sun.
Alexis Roizen: I use my daughter’s schedule for work-life balance. She goes to school at 8ish and is picked up at 5 pm. I am pretty clear with my team that when she’s at school, I’m available, and when she’s home, I’m not. There will be periods of time where I need to make an exception, but this is my baseline that I don’t deviate from unless I’m really clear about the need. I’ve paid the price too many times of getting my kid ready for school while trying to have an important meeting and it’s not good for anyone to start their day like that! So my first recommendation is to set up up some sort of predictable schedule.
The second thing I do is limit the work tools on my phone and personal tools on my computer. On my phone, I don’t have Slack (our company’s main mode of communication). And on my work computer, I don’t integrate it with my personal accounts – i.e., no texting or checking personal accounts on my work computer. I try to keep these two devices as disconnected from one another as possible.
For me, it’s very important to be in places that inspire me. Noisy open-plan offices and crowded train compartments aren’t among them. To create a productive atmosphere for myself, I work exclusively remotely.
How can IT companies improve work-life balance?
Frank Delporte: For me, working from home has been an eye-opener. Being able to work at my own speed, and without any commuting is such a relief! But I’m well aware that not everyone can work in a “personal bubble” without interaction with real people instead of Zoom, Teams, and other virtual contacts. But being able to work remotely at least a few days a week can make a huge difference in the stress caused by traffic and the need to be on time at the right place.
As a company, DDD should never be the common practice. No, not Domain Driven Design, the DDD that many companies claim to use, but Deadline Driven Development, the real DDD used in a lot of cases. When people are stressed to the max continuously, they will break or leave. There is a meme that says “The biggest concern for any organization should be when their most passionate people become quiet.” I’ve been that person a few times, and when the company (ab)uses your passion and doesn’t protect you from burning up, they lose that person, together with many years of experience and a lot of passion for the job.
Marco Schulz: For me, it’s very important to be in places that inspire me. Noisy open-plan offices and crowded train compartments aren’t among them. To create a productive atmosphere for myself, I work exclusively remotely. Daily traffic jams on the way to work or being stuck in overcrowded public transport during rush hour are moments I’ve eliminated from my life. I can use this time to walk through the countryside or soak up some sun on the terrace with a coffee and a good book.
Freely allocating time is an important aspect in my professional life. If I need to work a few days more because of a deadline, no one expects me to be available during the core working hours the following day. After a stressful phase, it’s absolutely necessary to regain my strength in order to be fit for new challenges. I consistently avoid working environments that are permanently running at full steam. Sooner or later, these lead to burnout and don’t produce good products.
Elena Bochkor: I believe it’s fundamentally important for IT companies to promote a culture of work-life balance and encourage their employees to take care of their health and well-being. This can be done through training, lectures, or even coaching on topics like stress management, time management, and work-life balance. By taking these measures, IT companies can help their employees achieve a better work-life balance and be more productive and satisfied.
I’d also like to mention flexible working hours here. This is a way for companies to give their employees the opportunity to divide up their working hours during the day and create a work-life balance. In many IT jobs, it’s possible to work from home or choose a flexible work location, like a coworking space or a cafe. This makes the workday more varied and helps reduce stress.
Another option is offering health programs like fitness or yoga courses, wellness offers, or even healthy catering in the office to promote the physical and mental health of employees.
Alexis Roizen: I think companies and employees need to be really clear about digital communication expectations. I don’t feel guilty for ignoring my computer until 8 am because everyone I work with knows my work hours.
If you feel your company (which is really your manager or the teams of people you work with) has different expectations, you need to be proactive in “closing the gap” between what they think and what you think. If your manager is sending messages at 11 pm and you feel pressure to respond because it’s your manager, talk to them. You may find out that they prefer to work late at night because that works best for them, but they do not expect responses in real time or even first thing in the morning. And you might share with them that you don’t have Slack on your phone, so you are not checking messages until you log in at 9 am. Now you both are aware of the other’s working habits, and you don’t have to worry about someone else’s interpretation of your silence or schedule.
I also think that all employees need to remember that they’re responsible for office culture. It is important to treat people kindly, speak with respect, and try to have fun when possible. If the environment feels like a pressure cooker, check in with yourself first and see if you’re contributing to that feeling. Work-life balance will be hard if you’re contributing to work stress or bringing it home with you.
I also think that all employees need to remember that they’re responsible for office culture. It is important to treat people kindly, speak with respect, and try to have fun when possible.
What non-IT hobbies help you destress after a busy day?
Frank Delporte: For me, programming in Java and writing about it is both my hobby and my work. So, although I pretend to be the “old wise and grey man”, I still make the same mistakes and spend too much time on the computer. That’s the mistake I keep making because I just love the things I’m doing and don’t consider it to be work. I should listen more to my own advice.
One solution that worked for us is Wifi. Not the network connection, but the name of our dog we got over a year ago. I start each day with a walk, sometimes listening to podcasts. And with good weather, a second walk at noon can help fix a bug or find the right wording to finish a document or article.
One solution that worked for us is Wifi. Not the network connection, but the name of our dog we got over a year ago.
Marco Schulz: Not too long ago, I liked to swim. While swimming, I was able to do some physical exercise and could switch my mind off. A few weeks ago, I started learning to play the guitar. It was quite challenging at first because the metal strings were cutting into my fingertips. But since then, I’ve overcome this step, and I can also turn my mind off while practicing.
Elena Bochkor: I’ve been doing yoga for years and a few weeks ago, I started jogging regularly. I’m learning to love it! 😊 It’s often hard to start, especially in the winter when the weather is cold, but afterwards, you really feel better.
Alexis Roizen: I am a huge fan of non-screen hobbies! I am a quilter and a sewist, which is extremely meditative after a long day behind the screen.
I’m also a big reader. I love a great novel that captures my attention and even better if there is an audible narration so I can listen to it while I take a walk or do some cleaning up. I also dabble in learning new hobbies to see if they stick. I’m currently learning to roller skate and I feel like a teenager!
Lastly, having a nice chat with someone that has nothing to do with work – bonus if that person can make you laugh. For me, this is my husband. He cracks me up and helps me laugh at myself. And laughter cures all.
About the Experts
Frank Delporte is a Java Champion who began programming on a Commodore 64 when he was 11 years old. It was about controlling Lego trains with a relay card at the time. He worked as a video editor after graduation, but quickly returned to programming for multimedia productions, websites, and enterprise applications. He rediscovered the world of electronics as a coach at CoderDojo (volunteer computer club for kids), thanks to Raspberry Pi and Arduino, and writes about it on his own blog. He released the book “Getting Started with Java on the Raspberry Pi” in 2020.
Marco Schulz is a freelance IT consultant and trainer. He studied computer science at the University of Applied Sciences Merseburg. He has been developing large web applications in international projects for well-known companies for over fifteen years. When he is not writing a new technical paper, he shares his knowledge with other technology enthusiasts at conferences. He regularly tweets as @ElmarDott about all kinds of technical topics, but his main focus is on build and configuration management, software architectures, and release management.
Elena Bochkor works on the design and creation of mobile applications and websites.
Alexis Roizen is a Principal Product Designer at Sysdig. She has been a designer in the business world for 15+ years. Her expertise lies in using behavior design to create sticky user experiences that customers want to keep coming back to. She’s worked from startups to medium-sized businesses and across all touch points of a company — from logo & brand identity, interface & app design, website, copy, and even wayfinding & environmental design. She thrives on building a cohesive brand for customers to connect with and user experiences that solve customer problems. In previous lives, she has been a chief design officer in a start-up, a creative director at a marketing firm, and is currently a Principal Product Designer at Sysdig.