Life/work balance

Last month the @microsoft Twitter account tweeted something relevant to my interests:

It seems that the tweet was part of a thread to promote an article on Microsoft’s future of work1 blog called Microsoft Worklab. The post is entitled “How to Regain Work-Life Balance in the Age of Hybrid”.

How to Regain Work-Life Balance in the Age of Hybrid

Create a flexible culture where people don’t have to be “always on.” Here’s how to help your employees reclaim their time and focus on the tasks that matter most.

The article is a “guide [that] explores how to reclaim time for your team and regain work-life balance”. It’s a very nice piece! If you are a leader2 in your company I would strongly encourage you take 10 minutes of your time and give it a read. I would bet that any leader worth their salt will pick up at least one idea they can take back to their teams to improve their overall life/work balance. Some of the ideas are better on paper than you may find them in actual execution — for example, OKRs are easier said than done — but they’re not wrong! YMMV. I’m of the opinion that merely attempting to improve your business in these ways is half the battle. But I digress.

You might be wondering what this has to do with me (it doesn’t really), or why do I care so much (I do).

Starting up is hard, balance is key

Like many startup founders, I started my entrepreneurial journey with a chip on my shoulder. Having had a bad experience at a former employer or two, I not only wanted to start a new business because I was interested in tech, I also wanted to try my hand at running a different kind of business. Along the way I got some sage advice from one of our angel investors, Matt Shobe. Matt has co-founded several successful startups — including Feedburner3, which helped popularize RSS and had a tremendous impact on my career in tech. So the first time we met I asked him two questions in the context of starting up:

  1. What is one thing he would do differently (in his next startup)?
  2. What is one thing he would absolutely do again (in his next startup)?

The answer to both questions was more involved than I’m about to make it sound, but the TL;DR was about taking the time to document the company’s values. He said that documented company values were something he’d definitely do again, and the thing he’d do differently is to do is sooner than he had in the past. In other words, it’s never too soon to commit your company values to writing.

This made a lot of sense to me, and it made me feel good because we4 had already started some of what I’d call adjacent work in a company handbook document entitled “The Life/Work Balance Manifesto”5. I no longer have access to the document, but if I recall correctly we had been committed to the phrase “life/work balance” as early as 2014-2015. Spoiler alert: it worked! Not only was our life/work balance a key to our company’s success, we had 4–5 years of practice under our belt by the time COVID-19 hit. The result? Sensu transitioned into pandemic life with relative ease without taking a huge hit on productivity. Dealing with Prioritizing life circumstances was built-in to our culture.

Working from a beach, as one does. 📸 by Christine Johnson

Working from a beach, as one does. 📸 by Christine Johnson

So what does this have to do with Microsoft?

Life/work balance FTW

It’s probably nothing, but when Microsoft Tweeted last month, I couldn’t help myself. I had to reply 6:

@microsoft I start by putting the words in the right order. It should be life-work balance, not the other way around.

So you can imagine how pleasantly surprised I was when I saw this tweet last week:

Followed by this reply:

Sheesh! Did I do that?

I’m sure I wasn’t the first person to reject the phrase “work/life balance”, but I still don’t see the correct phrase used as much it should be. So whenever I have the opportunity to advocate for folks to join the “life/work balance” squad, I jump. Did I play some small part in getting @microsoft to spread the word? I sure hope so!

Developing my own “life/work balance manifesto” was in itself a partial fulfillment of my entrepreneurial journey. I hated the phrase “work/life balance”, so we decided we wouldn’t say it in our company.

The solution isn’t as simple as putting the words in the right order, but the words are basically free! Conversely, if you’re going to do all the hard work to promote a healthy balance between life and work, why can’t you say the words in the right order? I suspect a lot of companies just aren’t thinking about it the way I do, but I also think that there’s at least a small percentage of companies that hesitate to rearrange the words because that’s all that “work/life balance” is to them – just words.

  1. The future of work is a topic that is on my short list (!) of interests I intend to write about. The Microsoft Worklab homepage itself doesn’t explicitly say “the future of work”, but the page description metadata is “Vital facts about the future of work”. You can see this text by visiting the homepage and hovering over your browser tab, or by searching Google for Microsoft Worklab↩︎

  2. Regardless of your role, because real leadership isn’t a job title. ↩︎

  3. Feedburner was acquired by Google in 2007. ↩︎

  4. Myself and my partners at Heavy Water Operations – the Oregon LLC Partnership that became Sensu Inc, a Delaware C Corp. Heavy Water was what some people would call a “lifestyle business”. Whenever you hear this phrase from a VC, it’s usually meant as a derogatory term, but I always considered it a compliment. 😅 ↩︎

  5. I had always hoped to publish our entire company handbook to our company website and use it as a recruiting tool, but that effort got put on the back-burner somewhere along the way, so I unfortunately can’t link to the manifesto. Even though it was maintained in a private GitHub Repository (!), we did share it quite often during recruiting, as the manifesto — and the documented company values — did a good job of explaining our world views and the approach we were taking to building our business. In hindsight, I find a lot of the ideas we had were very strongly aligned with what has now been coined as the Open Startup movement, although Open Startups admirably take things a few steps further than we had ever anticipated. This is the way. ↩︎

  6. In a since deleted tweet along with the rest of my Twitter account, unfortunately. ↩︎