Maintaining work-life balance as a tech professional

Insightful tips from Emmanuel Faith, Head of Talent Management at Big Cabal Media, on how to maintain work-life balance.

Maintaining work-life balance as a tech professional

Working as a tech professional offers a lot of immense benefits which are not available in other industries. Some of these benefits include remote work, flexibility and diverse career paths.  

The flexibility and the low barriers to entry makes a perfect blend for Africa's young population. This is why, in recent years, the number of tech professionals in the continent has grown.

However, there's always a downside to every advantage or good thing. One of the challenges working remotely is maintaining work-life balance. An article in Forbes reported that over two-thirds of employees who work from home at least part of the time had trouble getting away from work at the end of the day.

Physical barriers make it easier to create mental separations. When you work in an office, you can alter your environment to facilitate work-life balance, such as leaving your laptop at work or getting to your car by 5:30 p.m.

Your environment provides a crutch to help you compartmentalise different parts of your life - Move the office to a spare bedroom, though, and that dynamic changes. Work-life balance while working from home requires a different set of skills and habits.

Tech professionals, and founders, often struggle to draw distinctions between their work lives and their home lives. The elimination of tangible boundaries means team members are rarely more than a few footsteps away from work.

The worse thing is: When you work remotely, you and everyone at your company knows that the only thing stopping you from working all day is your personal determination to have your own life.

In an interview with, Emmanuel Faith, Head of Talent Management at Big Cabal Media, talks about maintaining a work-life balance. Prior to his current role, Faith managed employees at Nigerian fintech Cowrywise and General Electric.

Here are his thoughts on how African tech professionals should maintain a work-life balance.

How have you been maintaining a work-life balance?

The truth is I'm still struggling to maintain it myself; but I try to have a life outside work, I try not to tie my identity to work by ensuring that I attend hangouts that let me see and interact with people. I also have hobbies and things that I'm interested in, like poetry, and female football, those are parts of my life that are not tied to work. So my life is not weaved around HR.

I think that the major challenge most Nigerians face when it comes to having work-life balance is that their work is their life. And you can't blame them because work is demanding, some people juggle two or three jobs together to be able to get income.

What are the potential consequences of neglecting work-life balance?

Exhaustion, that's the thing. You get exhausted. It's crucial that employers understand the importance of getting people to rest; you experience a breakdown at some point and of course, this is a dent in your productivity. You won't be able to complete your work by the time you experience this breakdown.

Some people's bodies don't even give them any sign that it's going to break down. It just happens suddenly, and productive time is lost.

How can tech professionals effectively manage their time and prioritise tasks to avoid burnout?

I honestly think that it's always a trade-off between more money and rest. The reason most people are exhausted, tired and depressed is because they want to make more money. And you can't exactly blame them. This is Nigeria, the cost of living is continuously rising. There's the cost of living and there is the cost of lifestyle. Those two are not the same, but they are factors that Nigerians battle with. The solution is always to make more money, and to make more money you have to do more work, which means you have less time to rest. There's really no effective way to manage time.

It's really just about what you are willing to give up. Are you going to take more jobs? Are you going to do that work or are you going to take time to rest? Are you going to workout or are you going to take that extra gig? There is always that decision to make: to let go of money or to rest.

Tech professionals shouldn't take more than they can chew at a time. I remember at some point I had some acquaintances doing three jobs, and I honestly could not fathom it.

I mean, I could fathom that they wanted more money, but I could not fathom the fact that they were doing three jobs in 24 hours. I once had this acquaintance who of course worked with a Nigerian company and then worked with a company in Dubai and then a company in India. He was working with a company that was five hours ahead and another company that was five behind. It was fascinating because this guy barely sleeps. When you buzz him, he's always like; "I have this meeting with this company or that company".

All of these are exhausting. So it's just being deliberate about the extent to which you want to make that trade-off between more money and time to rest. When people are able to answer that question, every other thing will fall in place.

Related post: 10 soft skills you need to get ahead in your tech career

How important is communication and setting expectations with colleagues and superiors for achieving work-life balance?

Very important. I have worked with very interesting people and I still do. I have worked with people that say after 6:00 PM do not expect a response from me.

At my former workplace, there's this lady whose Slack reads that don't expect an immediate response from me after 6:00 PM. She resumes by 8:00 AM, and she closes by 6:00 PM. If you send her a message after those periods, even if it's the CEO, she doesn't respond, except she's online working on another project.

People might say that in Nigeria you have to ‘hustle bla bla bla’ however ifyou think that your health is important, you would put out these boundaries. What these boundaries help you with is that your colleagues know that even if they are disturbing every other person, they shouldn't disturb you.

There are structured companies that ensure that these things happen. I've been at an organisation where their laptop literally shuts down by 5 PM. Immediately, it's 4.45 PM they get a prompt to say "Hi there, you can now begin to wrap up your work, save your document, close out your excel because the laptop will go off by 5 PM."

Immediately, it's 4.55 PM, you'll get a countdown. By 5 PM, the system goes off till the next day, no matter what you are working on. Although that's a bit stringent, it just points attention to the fact that you should know when work needs to stop, and it's important that you actively communicate that.

Just to balance the dimension, it's also very important that you work within stipulated time. For someone like me now, I resume at 10:00 AM sometimes, 9:00 AM sometimes or even 11:00 AM, but that's because I work late and people know that, so they can't book me for an 8:00 AM or 9:00 AM meeting, because they know I won't be online.  But you know that if you send me a Slack message at 11:00 PM, I'll probably respond because I'm online. So don't resume by 11:00 AM and say you want to close by 5:00 PM. It's crucial that you do your work at the right time. If you are to resume by 8:00 AM and close by 5:00 PM, do it, just ensure that you do your work.

It's important that you communicate explicitly what work time works for you, how people can reach out to you, and when they can reach out to you especially in fully remote and hybrid environments

What advice would you give to tech professionals who feel guilty or anxious about taking time off or disconnecting from work?

There's this song which says, "Problem e no dey finish." As long as you are in Nigeria, there's no level of hard work will be enough.

This is what I mean, imagine that you are earning ₦2 million. With that amount, you live in a self-contained apartment at Ikoyi or Lekki. Life is good. You drive one Toyota Camry, UK used. Suddenly, the petrol that you are buying at ₦200 per litre is now ₦500 per litre. That means that the petrol you could buy for ₦20,000 before is now ₦50,000.

Does that mean that you'll work harder to be able to make that kind of money back? No, obviously. So matter how hard you work, you can never work hard enough. That's the first lesson I learnt.

Rest is very important, because if you break down, all the time that you didn't use to rest, your body is going to ask you for it. So do not feel guilty about taking time off. Rest is not another task, it's a necessity.

Recommend tips experienced African tech professionals can use to maintain work/life balance?

I've earlier spoken of the importance of rest. Another thing I've noticed from conversing with a lot of people is that they want to have fun, but they don't know how to have fun. I know of three places in Lagos where you can literally learn how to dance Salsa for free.

Just show up and you learn how to dance for free. Have hobbies, and have things that interest you outside work. When you have things that interest you outside work, you will invest time in it, the way you invest time in work.

So for example, if you are learning how to dance, and you are learning Salsa, you know that no matter the code that you have to write or the design you have to push out on Figma, you have a Salsa class by 7pm by then. You know that by that time, your laptop must be locked because you have to go to your Salsa class.

Have things you do outside work. You can also follow events. I always recommend Yellow Life of course because I'm their ambassador, but there are a lot of event pages. People that curate events, hangouts and meetups. I can vouch for travel-up, vibe-trippers, Alarinka etc. These people curate trips at very affordable costs.

These things are necessary, resting, travelling, touring, and seeing beyond the four corners of your room. Especially if you are doing a remote job or hybrid; like you don't go to the office every day, and have people that you can interact with spontaneously outside work. Find genuine hangouts where you can meet, talk, gist, play games, catch dreams and go back home refreshed and re-energized and relaxed.

Lastly, take on a side project or volunteer. It sounds like another kind of work but because you are volunteering, maybe you are lending your skill somewhere, or you are teaching somewhere, those things help you take off work pressure. This is because you are not soused with expectations, or KPIs, but because you are trying to give back to society.  

What are your parting thoughts on this topic?

I don’t think this discussion is ever going to end, what then matters is that we take deliberate actions to ensure people do not just make a living, they also live a life. As professionals- either in tech or in any other sector, let’s not forget to live while making a living. Rest is not a reward for hard work, it is part of your daily routine, just like eating.

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