by Kayla Sheely

As the leaves start to change and working parents are resetting their routines as kids head back to school, we sat down with Olga Arlou to discuss the change of seasons. She points out some lessons she has learned through working from home, thoughts on distractions, and tips for balancing work and family.

Tell me a little bit about your role at Voice Systems Engineering and what you do.

At VSE, I have two main roles. One of my roles is Digital Marketing Analyst where I cover analytics on the website and customer behavior. My larger role is Web Optimization. My team and I run experiments on the website to see how we can improve and optimize the experience for the user, conversion rates, and the business value of the website.

I like this work a lot and am passionate about what I do. I learn about people's behavior and their preferences not just by asking them questions, but by actually observing their reaction on the website to certain changes.

How have you adjusted to working from home? Do you enjoy it, or do you prefer working in the office?

Initially, when the pandemic started, I was not happy about working from home, especially since I had to combine working from home and my kids' remote schooling – there was a lot of chaos! I was one of the first people that would say please open the office. But after a year, my perception and work style has changed. I'm still very social, and I like to collaborate, but since we were able to find a way to collaborate remotely, I have discovered the benefits of working from home. Driving time is minimized, and I’m more productive at home.

How old are your kids? Are they excited to be back-to-school in person?

I have two daughters, five and seven, and they both were very excited to go back to school. Evelyn, the five-year-old, felt all proud and grown-up, ready with her huge backpack because she wanted the same backpack as her sister. My 7-year-old Liza was excited too since remote schooling was tough. When school was virtual, she was bored, distracted, and missed her friends. Now she is excited to go to school every day.

How has this year been with going back to school compared to last year when your kids were virtually learning?

It's a huge game-changer. Last year, you not only had to work but you also were supposed to inspire your kids to study and understand for yourself all the tasks that they had to do. Teaching is not my strong suit, so sitting with the kids and teaching them required a lot of patience, especially since they had so much homework.

To keep my spirit high, I started actually working out five times a week, which I never did before (and I don’t do right now). When I had more energy and was in a better mood, I could be more helpful. Now I really appreciate the fact that kids are in school.

How has your workday shifted now that your kids are back in school?

For me, it is super convenient for the kids to be in school because I can work with no distractions. It is a big deal because having the entire family in the house (like we did during the pandemic) made it very hard to stay focused on work. It was impossible to stay productive with constant interruptions. At this point, our new schedule works great for me.

I put kids on the bus and then come home to cherish a quiet house where I can work. Despite all the minuses from the pandemic, my takeaway has been that when you have a chance to work quietly in your office, just dive into it. Don't waste your time because you never know when distractions will pop up.

How do you balance working from home and childcare?

One of the ways I try to find balance is to clean at night. When the house is not clean (especially my office and the kitchen), my attention can steer away. It makes me want to get up and start washing dishes or straightening up toys. When I clean the night before, I can brew my coffee and make myself breakfast in the morning. My workspaces are clean, comfortable, and give you the impression that you are in an actual workspace, not your home anymore. I can close the door to my office to separate me from the rest of the house.

Sometimes I have tasks that don't need a lot of brainpower. If I can do something at the same time, like running a report that collects data, I try to pair it with something like throwing in a quick load of laundry. I follow the Getting Things Done system which helps me to stay flexible. I try to focus on my day, set goals, and prioritize my to-do list. If something urgent comes up, I can shift things around.

Are there any tips you have found helpful for adjusting back to working from home and with the kids at school?

When the kids come home and I'm still working, they know I have my hour to finish work, so they can either play outside or do their homework. I try to make it very clear that this is my workspace – I need to finish my work, but then I'll be done to spend time with them.

If I'm feeling tired or just not in the mood to work, exercise brings me back – even just a 30-minute workout. On Mondays, I do 30 minutes of yoga to start my week off, and it does make the difference. Working out resets you.

And remember there is more to life than just work. When you are having fun, you feel happier, and your work gets done better. Your kids are happier, and it just trickles down. I think it's super important to balance the things you have to do with the things you do for yourself.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

The back-to-school season is for working parents as well. Since parents don’t have to worry about finding home activities for their kids, they have more time to focus and set themselves up to work at full speed. I feel that shift, not just in my household, but also in work meetings. During summer, people’s mood felt more relaxed and lighter, but, as soon as September started, the dynamic of meetings and the number of ideas and projects coming in became more energetic. It felt like back to school got not only into students’ minds but also into us parents. We now can put our kids on the bus, go to our workspace, and be 100% in.