5 Unconventional Ways I Achieved Work-Life Flexibility in Tech | Life In Tech by Bessy Tam

5 Unconventional Ways I Achieved Work-Life Flexibility in Tech

Published on 7 February 2019 by Bessy Tam | Filed in Balance

Work-life balance, the concept of splitting time and energy between work and other aspects of life, is a challenge that many face. Yet, it is achievable and also incredibly important to prioritize. . So much so that more than 50% of employees said they would switch to a job that allows flextime (NBC News). As busy women, we deserve the right to a balanced life of work, family friends, personal growth, and fun!

The problem is, we’re not going to just ask hiring managers to give us flexible hours during a job interview, or assume that the job will allow for the balance that we all need (and deserve!). So how do we achieve it without facing shame at the workplace?

Before I moved back to Hong Kong from Boston, I promised myself I wouldn’t work 12+ hour days like my friends did in the Asian workforce. I didn’t want to get sucked into a life of running on a hamster wheel with nothing but stories from work to share with friends on weekends.

I wanted to maximize the 8 hours I had free for myself every day towards a lifestyle of learning, fun, relationships, health, and travel beyond my job.

So, before I started my career, I put together a criteria list of ways I could unconventionally achieve work life balance without explicitly asking my manager. I’ve used this “formula” ever since I landed my first job in Boston and never looked back.

I managed to live the lifestyle I wanted - travelling to 25+ countries, starting a business on the side, maintaining my fitness, health, and relationships, while learning new skills like scuba diving and Spanish.

Ultimately, flexibility to leave early or work remotely is something that is earned: you may not have these "benefits" right away at a new job. However, after a few months of putting in the time and effort to earn the trust of your manager, and with my 5 tips below, you can achieve a work-life balance in your next job as well.

Here are my 5 tips to achieve work-life balance:

The #1 Industry for Work Life Balance

According to Huffington Post’s 10 Best and Worst Jobs for Work Life Balance, 5 of the 10 best jobs for work life balance are jobs in tech.


People who work in tech jobs mainly need a laptop and wifi to do their jobs. Occasionally they will meet with clients to align on projects but beyond that, most of the work can be done remotely.

I learned about the tech lifestyle through networking before I started my first job. That’s why I made sure to build some digital marketing skills in order to transition into tech.

Since I started working at Google, I’ve worked from 15 different cities around the world. I attended client or internal calls as needed during each stay. Otherwise, I’d be working on projects remotely or communicating with my team through email or Google Hangouts.

There’s always a way to transition into tech from your current position if you wanted to, I have a free email course to get you started! But if you want to stay in your current industry, you could negotiate work-from-home time when you have less busy or non-client-facing days during the week such as Friday.

Leaders Who DO, Not Just “Say”

They say, “employees leave managers, not companies.”

You can have a great company, especially a company in tech. But if your manager doesn’t value work-life balance, you won’t stand a chance to “leave work early” or work from home.

How do you find out if your hiring manager values work life balance?

During interviews, I always ask the hiring manager, “What is important to you when it comes to the team’s success?” Managers who valued work-life balance would talk about the well-being of their team - whether it was making sure their employees got fairly compensated, were happy, had flexibility, or had a sense of purpose or growth.

Another question I always ask is, “Did you do anything fun with the family over the weekend/during the break?” I’d usually ask this in the beginning or end of the interview during small talk. This allows me to find out more about their family life, their personal approach to work-life balance, and how they manage their free time beyond the job.

In the next interview with your hiring manager, make sure to ask about their, and their direct reports’ lifestyles to get their point of view on work-life balance.

Tip #1 On How to Avoid Guilt: Ask The Team!

Even if I have a manager and company that values work life balance but a team that stays late, I feel compelled to stay as late as the team would.

Before I started my first job, I knew that the workplace was not only a place to earn money and grow professionally but it was also a place to build a wider community. I knew that if my team consistently stayed later than I did, I would feel ashamed for “ditching” them.

So during interviews or informational coffee chats, I always ask, “What’s your day to day like?” and “What are you up to later today?” These questions allow me to understand what their daily lifestyle was like both during and outside of work,and how stressful the work environment might be.

If I managed to meet up with a peer of mine in the company who I felt comfortable asking more direct questions to, I would ask,“Are you able to work remotely?” “What is the work-life balance like?” “How is this team compared to other teams you’ve worked with in the past?” This way, I would understand more about the dynamics of the team and the culture of the company.

Tip #2 On How to Avoid Guilt: Communicate!

To be honest, sometimes I would feel compelled to stay at work or not “be remote” if I felt my team didn’t have the “right idea” of what I was working on.

This came with shame and occasionally not feeling “good enough”.

This feeling likely derives from a deeper layer of responsibility that I needed to take ownership for: it was on me to stay in touch with my team.

Since I want my teammates to respect me, I find that keeping them in the loop about when I’m going to be remote, and when I am, what I’m working on helps ease my mind and avoid the worry of “are they judging me?”  

I learned this technique from my first marketing internship that I have applied in every job since.

I would have weekly check-ins, emails or conversations with my manager to cover what I was working on, and what they were prioritizing, so that we were both on the same page.

Often, I also sent a daily recap of my work to my team.  This way, they knew the exact tasks I had at hand, especially when I was working remotely, so that we could align on priorities and remain in communication.

While I was working from home, I would also send a fun note, ping, or gif to my team periodically during the day to provide a sense of “presence” without being physically there. This probably goes without saying, but you also should be quick to respond to any incoming emails/communications so that nobody has to wonder “are they online?”

In the end, I allowed myself to have work-life balance when I set myself up for success and sought out strong lines of communication. All I needed was a green light and comfort knowing that I had trust and understanding from my team.

“Practice” Makes Perfect

To achieve the flexible lifestyle I sought, I needed my team to be comfortable getting in touch with me when I wasn’t “around”.

In the tiny 10 person office back in Boston, I would work from the pantry on a coffee table nearby.

In Hong Kong, I would work from the cafeteria or a small booth merely 20 steps away from my desk.

I sat in these spots 2-3 times a week to allow my team to communicate with me through instant messaging. Sometimes I would have video calls with teammates in case we needed to talk through certain projects. For full transparency, I let them know in advance that I'd be sitting elsewhere and that I was reachable

With time, I built up trust and ways of working that allowed me to travel and work remotely. I proved I was able to do my job, do it well, and do it well remotely, which allowed me the benefits of flexibility!

I hope my 5 unconventional ways of achieving work-life balance were helpful, and that you could achieve your ideal balance as you test these 5 strategies out throughout your career. Whether it’s transitioning into tech, finding the right manager or team, communicating your priorities on a daily/weekly basis, or working from different areas in your office - let me know what worked well!

Do you have unconventional ways of achieving work life balance at your current job? Try these 5 unconventional tactics and let us know how things change?


About the Author

Bessy Tam is a career coach who helps busy professionals get into their dream non-tech job in tech. She’s helped dozens of clients get interviews and offers from companies such as Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Lyft, Amazon, Babbel, & More. She currently works at Google in Chicago.


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