Working From Home: Family, I'm Busy Now

Wall-mounted tablet showing my workday busy times via Google Calendar.

At the time of writing this post (still in COVID-19 times), remote working, at least for the short-term, is quite prominent. If I had to guess, remote work will continue to thrive after the COVID-19 pandemic passes.

I’ve previously written a multi-part series on how to Improve your Home Office, and this current post builds on the topic by providing my solution to meeting interruptions by my family.

The Problem: Family Interruptions

My home office is in the basement. During the day, my wife is caring for our two children (3.5 years and 6 months old). She occasionally needs my help for a few minutes here and there. From a timing perspective, I do take breaks, but they might not 100% lineup with when she is seeking assistance/relief. Ideally, she would be able to reach out to me when I’m not busy (or in a meeting) and I can come up from my office for a few minutes to help out.

I needed a way to communicate my meeting schedule so that my wife could see when I’m not available to help. This is going to be more important as my children get older, as they will more likely want to come into my office while I’m working. It is worth mentioning that I have a door to my office that I keep closed during the workday – it just doesn’t communicate my availability.

The Solution: Wall-Mounted Tablet Showing Google Calendar

I had an old Fire 7 Tablet from Amazon that I attached to the wall with two Command Picture Hanging Strips and powered via a long Micro-B USB cable.

The idea is that the tablet screen is always on and showing Google Calendar’s today view. My wife has her Google Account signed in and only displaying my shared Work calendar (it only shows busy times). Changes in events are synchronized automatically and are reflected within a minute.

The position of the tablet is on the main floor near the door to the basement. This spot was picked by my wife, as it is a central location during her day. Being able to view the whole day is important as she can better understand my availability and plan her day as well. She is able to see when meetings start/end, and it also captures those impromptu meetings that are made shortly before they begin.

Could you use a different tablet (like an iPad)? Sure thing, I just worked with what I had around the house. This is a perfect way to put an old tablet to good use as the processing specs don’t have to be good. One thing to note with the Fire tablets, you have to enable the Always on setting as well as install the Google Play Store to get Google Calendar.

Future Iteration: Indicating in the Basement

If my family is downstairs, there isn’t any indication of my availability as my solution is only on the main floor. I’d like to replicate the same setup in the basement itself, although I’ve been thinking about simply using a busy light instead.

The busy light would be on/off to indicate if I’m busy. I feel that this solution is better for kids as opposed to the calendar schedule solution, as it clear and binary. I would set up the busy light by using a smart light/plug that can be toggled based on my Google Calendar’s event start/end times via IFTTT.