Kids Steal the Show, Lend New Meaning to 'Work/Life Balance'

Kathy Gurchiek By Kathy Gurchiek October 4, 2017

When 4-year-old Marion Yena Kelly swaggered into her father's home office "in a hippity-hoppity mood," crashing his Skype interview with the BBC in March, the pigtailed youngster in round pink glasses and yellow sweater turned her family into an Internet sensation. 

The resulting blooper was a hilarious reminder about the challenges of working remotely.

Her father, Robert E. Kelly, is an associate professor of international relations in the political science and diplomacy department of Pusan National University in Busan, South Korea. The BBC was interviewing him about the repercussions to the region following the impeachment a few days earlier of South Korean President Park Geun-hye.

As Kelly continued the live interview while futilely trying, with one hand, to slide Marion behind his chair and toward the children's books and toys, 9-month-old James Yousup Kelly glided into the room in his baby walker.

Kelly's wife, Jung-A Kim, was in another room with the TV on—recording the interview so they could view it later—when she spied their daughter on the TV screen, Kelly explained in a follow-up interview with the BBC.

She frantically skidded, sock-footed, into her husband's home office, bending low in a vain attempt to remain out of camera view as she grabbed the children and fled—only to pop back seconds later to yank the door closed. Meanwhile, with a pained look on his face, Kelly muttered apologies and tried to continue the interview.

The Twittersphere blew up. Ellen DeGeneres noted later on her talk show that "I've never laughed so hard at a video about North Korea in my life."

Finding a Balance

Six months later, Kelly was the surprise guest Sept. 27 at the TRaD Works Forum in Washington, D.C., an annual event that focuses on telecommuting, remote and distributed work. He talked about the now-famous interview and the overlap of work and personal life for offsite workers.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Managing Flexible Work Arrangements]

"The cloud lets you take your desktop wherever you go. That lets me work anywhere," whether at the beach, on a train or in the den of a high-rise apartment in South Korea, he said. "I love that kind of flexibility," noted Kelly, who spends nine hours a week in a university classroom.

Teleworking gives him more time with his wife and children and fits an academic lifestyle. The downside: Working offsite means that work can creep into every aspect of a person's life.

"[Working remotely] can take over all of your time, and I don't know how to [create] that balance. How do you fence off time so flexibility doesn't mean insidious creep into everything? Do you just stop answering e-mail over the weekend? I have colleagues who do that," he said during the Skyped interview at TRaD.

These are questions more people will grapple with as the number of remote workers increases. In the U.S., the number of employees who spend some of their time working in a location different from their co-workers has risen from 39 percent in 2012 to 43 percent in 2016, according to a Gallup report, State of the American Workplace. The data for the 2016 report came from more than 195,000 U.S. employees.

Additionally, employees who do work remotely are spending more of their time doing so. In 2012, 24 percent of those workers spent 80 percent or more of their work time offsite. In 2016, that rose to 31 percent, Gallup found. 

"People are spending more time away from [the office]," said Vipula Gandhi, a managing consultant for Gallup and a keynote speaker at TRaD. "That has huge implications" as workplace expectations shift.

Those implications include dealing with the blending of personal and work lives.

'It's a Tension' 

The slice-of-life event in the Kelly household unfolded because he typically keeps the door to his office—which includes an air mattress the children like to play on—unlocked, he said.

"I don't want my children to think that they can't come into the room," he told the BBC. "On the other hand, I can't get much done if they're always coming in and out. It's a tension. It's one of these work/life issues that people brought up on the Internet" after the first BBC interview. "That's why my daughter just traipsed right in. … We want them to feel like their parents are accessible."

For people working at home, it can be a challenge at times to find an area where they can work undisturbed.

"I have colleagues who have to give interviews in bathrooms," Kelly told TRaD attendees.

After the disastrous BBC interview, Kelly said he was worried about professional repercussions. He was afraid no TV network would ever invite him back for an  interview.

That hasn't happened. Instead, his daughter's joie de vivre stole people's hearts. The interview went viral, and his daughter became an Internet darling with her own GIF and has been hailed as a tiny fashion icon who puts the hip in what her dad said was her "hippity-hoppity" dance.

Kelly is now philosophical about what happened, noting that although the reaction initially was unnerving—extra police officers were called in to provide security at his daughter's kindergarten for a week— "more people managed to see the interview" than would have otherwise done so. 

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