I was born and grew up in Kent, a Kentish Maid no less. I moved to Buckinghamshire aged 18, when I left home to begin working in London. My career took me into recruitment, project management and IT training, until my mid 30’s when I became a mum for the first time.
The birth of my son was a monumental changing point for my life and career, I thought I wanted to have both a career and to be a mum, expecting to use childminders to enable me to continue working. But it did not happen that way because I changed my mind and decided I didn’t want to leave my baby boy. My son was a year old when I suffered with post-natal depression. I found leaving him very difficult, struggling with the guilt, and it was very overwhelming at times.
So, to get back into work I decided to re-train at evening school to become an adult further education teacher. I could work part-time, delivering bespoke IT training courses for the NHS Trust in Bucks.
Then 17 years ago, I was approached by a friend to work on a parenting website he had just bought, all because I was a mum! This was around the same time that parenting sites such as Babyworld, Mumsnet and Netmums were being created.
I was able, from this approach, to create the perfect working from home role. I found myself being able to work, build a career and look after my young family all from home.
I started out doing about 8 hours a week, increasing my hours as the children grew up to now working full-time (plus a few extra hours here and there…) all from home.
Working from home has not been the easy option though. The “work hours” blur frequently and consistently as I constantly find myself juggling the timetable. I don’t work 9-5 or commute, but I did and do have to establish a routine that works for us all. Time management and organisation became a key skill for me.
Some tips on working from home
• Get up, dress and be ready as if you are going to a meeting or office every day. Avoid sitting in PJ’s, but wear comfortable and/or smart clothes so that you feel you are going to work, after all you are!
• Ensure your work space is as separate as it can be from your home environment. Working from the kitchen table, literally, is probably not the best set up, that is family space and you are working. Try not to mix them up.
• Be firm, but kind, if you need to decline invitations for a coffee morning or get together with the other mums. You may have changed your work/life balance but others might not see if that way. This may be hard emotionally, but if you were in an office environment you wouldn’t meet up for a coffee with friends during your working day. Same goes for phone calls, just remind people that you are working.
• Set your working hours whatever they are to suit you. If that is 9-2 while your children are at school, you can always pick up again say at 8-10pm, when the children have gone to bed. But make your hours work for you and your family, that is the whole point of working from home. Don’t be afraid to set the times but stick to them.
• Make sure you put in regular breaks, if you were in an office for example, you would perhaps get up and move away from your screen to have a break and a chat with your colleagues. Make this a part of your routine at home too.
You can always establish a 15-minute “coffee break skype call” with colleagues. The NowBaby team who work from home regularly catch up like this and we share news, discuss work, home and family but we don’t have an agenda and only do it when it suits us all.
• Believe in yourself. Now this is tough, as often working on your own, and with your own thoughts, you can sometimes feel isolated, lose your confidence and sometimes question your skills and ability. DON’T…Instead just try to accept that you won’t necessarily get that immediate or subtle feedback from bosses or colleagues that you would get in an office.
Find a support group or mentor that you can tap into when you feel you need to. There are many support groups around but I think finding one outside of your work sector and that is just about supporting you works better for me. There are a few around, but I particularly like mi365 with life coach Pete Cohen. He also has a fabulous book called Shut the Duck Up that is a great aid to dip in and out off to get you back on track if you have a wobble. I have also had good support from friends and family.
• Get yourself a day light lamp…I have found my lighting is not always set up properly at home. I am far more aware of the weather when at home and as our country, sadly, is not always known for its sunshine I have found this has really helped me with my concentration levels and even perhaps lifting my mood. I am not promising that for everyone, but worth a try.
• Set your work station up properly. If you worked in an office you’d need to set up your desk ergonomically. Working from home should provide the same consideration for your health. Your employers should be expected to help with advice at the very least. Just because you’re near the kitchen, don’t snack on the biscuits. Use this access to the store cupboards to plan the best possible diet for your situation (and not the worst).
• More people are working from home now, and I love seeing this massive increase since I started. The mindset is changing, it is more accepted and is certainly becoming the norm. But there is still a need to come over as a professional on the phone. I am lucky as I work in the parenting sector so children are part of my job, but based on your knowledge of what’s accepted in your sector you may want to make calls when you know that your child(ren) aren’t going to run up to you the minute you pick the phone up. In my house, I was always the most needed person on the planet just when I need to make the most important phone call. Whilst home-work should be an acceptable part of 21st century working, be aware that not everybody you have to deal with will be quite so forward looking.
• My final bit of advice – NETWORK. This may seem obvious, but it is not always easy to start, and more and more of us should be getting used to meeting people online. But for me physically attending networking events and meeting people face-to-face is still top of my list for building relationships and partnerships. Meeting likeminded people, especially others that work from home, could become a lifeline for you. Build those relationships so that they can support you and you can support others too.