What springs to mind when you think about ‘Working from home’? If your daily commute takes you further afield, then the idea is most likely very appealing. As a work-from home Mum myself, I agree there are certain advantages and these are the very reason I do what I do. But they might not be the ones you think.
When you tell people you work from home, they envisage you popping out for lunch with a friend, working in your pyjamas, watching your favourite television programme and enjoying flexibility to pick your own hours.
Not true, sadly. At least, not true in my case, or any other working mum I know who works during school hours. The reality is that, due to your compressed working hours you’ll unlikely take any lunchbreak at all, let alone leave the house and meet a friend. More likely you’ll be grabbing a sandwich at 2:55pm after you realise you haven’t moved since you sat down at 9am that morning. Likewise, no time for a television break.
Working in pyjamas? Of course not. You’ve taken the children out to nursery or school, right? And in any case, who would want to do that anyway? You’ll miss the opportunity to dress smartly for a work environment as one day you realise you’ve worn jeans every day for the last 8 months and you feel kind of ‘unattractive’. You know that unless you make a big effort for yourself, this is not going to change anytime soon.
Many work from home jobs do allow you to pick your own hours. But think about that for a moment. You drop the children off. You work like a nutter to fit in all your work and before you know it, it’s time to collect them again. Cue sudden switch to Mummy mode. Which child has to be where for the next few hours of extra-curricular clubs, homework or playdates, not to mention organising dinner. You’ll probably still have work that needs doing, too, so will find yourself logging back onto the laptop the moment the children are tucked up in bed, for phase two of your working day. That’s your evening gone as you lose sense of time, structures and boundaries. Sleep, Repeat. Oh, and if you are sick, you’ll still work.
It sounds like I’m moaning. Really, I’m not. I choose to work this way, because there are real advantages. My top priority is that I get to be there to collect my children from school. I work for myself so that I don’t have to request time off for school sports day or other events. I can join in and accompany the school trip, if I choose to. I have no commuting expenses. I waste zero minutes of my life each day travelling to and from work. No office politics to deal with. Big advantages! And I remind myself of these when the isolation gets me down.
If you are considering working from home, think first about the advantages of going to a place of work. Some things you might take for granted are going to suddenly disappear from your life overnight. Here are a few painful truths:
You will be giving up being part of your office team culture. ‘Who’s that?’ they might be thinking on your arrival at the annual summer party. In fact there will be no social element of your workday at all. Prepare yourself for very very little human interaction, ever! No-one stops by your desk to say a quick hello. No-one calls you, because everyone prefers email nowadays. The sudden realisation that you’ve sat in silence for the best part of the last week can be depressing. Careful you don’t start to lose those social skills and your sense of humour along with it. It’s all just a little bit serious, all the time. As if that’s not enough, those friendly colleagues still attending the office every day may become sceptical of your work at home arrangement, suspicions arising that you are enjoying dossing around having a great time.
What you can do: Is it possible to go into the office one day a week? Can you arrange a daily skype meeting with you team? It’s not the same, but it’s definitely better than nothing. If you find yourself talking to yourself on a regular basis, book a day off to meet up with friends immediately!
The same four walls. You WILL get sick of the site of them.
Leaving your house and immediate vicinity every work day to go to an office is good for you! As a work from home mum, you won’t get out much. Distractions of home and all the family mess and tasks in plain site from your desk will all be vying for your time and attention. If your children attend a local school, you will live almost your entire life existence within 1 square mile and start to feel that an alarm might go off somewhere, if you try to leave at any time, alerting ‘them’.
What you can do: Try to get out! See if there is a café nearby that welcomes you to work from their tables. If it’s your own business, get out networking. At the weekends, leave your home town; there’s a big, exciting world out there, that may become all but a distant memory, otherwise.
No-one else believes you have a proper job.
Not an issue when you go to a place of work every day. You can suddenly feel quite lonely and isolated in your work-from-home status as you decline coffees after drop-off and the request to ‘just pop over to the town 20 miles away to pick something up for me’. You may start to feel anti-social and unhelpful but that’s not how it is. If you don’t get today’s quota of work done, it’s going to impact on the rest of the week and the stress will be yours alone.
You live an in-between existence, always rushing from one place to the next. Not a stay at home mum, not a mum who goes out to work. And people will have expectations of you. Get ready to disappoint! By committing to work between school hours, you have also unwittingly put pressure on yourself to do all the childcare and home care too. No-one is going to prepare the evening meal, just because you’ve been at working all day.
What you can do: Communicate, but don’t expect your friends and family to get it. Be kind to yourself. If you can afford it, then get a cleaner every so often, or give yourself a break and buy the occasional ready meal. You’re not superwoman, it’s okay to get some help.
Who motivates you?
You do! Works well enough if you are a super-disciplined creature of productivity-enhancing rituals. There will be times when this is hard to maintain and you’ll miss that boss looking over your shoulder keeping you accountable, especially when you find yourself working late into the evening, because you procrastinated during the afternoon.
You’ll be the harshest the boss you’ve ever had. Because your home is your workplace, you feel like you should always be working; switching off is easier said than done.
What you can do: Find a community of people in the same situation, share your daily goals, take a break!