The Coronavirus means many of us parents are working from home whilst also looking after our children, and as a result there’s been an overwhelming number of articles giving advice on how best to handle this.
They make it sound so easy, which might leave us thinking, ‘here’s my chance to embrace the flexible working revolution and get a taste of ‘having it all’.
Because working remotely is supposed to give us the freedom to spend more time with our families, right?
Well, yes, it does. But not under these circumstances.
This is not what flexible working is really like
As a freelancer, I’ve been working from home for three years, so I’m well practiced in the delicate act of balancing my career with my family.
I, for one, feel the ‘Top Tips for Working from Home’ blogs are all well and good, but they fall short of being helpful.
They offer guidance based on the misconception that you’re simply moving your desk from your office to your spare room.
In reality, you’re dealing with the added diversions of being responsible for your offspring too.
Remote working has been proven time and again to increase productivity, by making a worker more efficient with their time, but I think it’s unreasonable to expect that to be the case now.
Simon Gregory from GPS Return has written an excellent blog about how companies mustn’t use this time to judge how successful a flexible working policy will be for them.
My concern extends to the employees, I don’t want anyone to come out of lockdown and think: ‘Meh, I tried that working from home thing and it really wasn’t for me.’
Because things are tough now, we’re living in unprecedented times (there’s a phrase you hadn’t heard for at least five minutes), and what you are going through every day is not indicative of how great flexible working really can be.
Working from home under quarantine
I’ll talk you through a typical day in isolation for the Fieldhouse-Downes family, which consists of myself (a freelance writer), Luke (a teacher), Harry (aged 3) and James (aged 7 months):
You never really get to completely focus on what you’re doing while the kids are around.
You feel rushed because you feel bad your partner is on his own with them, and that he needs to get his work done too.
By Tuesday you’re exhausted.
You’re literally on the go 24/7 (especially if, like me, have two kids who do not sleep well at night).
Even the weekend brings no relief, because, actually, it brings no kind of break from all of this.
Every working parent is a hero to me, even more so if you are parenting alone
We’re being the worker, the teacher, the coach, the entertainer (how does Mr Tumble stay that positive all the time?), the nurse, the chef, the social life and, not forgetting, the parent.
On top of all that, we are dealing with an incredibly stressful time where there is a constant barrage of worries:
What if we get ill?
What if this lockdown lasts for six months?
What will we do about Harry starting school?
What can I do to find more work?
What will Luke be asked to do for his work?
What about all those things we’re having to cancel?
Try to remember the positives.
If you’re reading this because you’re a working parent who’s finding these circumstances hard, please remember what a flipping awesome job you are doing.
I’d also like to point out some of the great things that are going on at the moment, that you might not have noticed under the exhaustion of day-to-day life:
How much better does it feel not having to battle through the rush hour commute?
How much more time are you getting with your kids every day?
How much more confident do you feel having more control over your workload?
How much are you not missing all the pointless meeting you used to have to go to?
How much nicer has it been getting to know your neighbours a little better (from a distance)?
Those are just some of the positives working from home can bring you all year around.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this article, please share it with your friends. Or tweet me and let me know how you are getting on with balancing work life and family life!
After two years of freelancing while keeping an eye out for vacancies with permanent jobs, I made a big decision at the end of last year – to commit completely to becoming self-employed.
Having submitted countless applications, only to never hear back or find I’d been unsuccessful, I became fed up of going for roles that weren’t 100% suited to me.
The final straw came after an interview in Bradford for a marketing job at a law firm.
I got back into my car, frustrated because I felt it had gone awfully, and ranted to myself all the way home about what a ridiculous waste of time it had all been.
‘I don’t want to work in f***ing Bradford anyway. What am I even doing here?’
Once I got home, I settled down to focus on my freelance work and answered an email from a client asking for support on setting up a Twitter account.
What he needed was a bit of confidence for posting things and putting himself out there – something I feel totally at home providing for others.
That was when I realised – it was time I put a stop to trying to find work at a large, faceless company, and time I put everything into working freelance, for a variety of clients where I could make a difference.
Since then, I genuinely haven’t looked back. I’m absolutely loving the freelance life, not least because it allows me to fit my career around having a young, growing family. I’m honestly getting the best of all worlds.
So, today I wanted to celebrate the freelance lifestyle by sharing my story, and those of others, to show the world just how great it is (and also how flipping hard we all work!).
Catherine Gladwyn, Delegate VA
It’s enabled me to adjust to a life of medication, fatigue and lots of hospital visits following a brain tumour.
It’s enabled me to learn things I’d never have learnt as an employee (and I’ve still never needed to put anyone in a sling!).
It’s enabled me to earn more than I could’ve ever earned in my home town, unless I was willing to be stressed out 24/7.
Berenice Smith, Hello Lovely Graphic Design
I went freelance to make a change in my life after failed IVF and recurrent miscarriages.
It’s meant I’ve had time to explore my grief and create opportunities to support others who are childless, not by choice, and may need an empathetic designer for their ‘Plan B’.
Freelancing has enabled me to have the time to be creative and relieve the artist in me, it’s created a reprieve from the anxiety and depression a committed role seems to bring me.
Freelancing allowed me to actually be able to work and contribute financially to our household.
My son is disabled and returning to work full-time wasn’t an option due to me being his primary carer – there’s no such thing as childcare in school holidays for kids like mine!
Being able to freelance as a Facebook Ads Manager also helped massively with my mental health and enabled me to feel like a useful member of society again.
It’s allowed me to work around chronic illness (endometriosis), to carve out and financially support time for my own writing, to build a thriving business of creative writing courses and workshops at affordable prices, to charge what I’m worth as an editor, and to evolve the shape of my life.
I’ve been able to skip the worst of recession through remote working, reduce food waste, manage stress breakdowns and support myself when housebound.
Being freelance enabled me to work around my kids – I’m lucky enough to have been able to walk them to and from school every day, get to their sports days and afternoon events, take them to their out of school activities, etc.
I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to share their childhood with them, when many parents I know aren’t able to.
I have a rebellious streak and little patience for corporate bulls***, which is why, ultimately, I had to get out of the regular world of work.
From an early age I knew I’d end up self-employed. I’m happier, more productive, more fulfilled and receive 100% reward for my hard work. No money in the world can make up for corporate politics.
Having worked in a corporate role, feeling massively undervalued and belittled, I suffered a burnout which meant three months of work.
I had time to re-evaluate what on earth I was doing and for what purpose, my children were pushed to the side as I fought for a career that was not actually serving me in any way.
I planned my exit and got a part-time role in a new industry, now I’m setting up a recruitment business.
I feel completely different: my confidence is returning and there’s no looking back.
Sarah Johnson, Flourish Retail
I became a freelancer mostly to work around my kids, I’m lucky I can be there before and after school. But what has really changed my life is that I can help other businesses.
Something which in the corporate retail world might have been standard practice, can have an instant impact for small brands and it’s amazing to see how my merchandising skills can help others.
I’m also now able to give back, helping other merchandisers come into the world of freelance, giving them the flexibility that I enjoy.
I’ve walked my kids to and from school most days, my eldest has just started high school. You can’t buy that time back.
But it has also allowed me to say ‘yes’ – to after-school clubs, friends round, activities in school and all kinds of different and interesting work.
I have done a bit of contract work following regular office hours and I’ve really noticed the lack of flexibility.
Freelancing makes our family work, it’s as simple as that!
Lucy Whitehall, Transform and Thrive
I always knew I would run my own business one day, after too many years on the corporate merry-go-round that led to burnout and depression.
I can now combine my experience and expertise from a wide variety of backgrounds and disciplines, instead of feeling boxed in by one dimensional descriptions of what I do and who I am.
I have a strong desire for autonomy, developing new business opportunities and earning my own money (vs lining the pockets of VC’s and corporates).
I feel like I can support my clients much more effectively now, using my own judgement rather than having to go through hurdles of decision making by people who may not necessarily know what they’re talking about or who feel they need to follow ‘process and procedure’.
The flexibility freelancing offers me almost goes without saying.
Many thanks to the members of the Freelance Lifestylers Facebook group for sharing their incredibly inspiring experiences, what an amazing bunch of people that goes to prove what huge talent there is out there in the freelance world.
If you’re a freelancer or thinking of taking the plunge, I’d highly recommend joining the group - it’s a really supportive forum that offers support, advice and just general pep talks whenever needed!
Working from home has many positive sides, especially if you’re a parent. But one of the drawbacks is that you can become a lot less active.
You’d have thought it would be easier to fit in an exercise routine when your time is your own, but it’s not always that easy. For me, there is a need to prove to the world that I work just as hard as everyone who's in an office all day, so I always feel guilty for taking any kind of break.
On top of that, it’s amazing the difference not having a daily commute has made to my fitness. The short walk from my flat to the train station, the train station to the office and then back again at the end of the day, all added up to a decent amount of walking.
But when you’re at home, the furthest you walk is to the kitchen to make your lunch and it can be so easy to spend all day sat behind your laptop… before you know it, it’s 4 o’clock and time to collect the baby from nursery – which you do by car to save time. Well, I do anyway!
I’ve been through a few exercise ‘fads’ since becoming a freelancer and have always enjoyed the benefit of getting out of the house and blowing away the cobwebs. Couch to 5k is a favourite of mine and something I plan to go back to next year, while the Wii Fit suited me because it removed the excuse of ‘oh, but it’s too cold outside’.
So, why can’t I follow these keep fit routines consistently?
The truth is, there’s always something that gets in the way. It’s part and parcel of being a working parent, life is busy and you have no control over what happens with your child from one week to the next.
Illness crops up, or a bad night’s sleep. You’ll have an appointment to go to or some housework that needs doing. Even on your busiest of weeks, the children have to come first - that’s just the way it is.
Then there’s work. As a freelancer, it’s easy to ‘over-service’ a client because you want to do a good job. You set yourself stringent hours to follow, but sometimes something unplanned comes up that you need to get done there and then. Again, exercise has to take a back foot.
For that reason, I’ve never been able to justify the cost of signing up for a gym. I worry I’ll be paying all that money every month, but won’t ever be able to make the most of the membership.
So, when I was offered the chance to try out Pudsey Leisure Centre’s facilities for free for a month I jumped at it.
Would I be able to change my routine enough to fit in exercise, or would I end up realising I was right all along and, while I’m a parent of young children, it’s just not worth it?
I turned up in my jeans and t-shirt, expecting just to be shown the different machines. But the staff member I met was really friendly and spent more time with me than I imagined. We chatted while I had a go on everything and got to know how to use the equipment.
Helpfully, he also created a plan for me to follow every time I visited. It can be so daunting going to the gym for the first time, wanting to do a work-out that makes a difference but not wanting to push yourself so much, so having this was a great starting point.
I decided to go twice a week to begin with, perhaps once in the gym and once in the swimming pool because the membership here covers both, as well as giving you access to all the classes they have to offer.
I returned the next day in better attire and got straight to work on the treadmill. ‘I’ll just have ten minutes walking on here, don’t want to push myself on the first go’, I said – only to find it was really easy going and I went a little faster and for a little longer than planned. Go me!
I followed that up with some time on the bike and rowing machine and even a short go on the cross trainer – I do not like the cross trainer!
The whole trip to the gym made me feel good: I was happy to be out of the house and happy to not be looking at my computer or phone screen for an hour. It was the one time that week I was truly doing something for myself and it was nice to put work on the back burner for a bit.
Plans to head back for another session went out of the window when I found I hadn’t done as much work as I wanted to. Immediately, I felt like the couple of hours I’d spent at the gym were to blame, even though they weren’t.
Mum guilt kicked in, so I stayed at home and got through my to-do list.
I did manage a session on the final day of the week, though.
My son, who’s almost three, goes to nursery for four days a week, but I’ve always insisted on us having a ‘Harry and Mummy day’ on Friday. I assumed this would mean no time for working out – but actually it ended up 'working out' quite well going up to the gym once my partner, Luke, got back from work.
It was great to give myself a bit of a break from parenting ahead of having a full weekend with him. I love my son, he is my favourite person in the world, but he’s also an absolute arse sometimes so giving my head a break was beneficial.
I didn’t manage to go earlier in the week as I planned, work was so busy and I felt like the house was a mess. By the time I'd worked out my to-do list, my day was full with no room for more. I started to wonder if it really is possible to balance it all – work, family, home... and health?
But, I was also conscious the pressure I was putting on myself to do it all would not be worth it. Exercise can be so good for your mental health, but not if you’re making yourself feel bad for doing it.
For my own peace of mind, I resolved to focus on work and the worst parts of the house (the mountain of washing that I was struggling to get dry because we turned the heating off the week before), and let myself off the gym hook.
Having got down my list… well, mostly… I nipped to the leisure centre for a short session and was so glad I did. Clare, who arranged my free pass, was there and we had a little catch up, which cheered me up no end.
It’s another drawback of working from home – some days the lack of human interaction can make you very lonely. So, being able to go up to a community space where you know you’ll be welcomed is a good thing and made me want to keep coming back.
Claire and I had a laugh because I came out in a top that was stained from the bolognaise I’d had at lunch. Only a little bit, but it was almost enough to make me not want come out at all – it's amazing how many different silly excuses I came out with over these four weeks.
On Monday, Harry came home from nursery with a funny tummy and we were subjected to the dreaded 48-hour rule. ‘No problem’, thought I, ‘I’ll just pop on a film and get some work done while he watches that’. Yeah, right.
Tuesday morning rolled round and Luke was ill too, so I had both of them to look after. I decided to focus on the ‘absolutely must be done’ tasks for work, balancing Harry on one knee while I did them.
Come Wednesday I was shattered. Harry was fine in himself, running amok and causing chaos, but his nappies were still not back to normal and I realised I was going to have to keep him home for another day.
By Thursday, it had all become too much, I was behind with my work and I couldn't get any of it done with a toddler tearing round the house.
I bemoaned the crappy 48-hour rule, I bemoaned the fact that being the Mum meant I was the one who had to miss out on work. I bemoaned the fact I’d been so rushed off my feet I was now feeling ill myself.
To be honest, that week was so rough, the thought of going to the gym barely crossed my mind. I’m a firm believer in self-care, but when family life hits a hiccup like this, something has to give.
By the following week I had a back log of work that really needed to be finished and, having hit a low point with my mental health, on the Thursday I put all thoughts of exercise to one side. I needed to focus on removing the things that were causing me stress and then going back to square one with my routine.
That month, I truly felt the benefits from getting out and exercising and I’m sure I’ll get back on it again one day. But, I’ve also realised that we working parents have enough going on and adding the pressure of trying to get fit or lose weight is just one too many.
That said, the membership prices at Pudsey Leisure Centre are reasonable. You can use the membership card at other centres too, so it’s easy to fit the Active Leeds lifestyle into your own. At £25 a month, just one visit a week means you’re getting your money back.
I know what I needed was a boost to get me going, so I’m excited to be able to offer my followers that same kick up the bum today. For those of you based in Leeds, Clare Brooke is able to offer a seven-day pass for free. Just give her a call on: 0113 336 7686
Give me a shout if you do go up – I’ll pop along and keep you company if you like… assuming we haven’t been hit by some kind of family lurgy again!
It’s been great to see the public support for Mental Health Awareness Week, so many people have bravely shared their stories of depression, anxiety and more in the hope that it will help others.
Sometimes it feels to me that ‘mental health’ has become something of a ‘buzzword’. It’s great to pop on a leaflet that you focus on your employees’ mental health, but do employers really take meaningful action to support those who are struggling?
Clearly, based on the stories I've read this week, there are a lot of good managers doing some really good work to make sure their teams look after their mental health as much as they will look after their physical health.
Mental health problems in the UK cost businesses almost £35 billion a year in sick pay, an astonishing amount. Topics like ‘burnout’ and ‘work/life balance’ are always being discussed, and yet they can easily be addressed and solved.
So, how can organisations make changes within their culture that will actually encourage make a difference?
As a Mum of one, working as a freelance social media manager for a variety of clients – it’s strange to think how much my life has changed in the last three years. When I was ten weeks pregnant in 2016, I was made redundant from the first ‘secure’ job I’d ever had and it threw me into a spin.
I sort of muddled through I think, trying to balance my new life as a Mum with this burning desire to get back to work and sort out my career. I really missed being employed and hated the thought of every minute of my day being about having a child – I needed something for me.
Once my son, Harry, had been born I looked into ways I could return to work and – thankfully – found freelance roles with two PR agencies (Turner PR, who specialise in the charity sector, and Chocolate PR, who are based in Leeds).
Social media management was a completely new path for me, but one I’d wanted to take for years, having been involved in a few campaigns in my previous role. I found myself working through the agencies with a variety of clients and learning a lot in a short space of time.
This, the lingering anger over losing my old job and balancing a family life that I really didn’t think I was any good at, started to become too much for me. After a particularly bad week where I’d had some negative feedback from a client, I had a meltdown in the middle of a street in York.
I knew then that I needed help; so, after a visit to the doctor I self-referred to the Leeds IAPT service and was lucky enough to be booked on for CBT within just a few weeks. I began taking anti-depressants too, which I’ve since been able to come off with no side effects.
The reason I’m sharing this story is that a huge step in my recovery was being able to reach out to my employers and tell them what was wrong. So many people are too scared open up to their boss in case it leads to being discriminated against.
That needs to change.
So, what do employers need to change to help support everyone’s mental health?
Encourage an open dialogue between employees and their line manager:
After being diagnosed with PND, I knew it would be important to share this with my manager, Jenny Turner. When I picked up the phone to call her I was nervous, but I needn’t have been.
The conversation was supportive and kind, she made it clear to me that my health was the priority and we made some changes that would enable me to continue working. Just a few weeks before I had felt my only option was to quit, so this was a huge relief.
Check in regularly:
This is particularly important when you work remotely, as all of us do at Turner PR. We are a busy team, but Jenny and her partner Lucinda place a lot of value on making time for a phone call that asks, ‘are you okay?’
Most importantly, they genuinely care about the answer and I think it’s so important that businesses make that a core part of their culture.
Allow them to work the hours that suit their lifestyle:
Having flexible hours is the main reason I decided to work as a freelancer, they not only allow me a Friday off to spend with my son, they also allow me to focus on my mental health. If I’m feeling low on any given day, it’s possible for me to take a couple of hours away from work, I might have a nap or take myself somewhere nice* for lunch (*for ‘nice’, read McDonald’s!).
With my head clear, I come back to my laptop and do what needs to be done far more efficiently. It is my firm belief that all companies should offer this, because both they and their staff will feel the benefits.
Offer flexibility in other ways, so changes can be made when people are struggling:
After I reached out to Jenny for help, she was able to say to me, ‘take a step back and focus on doing only what you can manage’. Offering flexibility at work shouldn’t just be about the amount of hours staff work – it should also be about allowing them to say ‘no’ to anything they don’t feel comfortable doing.
All too often I hear people with depression saying they can’t refuse work, even though it is making their condition worse. More managers should respect and support an employee’s right to choose.
When someone says, ‘I’m fine’, don’t just leave it at that:
I’ll never forget the head of department in my old job taking the time to discuss why I was struggling with my workload. We discussed how to manage projects in a better way, sure, but she also asked me if I was okay and gave me encouragement to reassure me I was doing well, even though I didn’t think I was.
As it transpired, I had an underlying problem with anxiety and I wish to this day the company had given us all more space to address things like this.
Give regular, positive feedback:
The main thing that served my anxiety and depression was a constant feeling that I’m not very good at what I do and I’ll never amount to anything. Fast forward a couple of years and I’ve been in receipt of some lovely feedback from clients.
The Adult ADHD Channel, in particular, have been great at taking the time to let me know how pleased they are with the content I’ve produced and it genuinely lifts my mood daily. It’s a quick thing that we can all do, and it does make a difference!
Support your teams with their own personal goals:
I know you want your business to make money, but you can’t expect that to be the main driver for each of your employees too. Find out what their dreams are and ask how working for you can help them achieve that, this will breed loyalty and a renewed motivation at work.
I recently began working with a wonderful company called GPS Return and decided to inform them early on that I am currently pregnant with my second child. Managing Partner Simon could not have been more supportive, he was genuinely excited for me and I swear that has added to the loyalty I feel to his company.
If you’re doing all these things… well done. Now shout about it and lead the way for others:
There is still a damaging attitude that mental health issues cause problems for business and it is the employees who need to fix the problem. Actually, the responsibility lies with the employer to help their staff prevent things from becoming so bad they can no longer work.
What have you done this week to make sure your teams are okay? And don’t forget to ‘check-in’ with yourself too!
‘Working remotely has made me a monster’, reads the intriguing opening line to Jo Ellison’s Financial Times article on remote working.
In a sea of reports claiming that flexible working is more productive, less stressful and increasingly the most important thing we ‘millennials’ seek in a job, Jo’s piece certainly goes against the tide.
To me, it reads like the brain dump of someone who is clearly rushed off her feet and very good at her job – written perhaps after a frustrating week where she is craving the greener grass of the ‘simpler’ office environment.
I feel your pain Jo: remote working does have its challenges. But it has its advantages too and I’d like to take you through them:
Whether you're working from home or working remotely – it’s all hard work.
Firstly, kudos to you for having such a successful career as a reporter. As someone who’s wanted to be a journalist since her teens, you are the type of woman I look up to and the fact you’re doing it with children is just - wow.
Being a reporter is an incredibly hard job with lots of running around, feeling like a headless chicken. But I don't believe being out of the office is what's making your time so challenging: whether you’re submitting work using the free WiFi at Wetherspoons or sat at your desk with your colleague next to you – it will remain a tough job to do.
By its very essence, your career requires you to be able work while out and about. Becoming accustomed to remote working and having adaptable hours does not cause the stress in this role, in fact it should help take some pressure off.
Not working in the same office doesn’t mean you’re not working in the same team.
So, what about if the whole team is working remotely, doesn’t that make it harder to get things done? You certainly seem to think so, Jo, but as someone who works as part of several teams like this, I know that not to be the case.
It takes time to get used to this set-up, sure, but it is amazing what a difference can be made by allowing everybody to work hours that suit their life, the trust and respect you have for one another grows quickly.
It's important to make sure you set aside time for 'catch-ups', to update each other on what you’re doing and run ideas past one another. We often find ourselves 'brainstorming' during phone calls, and it's even important to just make sure you’re all okay.
In my experience, this is something that often gets overlooked when you're working together for 40, busy hours a week - so there is an argument to say that communication has improved since I branched out on my own.
For me, working remotely has seen an end to the pointless, hour-long meetings, where nothing actually gets decided, followed by a round of emails with the agenda typed up by some poor sod who drew the short straw and some ignoramus only then deciding to raise an important issue... so you have to arrange yet another meeting.
Being away from each other makes us, in my opinion, more succinct in our work and more organised. You plan your time more efficiently because you know you aren’t going to be able to just lean across your desk to ask a question, or change your mind on what you’re doing.
What’s more, once you’ve had those catch-up calls you can go away and get the job done. When I was in an office, I’d get back from a meeting and there’d be someone waiting at my desk to ask me a question. POOF – the moment was gone, the ideas and motivation I had evaporated in a second.
Remote working promotes independence and the chance to show your own initiative, you place a real trust that everyone in your team will get their job done. I thrive so much better when someone shows that faith in me, instead of having someone looking over my shoulder all the time.
What makes remote working work best? Good communication.
I actually prefer talking via email because it gives you a trail that you can follow. When you’ve done your work, you can go back through it and check you’ve done everything that is being asked of you.
Jo, you mention in your piece that emails have become short and reduced to emojis. But, in my opinion, that might not be a bad thing - no-one appreciates a rambling, self-absorbed waffle when a few lines will do. Instead, write down what they need to know, add in a 'hope you're well, because we all appreciate manners, and it's job done.
And if you really don’t like emails, there’s plenty of other options like Slack, WhatsApp... the list goes on. We’re in an fast-changing, digital world, where new ideas appear every-day to help you with your work - there’s no excuse really for not finding something to make your life easier.
I’m a slave for you, my phone.
What this regular communication does mean, is a deluge of notifications on your phone. Sometimes emails are just so hard to ignore, and it’s even worse for me because, as a Social Media Consultant, I’ve got the little Twitter icon constantly popping up too.
But Jo, I’m afraid this has got nothing to do with remote working either – the answer, actually, lies in finding a system that works for you.
I was given the sound advice to be more disciplined on checking my emails. It’s incredibly tempting to read and reply as soon as they come in, but that breaks the flow of your work and makes you less productive.
So, I try to follow the lead of a recruitment agent I know who checks his emails twice a day, once at lunchtime and once at close of play. I’d be lying if I said I don’t keep an eye out for any coming in from my boss – but in general it’s a great rule to keep.
And in the evening, when I am focusing on being with my son and partner, I make an effort to put my phone away. The other day, my two-year old son Harry took it off me saying ‘phone away’ and I think that was the stab in the heart I needed to break the habit of having it constantly attached to my hand.
Whatever it is that’s popping up on your phone really can wait, the world isn’t going to fall apart if it doesn't hear from you until the morning... and if it's really important, they'll call.
Work/life balance: the holy grail.
Which leads me on to my next point – family time.
For so many of us, remote working with flexible hours is the answer to being able to spend more time with your family, to stave of the guilt off being a working parent, while also keeping up that career that you've worked so hard for.
I’m sad to hear, Jo, that you haven’t experienced the benefit of that yet - there is no worse feeling than having your child right next to you and not being able to give them your full attention.
Recently, I was speaking to a friend who works in local media and he too has struggled to find the balance between an amazing career and spending time with his young child. The hours are long and the travelling tiring – meaning he doesn't get to be with her for as long as he'd like.
Having struggled with PND last year, I made a commitment to allocating Fridays for me and my son. In cutting the working week by a day, I am able to switch off my laptop and have special time with him. Because, after all, being a Mum is more important than the rest of it.
Believe me, making a commitment to keeping family and work time separate is a challenge, and I understand that this isn’t always going to be possible for you because of your job. But when there are times that you can do it, you should definitely take advantage, it’s totally worth the few drawbacks of remote working.
This plan doesn't always run smoothly every week, the picture on this blog is from two Fridays ago when I needed to get some content scheduled for a client. It was a short job, so I popped on Lightning McQueen to distract my toddler...
Do you know what he did? He came and sat next to me, he passed me our blanket to put over both our knees and he held my hand. I continued my work, one-handed, while he watched the film, talking to me about it the whole time.
It took twice as long as it should have, but Harry and I had our morning together and he knew I was there for him. He’s going to grow up knowing that his Mummy sometimes has to work, but that she does it because she’s committed to providing him with a good life, and a good female role model.
Go a little easy on yourself, Jo, because while your kids see you on a laptop they’ll be seeing the same thing too.
The one thing I do miss? An IT department.
There is one thing about remote working I would love to change...
Last week, my computer decided to go on strike on the Wednesday afternoon – annoyingly I was just about to finish work for the week as it was half term and I had family staying. After trying the old ‘switch it off and on again’ method a few times, I gave up and decided to leave it to ‘rest’ overnight.
Thursday came and went, and it wasn’t much better, so in the evening I decided to download an anti-virus and see if that helped. It didn’t… until the next morning when, for some, reason, it finally clicked into action (I think the anti-virus had updated) and I was able to do the last couple of hours work I needed to do.
I HATE it when this happens. I rue the day I decided to work from home and long for the IT team that I used to be able to pop and see whenever something went wrong with my computer.
But, you really do learn to adapt - just like you do when making better use of emails and blocking out time for family. When I was moving house I didn’t have broadband for 3 days, and had to spend all of them working at the nearest Wetherspoons – so it wasn’t too bad!
Remote working a cruel and misleading concept? Jo, with respect, you’re just doing it wrong.
And so, we come to the paragraph that compelled me to write this piece:
‘Has there ever been a concept as cruel and misleading as remote working. 81% believe it would be more productive. What rubbish. The allure of working is a myth built on a lie. The fantasy of slopping around in your pyjamas and being there to see your children? Total nonsense. You half see them over your laptop, as they wonder why you’re always sat at your computer. And then the geography of the office assumes an endless horizon from which there is zero escape.’
As fantastically written as this is, I'm compelled to disagree with the sentiment.
You claim you’re working three times as hard now than when you worked in an office, but I just can’t relate to this I’m afraid. Without a shadow of a doubt, my productivity has improved since I started working from home. And, for the most part, my confidence too.
I can plan my own day, I don’t have to work to other people’s meeting schedules, and I’m not constantly being interrupted by someone coming over to my desk to ask me some inane question.
I used to take my iPod in purely so I could stick my headphones on and shut out the world when I needed to. Tracy and Sharon opposite talking about their weekend plans, Derek asking me to go and approve some artwork, Jo pulling me from my desk to show my face at a meeting that I really didn’t need to attend. (*names are hypothetical!)
When I’m at home I have none of that, I can zone out and focus on the task in hand and it’s honestly the best work I’ve ever done. I get that it’s not suited to everyone, but for me, remote working and flexible hours has been a life-changer - which is why I'm so passionate about making sure anyone who wants that option can have it.
So, Jo, please don’t project your experiences on to others, especially those of us who are working hard to make flexible working an option for all.
Jo’s article can be found here.
The hardest thing about being made redundant is the feeling of having absolutely no control over what is happening to you.
It’s not often you find yourself in that situation and when the thing you’ve lost control of is basically the most important thing in your life, your career, it’s really difficult to take in.
The day it happened to me is still so clear in my mind, despite it being almost three years ago. I still feel like I’m reliving the moment my boss called me to the little room in the far corner of the office.
He said to me, “please don’t worry Amy, it will all be okay”.
“You have no idea”, I wanted to scream at him. This was nothing short of a disaster for me.
He wasn’t to know that I was eleven weeks pregnant at the time and terrified about the effect the stress of that day would have on my unborn child.
Such was the shock of that experience; I had nightmares about it for many months afterwards. I still think about it now, as I lay in bed at night, and each time I do my blood runs cold.
Redundancy affects people in so many different ways:
I knew I would eventually become the latter, I just couldn’t work out how I was going to get to that point. Things could have been far worse, I knew others who had mortgages to pay and children to feed, but that didn’t take away from the pain I was feeling. It was all so unfair.
You see, when I finished university nearly 10 years ago, my move into the working world sadly coincided with the country going into a recession. After that, my career path went somewhat ‘off track’.
I took on various jobs, from supervising in a restaurant to looking through people’s bins (with their permission, obviously!), but none of the roles offered any opportunities to develop. That was until I got my first permanent job and the first that paid over £20,000 a year (for a graduate it seemed ludicrous that I had been on no more than £16,000 until I was almost thirty).
The position not only brought with it a chance to use my skills but also the peace of mind that I had a secure job that I could start using to plan long term. Waiting to be in this position was the main reason I had held off so long to start a family and being so settled was the main reason I chose to go ahead with the pregnancy.
When I lost my job I didn’t just lose my income: I lost my plans for the future and all the pride I felt for the hard work I’d done. All that effort seemed to count for nothing and I was terrified to face that uphill struggle for employment all over again.
The world was passing me by.
When I look back on that day now I always picture myself being thrown off a moving train: I’m safe at the side of the tracks, but watching the world continue to pass me by and I don’t really know how to get back on.
For a while that’s exactly how being made redundant felt: life was the blur of a fast moving train. I couldn’t think coherently and, to be honest, I didn’t want to because there was so much to process.
For the first few days I just felt numb. I couldn’t do anything useful, I don’t think I even used social media (if you know me, you’ll know what a big deal that was!).
I couldn’t go back to my own flat which I’d moved into just six months before, it hurt too much. Moving there had been the start of a wonderful new life for me: a settled life where I was finally living in a place I loved, close to a job that was helping me develop.
My head was spinning and I just needed to be somewhere different, somewhere I could cut myself off from everyday life. Luckily for me, I had an incredibly supportive partner who asked me to move in with him straight away.
But, while he was at work it was very lonely and as much as I tried to distract myself with chocolate and box-sets of my favourite TV series, no amount of Ross Poldark could take my mind off what happened.
So many people have said to me, “it’s not personal, you mustn’t think it is something you did wrong”. But I just can’t seem to agree with them, no matter how much I think about it.
I have always been a great believer in hard graft, often complimented on my ability to get my head down and just ‘do what needs to be done’. I was never one to play games or boast about what I had achieved, I just got on with it.
For months I beat myself up about this, I was forced to question everything I had done and, worse, everything I believed in. I hated that I had allowed myself to be walked over, for years I had watched people being tactical with the jobs they chose to do and the people they chose to work with, but I always shied away from that approach.
You spend quite a bit of time feeling resentful of the people that are left behind too, why me and not them? How had my approach to work been the one that was wrong? It made me question huge parts of my own personality.
You see, when I was made redundant, something shifted in me. A part of me will never be the same, the part that trusted people and tried to put the needs of others first.
With a little help from my friends…
There was one good thing to come from all of this: I was humbled by the way my closest friends rallied round to help me through the fallout. My lovely partner Luke is included in that.
My best friends told me to write a list of all the things I would be able to do now I didn’t have to trudge into the office every day. And so I did: top of the list were ‘spend a week with my parents’, ‘find places to go for walks’ and ‘get back to writing’.
I looked around Luke’s flat with Captain Ross smiling toplessly at me from the television screen and literally felt my vision start to become less blurry, my head less fuzzy.
As things stood, I had no idea what was going to happen next but I did know it would all work out okay, it had to. Having my list to focus on didn’t stop the hurt I was feeling, but it helped a little to clear the way to better times.
Without thinking about it, I felt myself reach down to my tummy, placing a protective hand on the bump that hadn’t yet started to show. In the mess of all that was going on, there was only one thing that really mattered.
This blog was first published in January 2017, it was the first piece I wrote and the inspiration for Mum Full of Dreams. I have come such a long way since then, and there is still a long way to go! I hope you will join me on the rest of my journey.
After I was made redundant, the days seemed to pass in a blur. My moods swung from anger to despair, exaggerated I’m sure by the hormones racing round my 11 week pregnant body.
I couldn’t think straight because I didn’t really know what to do next. Should I be snapping into action and looking for a new job straight away? Or, could I be permitted to mope around for a little while?
Having suddenly had all this free time imposed on me, I found myself pulling together endless ‘to-do lists’. There were things that I knew I needed to do, but importantly there were also things that I simply wanted to do.
Some jobs were a priority: moving out of the flat where I had settled just six months before, signing off the paperwork for the redundancy and telling people what had happened.
The first to receive that call: my parents.
I’ve been made redundant, what do I do now?
My partner and I had decided to wait until after Christmas and New Year before revealing the exciting news that my folks would soon be welcoming their first grandchild. But, losing my job had added a horrible complication to that plan, now I had to explain I had also lost my job.
Both pieces of news would be a shock and I was scared they would be worried about me.
I needn’t have been, of course: My Mum was ecstatic, I could tell she was concerned about how I would cope with a little one and no job, but it was obvious she was over the moon! My Dad was more subdued, absorbing the news carefully before offering me sensible advice, as is his way.
One thing they have always said to me is that if ever need them I can always go and stay with them. This was definitely one of those times.
You see, my parents, who have always taught me to strive for my dreams, live in the beautiful county of Cornwall. Leading by example, a few years ago they fulfilled their lifelong dream of moving to a seaside home near the harbour town where they shared their honeymoon.
When I hopped on a train to the south coast it was ‘off-season’ down there, perfect for what I needed: some peace and quiet and time to get my head together. Being a Daddy’s girl, a week spent with him visiting beautiful places like Chapel Porth beach and the Eden Project was ideal.
In my short time away I learned how important it is to have some proper ‘time off’. I began to understand the need to have time away from work, the monotony of house chores and the daily grind of the commute.
This was the first time I hadn’t thought about what was going on in the office for months, probably even years. There was no quickly checking my emails to make sure I wasn’t overwhelmed by them on my return to the desk. There was no obsessing with the social media feeds to see if they had featured any of my latest work.
The only thing I thought about was me, and boy did it felt good!
When was the last time you took a ‘proper’ holiday?
I think we are all guilty of not using our holidays for actually taking time out. We never just use our days off for relaxing and doing nothing. For some reason, we believe showing resilience and working tirelessly on any given task is the way to prove our worth.
But, if you have no time to rest, how can you expect to be at your best?
My week away unexpectedly served to give me a lot of clarity on the job I had just left. Frustratingly, I found I had new ideas about how to make projects in my old job a success, a fresh perspective on the problems we had been having and sensible theories on how I thought those could be resolved.
It was too little too late for me, but hopefully a lesson to others that taking a week away from it all really can make you a better worker. This new found focus wasn’t wasted though, it brought me the opportunity for a fresh start.
In my quest for a stable job that would allow me to pay off my debts and have my own family, I had lost sight of what it was I actually wanted to achieve in my career. I realised this about six months before and, the truth is, I had been looking to change jobs. I wanted to make better use of my skills and do more of the things I enjoy.
Now, I knew that redundancy could get me back on track and started to wonder if this could be the chance to work on the writing career I have always wanted. I honestly think this holiday saved me from the fallout of my redundancy; it gave me the space I needed to be able to cope.
The anger about losing my job lessened. It was still there, but I could reason with it.
The grief for the loss of the life I had planned, turned to hope that I could now begin a new, more exciting one.
With my head clear, I could build a plan of action for what to do next. I formed a list of things I needed to do to stabilise my working life, both before and after my new baby arrived. These were things I had simply not been able to think about at home, while my head was still spinning from what had happened.
And I guess that is the reason I’m writing this post. To say to you – please, take some time out.
If you’ve lost your job, or you no longer enjoy it, or if you’re feeling totally burned out – take a week off work and get out of town. The space you’ll give yourself will work wonders.
This post first appeared in January 2017.
I am writing to you today to apply for the role you advertised on the job site I spend most of my waking day glued to.
Every day I ‘favourite’ the jobs that interest me most, adapt my CV to suit vague job descriptions and try to come up with intriguing cover letters to make myself sound impressive. In doing this, I have become very familiar with the art of applying for jobs, so now I’m tired and, I don’t mind admitting, a little bit bored of writing applications.
I don’t have a job at the moment, I lost it unexpectedly, but I do spend many hours working hard at trying to find one. I wake at the same time as when I had to commute to the office, I get myself some breakfast and ready the laptop for a day of selling the best of myself when, frankly, I feel the worst of myself.
And do you know what the hardest thing about all this is?
Despite the fact I’ve put my heart and soul into these applications, it’s very rare I ever hear back from the person I sent them to.
It’s soul destroying and quite unhelpful to spend so much time hoping you have got the information just right, to then receive no response from the vast majority of recruiters.
I estimate around one in five take the time to reply to my emails or pick up the phone.
Does my CV really look that terrible?
Have I not explained well enough that I’m fully qualified for the role?
Did the HR assistant accidentally drop the print out she had of my message?
Or worse, did you look at my education and think ‘she’s too qualified for this role’?
Because, while I really appreciate the compliment, please don’t presume to make that decision for me. I’m applying for this job because I want it.
I hope the CV below is of interest to you. But if it isn’t, please, please, could you take five minutes to drop me a line and let me know where I went wrong?
I know you will be looking through a lot of letters today, but I really would value your feedback.
I’d like to thank you in advance for taking the time to read this, I hope you find the honesty a refreshing change.
AMY DOWNES: CURRICULUM VITAE
Address: A lovely little home in the town of Pudsey, just a short train ride from Leeds and a five minute drive from two major motorways.
Please note: This choice of location was not a happy accident, I made the decision to live here to make working anywhere in Yorkshire easy.
Easy to pass over, but you’d be foolish to think I’m being purposefully vague. These words describe the greatest of my talents.
From writing for a magazine, to connecting on social media. From delivering presentations to doing a piece to camera for a Vlog. These are my favourite things to do and I’m good at them too.
A skill I worked hard to earn in my last job. I ran several activities concurrently, whether it was my job to or not.
Recently updated during my role as a stay-at-home Mum: Now able to multi-task urgent requests while balancing a baby on my hip or toddler hanging off my ankles.
An important skill, yet so many get it wrong. I’m proud of this, because it’s the one others will tell you they like best about me. Being good in a team means my hard work is taken for granted by some, but I don’t let that affect how I work with others.
Charity campaigns - Lots of hard work, very little recognition. Found opportunities to use aforementioned key skills by working late and going to meetings others didn’t want to.
Legal admin - Busy and under pressure. Mind numbing repetitive tasks that had to be done right as others were reliant on me. A good stepping stone to the charity role.
Restaurant supervisor - A step away from my career to support a family business. Right decision at the time, completely wrong one with hindsight. Swore never to wait another table again.
Promoting recycling - Literally spent every day looking through rubbish bins explaining to people what they could recycle. Won’t provide details of the things that I saw, it may put you off your next meal.
Freelance journalist in my home town - My best job so far. Included press conferences at my favourite football team. Heartbroken when recession caused major reduction in freelance shifts.
Hobbies and interests:
I love the weekends. They mean my partner is home and can share the childcare, they mean having wine without feeling guilty and, once a month, they mean abandoning everyday life to spend an afternoon shouting at eleven men supposedly trying to win a game of football.
I have a two-year-old son who I completely adore and our new little family is my life now.
In fact… they’re the reason I’m applying for this job. They’re the reason you can be sure I’ll work my arse off for you and be a success.
References available on request:
I’m tempted to set up a hashtag on Twitter and let my followers tell you all you need to know about me. But I promise to use more traditional contacts if that is preferred.
In fact, that might be safer.
This blog was first published in February 2017 and, in the spirit of honesty, it's one of my favourite things I've written. Hence deciding to re-post it! If you like it too, please do share it on social media :-)
Could flexible working help you get a better work/life balance? As it’s National Work and Family Life month, there's no better time to ask why more of us aren’t able to introduce this into our working lives.
A recent survey showed that since the government introduced laws that give everyone the right to ask for flexible working, there’s been little change in the number of people actually doing so: ‘In 2010, 44.1% of all employees worked flexibly, and by 2015 the figure was 44.3%’.
"Many employers may remain sceptical about the benefits of flexible working… Barriers such as negative line manager attitudes and a cultural presumption against flexible working may dissuade employees from submitting an application”, says Joanna Wilson pulled the results together.
Between June and August, I applied for more than 50 jobs… all but a handful have been rejected, or worse, ignored altogether.
As a Mum of one, to Harry who’s two, this is what I've committed to so I can have the right work/life balance for me and my family. I want to be able to spend time with my son and flexible working helps me do that.
Between June and August, I applied for more than 50 jobs - mainly through sites like Indeed and almost always via recruitment agencies. Each time, I told them about my goal of flexible working or part time hours… All but a handful have been rejected, or worse, ignored altogether.
The agency will give me a call and ask about my work situation, I’ll explain what I’m doing and run through my employment history. Then they’ll ask for salary expectations and if I drive… and eventually the fact that it is full time.
I’ve taken to raising it at the very beginning of the phone call, meaning them can say ‘sorry, I don’t have any roles with flexible working hours at the moment’ much earlier on – and saving us both a lot of time.
The worry is that employers see this as me not wanting to commit to them, that somehow this means I’m lazy because I don’t want to ‘work’ 40 hours a week, or even just that they don’t think it’ll work for their business.
A recent YouGov survey showed employers are ‘concerned about the security and management implications… despite the fact that staff now have the legal right to request flexible working arrangements’.
When are companies going to catch up with the rest of us and start opening up to flexible working hours that don’t match the Monday – Friday, 9 – 5 norm?
Why are parents still having to choose between their career and their home life? Being at their desk, or their child’s play? Answering some emails, or being able to pick their little one up from school? Having a full-time job, or getting one extra day a week to spend with their family?
Why does every task on a person’s to-do list need to be done in the office at certain times of the day? Why is there a lack of trust that they can do this at home, in the evening, once they’ve had an hour or two chatting with their kids around the dinner table?
Because I am a Social Media Manager, I can be working at any time of the day (or night), so for me the flexible working hours are a perfect fit. For almost a year and a half, I've been able to do my work around my family, whilst (mostly) still hitting my deadlines.
On the four days a week that Harry’s at nursery, I get as much done as I can, but come pick-up time (which I can be whatever time I like, depending on what work I have on) I can focus entirely on him and have some much needed, much loved Harry and Mummy time.
If I feel a slump in the afternoon, which I always seem to do, I can take a break and recharge. I watch some Netflix or even have a nap – then later that evening, when he’s down in bed, I settle onto my sofa and do another of hour or two while I’m feeling more motivated again.
Freelancing means I’m able to work at the times I know I’m more productive, and the only person who needs to give me permission for that – is me!
Interestingly, it seems more people are coming around to this way of thinking: according to a HSBC survey, 89% of employees in the UK believe flexible working is key to improving productivity. They even have stats that prove this to be the case!
In my opinion, everyone should have the chance to make the most of that.
In my old job, I tried to change my working hours from 9 – 5 to 10 – 6. Only a small adjustment, but it’d mean I avoided the cramped morning trains and could work later when the office was quieter.
The request was immediately turned down, that wasn’t how things were done in the team and it wouldn’t be viewed very well by others. I often had the same reaction when I asked to work-from-home, there just was a fear that this would affect productivity.
It is my firm belief that every single one of us should have access to flexible working conditions. Doing has changed my life considerably, but I don’t think people should have to opt for a risky freelance lifestyle just top achieve that - Companies should offer it for permanent, full time roles too.
And that is why I’ve relaunched my blog today, on National Flex Day. I’m looking forward to sharing the things I’ve learnt about this completely different way of working – and I hope that some people reading it might be inspired to try it, or even offer it more to the people who work for them.
If you’ve enjoyed this read and want to join my mission to get everyone, parents or otherwise, the perfect work/life balance they deserve, please come and join me on Twitter or Facebook.
My name's Amy and I'm a Social Media Consultant with a two-year-old son, Harry.