Margot Grantham is a serial networker and businesswoman responsible for The Athena Network in Scotland and a director of WDGresearch in England.
“Every woman I meet through Athena has her own inspirational story, and I love the fact that I am able to bring women together from different backgrounds and businesses and observe them motivating and supporting each other.”
Since 2007 Margot has introduced five businesswomen’s groups around the Edinburgh area and she commutes between Scotland and her home in Buckinghamshire every other week.
We are delighted to welcome Margot as a feature writer at the3rdi magazine.
In my view the world of the working population is divided into two groups – those who have the discipline to do a day’s work undistracted, and those who enjoy, by inviting or instigating, some form of interruption to their working day.
I fall into the latter category and I am not ashamed of it. I have worked with the former, the ladies and men who can walk past the office water station and avoid engaging in social platitudes as they measure their day by output alone. Are they happy? Are they successful? Do they become social misfits?
I would like to adopt a tad more discipline to my day, though. The fact that I have been working from home for the last five years has not improved my ability to become sidetracked by non work related objectives such as reducing the washload, defrosting the freezer, catching up on the local gossip, and baby-wiping the dogs (wet-dog smell is a criminal offence!).
Each day I write my ‘things to do’ list with the ambition that I will first tackle the least favourable item on the list before attempting anything else. But my preamble is the inbox, the first fence at which I inevitably fall. Since inviting Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn into my life I have thoroughly enjoyed the stimulating group discussions and my eye is immediately searching for these. I usually find one ongoing discussion to which my input is inevitable and once my contacts see that I am awake and active I am bombarded with invitations to chat. An hour later, I realize I have yet to wade through the rest of my inbox. An hour and a half into my day and I am ready to start work – I should really fire myself!
Surprisingly though, I do get through most of my list, despite copious visits to the kettle and fridge, the draw of ‘Loose Women’, and exchanging polite conversation with the window cleaner/parcel delivery man/ex-young offender selling mops and dishcloths door-to-door.
The reason why I started to conduct my business from home was due to the burgeoning size of the company in which I am a partner. I had played my part in the increase in turnover and encouraged the creation of better client servicing and quality control through team development. All this required taking on staff and sure as eggs is eggs we had run out of space. My partner (in both meanings) suggested I work from the office which we occasionally used at home – as a temporary measure. Five years on and the company has moved to larger offices, so large in fact that they have brought some of their associate companies in-house, so to speak – yet I still fulfil my role from home.
I miss the social interaction of an office, I miss the daily chatter in the office next door, the absurd requests for a uniform/ staggered tea-breaks/ a bakery-visit rota which the administration staff would initially sound out to me before presenting to ‘the boss’, and ‘frisky Friday’ when one of the directors morphed into a Benny Hill character – every Friday. Actually, come to think of it, I was just as distracted in the office as I am at home.
The reason why I continue to conduct my business from home is something to do with freedom. I know that despite distractions my productivity is high; in fact I have been running two businesses from the home office for the last four years. I have freedom of time made possible by technology. I can send emails at any time of day, on any day of the week, knowing that they are likely to be picked up. I can access the main office server whenever I need to and mobile phone technology means that my office is transportable. I am free to enjoy the interruptions, taxi the children to wherever, pick up groceries and still do a day’s work.
I have concluded that I allow myself to be distracted because I need natural breaks and pauses in my day – as I would get if I had remained in a traditional office environment. I have a need to replicate the humour and mental stimulation that working alongside people naturally brings. I am able to relax and refresh my thoughts, even by watching ‘Loose Women’ before tackling the challenges at my workstation.
My other business supports women in the workplace with networking and training. We meet monthly over lunch in groups and there is an equal distribution of home to traditional office workers. The sole traders and independent consultants who operate from a home office often refer to the joy of attending the lunches where they can exchange ideas and take the opportunity to look at their businesses through others’ eyes. I feel the same. We have fun, we have ‘water station’ conversations, and we are incredibly productive.
As setting up a business from home seems to be an increasingly acceptable and economical option for many, perhaps there should be official advice given on how to manage distractions, develop productivity, and increase efficiency whilst not becoming a social pariah. Developing good practice now will reap benefits in the future as it is possible that our grown up children may at some point be required to work from home. They already understand the power of Facebook and MSN, and are streaks ahead of the average 40 year old in terms of understanding mobile technology – it is a case of harnessing their knowledge into an effective working practice.
I must admit I am at a loss where to start in revolutionising the home office for the benefit of future generations. My two eldest have been taking their A levels and GCSEs and have been on study leave for two months. Initially I thought brilliant! I can be a shining example of discipline and focus starting my day at 9am, working through my ‘to do’ with plenty of breaks to refresh my thoughts. But they have me well and truly sussed! Aside from not witnessing my example of an early start because they don’t surface before mid-morning, they have attuned their coffee breaks and snacking sessions to my own. Instead of offering their tea making services they wait for me to make the first move and then rain requests down on me. This has resulted in some interesting stand-offs, which I lose every time.
But does all this mean that they have developed their own ability to dedicate themselves to the task in hand? Are they spending their working time revising and working through BBC Bitesize while I hydrate and nourish them? I like to think they are benefitting from the work/break/work approach because they seem to spend an inordinate amount of time focussing on Facebook and X-Box, before joining me to watch ‘Loose Women’. I simply have to accept that their lack of discipline and flair for distractions has to be genetic!