Catherine has 14 years experience working in Regeneration and Construction Best Practice including 6 years as founder and director of Innovista Ltd, and 4 years as Associate Director of CSR role for Building Services company JCK Ltd.
Managing both jobs successfully from home, she has acquired a reputation for her exuberance, humour, passionate speaking and great delivery, but is frank about the many challenges, risks and rewards that her situation brings.
I do have a proper job, thanks.
It isn’t just a little part time thing to keep me busy until the kids get older, or until something better comes along. I don’t put flyers into envelopes, buy and sell other people’s stuff on EBay, or sew or cook anything, thankfully. From that last comment you may gather I am certainly no Supermum, Wonderwife or whatever other silly title you see in the media for working women like me to aspire to.
I run a small business from home and manage moderately well to juggle this with a home and family, which is something I have pursued by choice. Family and friends alternate between envy and irritation at my situation, both understandable and acceptable emotions; however any assumption that I both have my cake, and then spend all day eating it in front of the TV is not remotely based on fact.
I am very reluctant to get a ‘real’ job, and yes, I do occasionally feel lucky at the way things have worked out – at least when my workload is pleasantly steady, and that welcome cliche of work-life balance pops up. Any success I have had however, is down to dogged, unrelenting hard graft.
Yes, I was able to turn the contacts I had into business opportunities, but this was not about being in the right place at the right time; it was about approaching it with determination bordering on ferocity and driven by absolute necessity. Making this work depends on making new alliances, bugging the hell out of your contacts to get work (and getting them to understand you will be doing it largely from home), and accepting the financial ebbs and flows that come as part of the deal. It’s also being prepared for the frenetic rush times when work spills into your home life like a nasty ink blot that you cannot stop spreading and is difficult to erase. If you are not careful, it will leave a permanent stain which even Superwoman cannot fix.
These are the times that the social commentators in your life do not see, and they can range from the humorous to the downright disastrous. Picture your number one client calling you during the school summer holidays, when your own child understands the Do Not Disturb rules, but his noisy friends don’t. The time when your client calls at your ‘office’ to find you unpacking your Tesco shopping, because it was the only time you could take the delivery. The multiple times that you go to the toilet, make a coffee, or answer the door, your mobile rings and there is no-one else to take the call. Or the time when you cannot stop working because your office is at home, and you just know the job needs doing.
You may miss a family meal or be unable to help with your kids’ homework, but the pressure of the deadline and the availability of your office make it impossible to ignore. At these times, the temptation of a 9-5 job suddenly seems the easier option.
Dress down Friday makes little sense when you work from home. Conversely, dress up Friday can be a welcome change from the school run clothes so beloved of many who work from home. For some people it is important that they dress up for work to give that psychological benefit and sense of ‘corporateness’ – I would just say be as comfortable as you can because quite possibly, your home office chair is not ergonomically designed and will not have been inspected by a competent Health and Safety Officer. You could call Occupational Health….although wait, that may actually be you. And if you are sick there are 2 things likely to happen:
You carry on working regardless because it sounds a bit like an excuse to ring your client pleading sickness when you work from home Your client expects you to carry on even if you do call in sick, because you are at home anyway, and surely you could just manage, couldn’t you?
Despite these problems, this option remains top of the wish list for many working women? Why? Because working from home can be an ideal situation, providing that you implement a few simple principles:
* Observe a cut off point between your work and home space – and not just a physical boundary of an office, but also appropriate time constraints. Treat your home office as though it was 50 miles away, and see if you would still be so eager to go back at night. Better to get up early and finish the job then.
* The reverse applies with domestic chores. Would you go AWOL from a workplace to finish the ironing or mow the lawn because ‘it really needs doing’? Close the doors on the unmade beds and full sink while you work, what’s the worst that can happen?
* Implement the rule of trade-off. If you cannot avoid having to work during family time, then pay back that time when it’s quieter. Make plans for what you will do with that time, and stick to them.
* Make sure that you don’t turn into a human dustbin. Observe the boundaries between your office and the kitchen! Would you eat all day if you were in a busy workplace? This is, admittedly, a problem for me which I unapologetically remedy by only buying snacks that I don’t like.
* Prioritisation and motivation can cause problems. You can usually be there on sports day, take a couple of days off to go shopping with friends, and go to the dentist/hairdressers/gym without criticism or a feeling of guilt. If it’s sunny you can sunbathe in the garden…as long as you can squeeze in the work tomorrow. You see, although there is no requirement for a physical presence in an office on such days, it is important that you are motivated enough to complete important work when you are tempted otherwise. If you often submit to weakness, the home-work boundary is breached as you frantically try to catch up during evenings and weekends to meet your deadlines, and the quality of both your work and home life is diminished.
* Most worryingly, home-working can bring isolation, loneliness and insulation from the rest of the business world. This can have tremendously damaging consequences both personally and professionally. Your working life is one of interaction with others, at all levels and by all means. A colleague is more than the perpetrator of an email or a phone call, and your business depends absolutely on relationships and communication – not interfacing, touching base with, copying in or circulating information to – but talking, listening, seeing and understanding. Make time in your busy schedule to visit your clients. Remove the prefix ‘virtual‘ from the word ‘team.‘
In other words, go out sometimes!
* Don’t be tempted by the argument that travelling time will be unproductive; the benefits of mixing with others will outweigh any loss of time. In a home working situation we are all in danger of becoming complacent, anaesthetised against the often chaotic vibrancy of normal working life; the subtleties and nuances of office culture; the norms of opinion and attitude; the legacies and artefacts of shared experiences. Our working world – population: one – is a place where our own attitudes and beliefs form a constantly recycling dogma which can underpin our work, sterile from the influences and contaminants of others. Our work, once so original, so exciting, may well become stale as we are no longer part of the cross fertilisation within a team – new ideas, concepts, challenges, criticisms, perceptions and experiments pass us by. Knowledge transfer is one sided and stilted as we download information, but without anyone to bounce it off, debate it with, or put it into alternative contexts. Our work will not grow and evolve, and we learn nothing. Our businesses fail if we don’t get out there when we can, and cement our position in a team, as part of a framework, or as a valued supplier.
* And so this is my final and most crucial point: Billy (or indeed, Billie) No Mates is seriously missing out.
Use the concept of Work-Work balance, and receive accolades and praise for the work you do, learn as much as you can, get invited to the party, and make new friends and acquaintances. Be party to news, gossip, shared reminiscences and memories by spending time with others. Hot desk occasionally or make the effort to travel now and then, while maintaining your essential, quiet work space at home and the ownership of your own diary.
In short, make your personal and professional legacy have meaning and resonance to others. Sadly for Billie, her story will be housed in a dusty, dormant file in the company archives.
And so to those of you considering this approach: try make it work successfully both by creating boundaries in your home space, and also by consciously mingling with others with whom you do business. Remember that it will be both immensely challenging at some times, and gloriously liberating at others, when you can schedule your work around your family, your friends, or just yourself.
I don’t claim to have the perfect answer for everyone, and I don’t always abide by my own rules all of the time. They do however provide a framework for me to work within; that I work from home, but I live at home.