The coronavirus may have caused us much grief since it was a declared a pandemic in March 2020, but there has been a silver lining: Homeworking has become the new reality for a large proportion of the population and is no longer a novel concept or the prerogative of the self-employed. Working from home has become a much more realistic option for working mothers and single mums.
Naturally, there are ups and downs to working remotely, but some obvious advantages spring to mind: Home offices eliminate the need to commute, thus freeing up family time, saving money on transport and childcare and reducing the carbon footprint. For families with young children and single parents, this should mean an improved work life balance. Working from home has been particularly beneficial for mums and single mothers, who usually bear the brunt of the school run and childcare whilst holding down a part time or full job.
Whilst it may be easier to juggle work and family life by working from home, it can also be a real challenge. Children often find it hard to accept that mum is working and unable to play, and mum finds it hard to get a clear break from work. Suddenly she spends more hours at her desk than ever before, letting work creep into her personal life and vice versa. It is too easy to empty the dishwasher or hang up the laundry during the day, resulting in work dragging into the evening. Lunch breaks no longer happen as you eat your sandwich hunched over a spreadsheet. So, how can we set boundaries, to ensure our work life balance truly does improve? Here are some guidelines on how to reap the full benefits of working from home:
Start your day as if you went to the office
If you don’t have to do the school run, it may seem like the biggest luxury of all to get up late and start your workday in your pyjamas with a coffee in hand. Yet before you know it, you are struggling to catch up, end up engrossed in a work task, and next thing you know a scheduled Zoom call is happening and you end up in a frenzy. When you regularly work from home, a shift in sleeping patterns and not getting dressed will have a negative impact on your productivity and mental health. Thus, it is imperative to create a clear line between work and family life and begin your day as if you left your home and commuted to the office. So, start setting your alarm, have a shower, get dressed and have breakfast with the kids, before you go to your home office and start your workday. This way, you will start work with a “work” mindset.
Find a dedicated workspace
The most challenging task for many parents during the pandemic has been finding a dedicated workspace in the family home. Unless you have always worked from home, you are likely to lack a home office. In fact, few families, and even fewer single mums, enjoy the luxury of having a spare room that can be used as an office. If that is your situation, then get creative. Buy a small desk and decent office chair to fit into a quiet corner, where you do not get disturbed by other family members and which is far away from other distractions – be that the TV, the kitchen or any sources of noise. Make sure you set your workspace up correctly and that this area is your work area and nothing else. It should be clean without any clutter. All you should find here is what you need for your work: your computer, folders, notes, etc. No kids’ toys, shopping lists or the latest novel you are reading. You will find that allocating a dedicated area with few distractions will greatly improve your productivity.
Separate work and family time
Set working hours
Whether you have an office at home or work from your bedroom, it is crucial to stick to a daily routine. Otherwise, you run the risk of working – or feeling like you are working – around the clock. While it may be tempting to check your emails last thing before bed, it is not advisable. When your workday ends, leave your home office – disengage physically and mentally. This means you shut down your laptop, stop checking emails, taking work calls, and preparing for the day ahead. Otherwise, life is all work and no play, which is neither good for your mental health, nor fair on the kids.
Plan family time
Although flexibility is one of the great advantages of working from home, it pays off to make a loose plan for those few hours you have left after work: Include homework supervision, time for play with mum, family dinner and bath time. Kids love routine and predictability and will be more compliant if they know that there is playtime with mummy after homework or pizza night on a Friday when all the chores are done.
Be flexible within reason
Naturally, this may not be possible for all working mums. If you are in a higher managerial position or working towards a tight deadline, you might have to be reachable in the evenings or put in the extra hours. Nevertheless, it is important to, where possible, draw a clear line between your work and your private life.
Take regular breaks
This may sound counter-intuitive considering most working mothers are on a tight schedule, cramming most of their work into the time between dropping the kids off at school and pick up time. Yet the fact is, that if you spent prolonged hours at the computer, your mind wanders, and you end up less productive than you think.
Sounds familiar? Try taking short breaks throughout the day and see if your focus improves. Regular breaks, such as a coffee mid- morning and mid-afternoon and a proper lunch break leave us mentally and physically refreshed. Getting some fresh air also helps to recharge those batteries. You will feel refreshed and more able to concentrate on your work and by the end of the day, you can’t help the notion that your day has been productive and you deserve some family time with the kids.
Make changes if needed
When you are a working mum, it is important that your job allows you some flexibility, more so when you are a single working mum. Your kids might need you, schools can be shut, childminders fall sick, etc. Sometimes, you need to put family before your job, and if your current role (or your employer) does not allow the degree of flexibility you require at this point in your life, then it might be time to make a change and look for a new challenge. There are many jobs that can be carried out from home and giving you the work life balance, you want or need for your family.
Women who have always worked in an office environment, usually possess excellent PC and communication skills. If you want a job that is not high pressure (because you have young children, for example), but pays well, there are a few options that you might not have thought of, such as virtual assistant, freelance writer (including blogger), proof reader, English tutor, translator, voiceover artist, book keeper, SEO expert, web designer or even child minder. You could also start your own business selling with next to no start-up costs selling your products on Etsy. Some of these roles require a particular expertise whilst others can be started immediately without any need for professional equipment. Voquent to give an example, is always on the lookout for new female voiceover artists for their growing customer base, and they pay a competitive rate, too.
No job comes without deadlines, of course, but for working mothers, and more so working single mums worldwide, the option to be able to earn a living without the need to commute or pay for wrap around care is a game changer. So COVID has, in this respect, been a blessing in disguise: The pandemic has revolutionised the workplace and forced many employers to admit that some roles do not require an office presence. This trend will, no doubt, continue post corona and shape the work life balance of working mums and dads.