No longer is a 9 to 5 in an office cubicle the standard blueprint for the working day. More and more, the option to work on our own terms from our own homes is becoming a viable and attractive alternative. This is a particularly appealing option for new parents, who are looking for a way to juggle their working lives with running a family.
In this economic climate, it’s become increasingly necessary for many families to have both parents earning regular incomes – or in the case of single parents, often the only option is to work. At the same time, full-time child care is incredibly expensive, and means you’re not spending as much time with your children as you might wish. Working from home allows for a compromise between work and parenthood, and if done right can create a happy medium between job satisfaction and family responsibilities.
Thanks to the internet, many people can now work remotely, without needing to travel to the office every day. Many companies, sympathetic to the needs of new parents, offer employees this option, but for those whose employers are not so flexible, going freelance is an increasingly practical option. Not only can you work from home, freelancing allows for a flexibility and self-sufficiency that much traditional full time employment can’t promise.
It was exactly this flexibility that attracted single mum Kelly Bradford to freelance work when her son Will was born.
“I had been freelancing in a part time capacity before then, but I didn’t want to use childcare or nurseries while my son was a baby, so I went full time freelance as soon as he was born and adapted the kind of work I did to fit around him. For example, it was impractical to be out interviewing, or away on jobs with a young child, so I stuck to gigs which meant I could be at my desk at time that suited me – or, in those very early days, worked around my son’s feeding and sleeping schedule!”
Kelly continues to work as a successful freelance journalist ten years on (www.krbradford.co.uk), and it is the ability to balance this with making time for Will that is the biggest advantage for her –
“I can be here for school runs, for homework supervision and tea time etc., and I don’t have to spend out on holiday clubs when school is in recess”.
Not only that, her situation of working at home and caring for her child alone led her to set up her own business – Kelly is the founder and editor of www.parentingsolo.co.uk, a website for single mums and dads.
Another freelancing success story is that of Olivia Dunn. When Olivia had her daughter, Lily, she had already been working as a freelance musician – a profession, she admits, that “did not work out well with a baby!” Returning to the usual daily grind was never an option for her, however.
“I would always prefer to be freelance as I enjoy the freedom and job satisfaction it gives me. I worked in offices for years and often felt stifled – I prefer to work on my own terms”.
Now running her own copywriting business (oliviadunn.co.uk), Olivia also found work writing for crowd-sourcing sites such as copify.com. Able to pick and choose from the work on offer, as and when she wanted, she found “working for sites like Copify is brilliant for picking up new work – especially for writers like me who are just starting out. It’s also a great resource for when regular work is thin on the ground”. Olivia’s not looked back in the two and a half years since Lily was born –
“I love working from home – the biggest pro is being able to spend more time with my daughter, but I also enjoy being able to manage my own time, and fit my work around my life”.
Such cases of mums turning to working from home are not unusual. In fact, research conducted in 2011 by Kingston University for the Professional Contractors Group (PCG) showed that, at the time, there were about 210,000 freelance working mums in the UK – about 1/8th of the contracting population! However, plenty of dads also choose to go freelance.
For journalist Chris Wheal (www.chriswheal.com), this decision was a matter of necessity, not just personal preference. Having left his job to take up a new position, Chris was left in the lurch when his son, Joe, was born – “that very night, they phoned and cancelled the job, leaving my old job filled and me with nowhere to go. I started freelancing then”. Like Kelly and Olivia, once freelancing Chris soon saw the advantages to being able to work around his family life.
“Working from home enables you change the way you work to adapt as your children grow up” he explains. “Once they were at school, I would sometimes work earlier and sometimes later to enable me to be with the children after school. I also had the flexibility to attend school trips. I have been to every London Museum at least twice, to the beach, waded through mud and climbed hills with classes of children – I also ran parents groups”.
Not everyone has the luxury of engaging in their children’s lives in this way.
Chris’ wife Kate, currently a freelance editor and sub-editor, certainly knows the pitfalls of not working from home, having worked both as a freelancer and in a full time position at Building Magazine. It wasn’t just the inflexibility of the hours that put her off –
“I felt I would often have worked more effectively outside the constraints, meetings, and internal politics of the office. I also felt it was frowned upon when I left the office at 5.30 to get home to have dinner with or spend time with the children – most people worked late. Perhaps my self-sufficiency, both in the job and as a person, wasn’t suited to being a ‘team player’ – which was very much the expectation”. The chance to be self-sufficient and the freedom this allows is certainly one of the appeals of freelance work, and in many ways it does allow you to become your own boss.”
That’s not to say that being a freelancer and working from home is a walk in the park, however. As with any job it has its downfalls, and it takes serious dedication and hard work to make it right for you. As Kelly attests, “you do have to have a lot of discipline”. Finding motivation can be a struggle when you’re at home, and you do have to give up the social aspect of working in an office.
This was one of the main negatives for Olivia – “I am very isolated and I miss banter and bouncing ideas off other work colleagues”.
By working freelance you also miss out on some of the major benefits of having a full time position, of which Kate names a few: “a guaranteed income – and access to a pension scheme, sick pay and holiday pay – as well as a chance to pick up valuable new skills and to make contacts”. However, as any of these freelancers will tell you, the pros far outweigh the cons, especially when it comes to fitting work around children. As Kelly puts it, “like with all parenting, it IS a juggling act, but childhood is so brief and so precious, you have to get the balance right”.
Are you a new parent thinking of going in to freelancing from home? Here are some top tips and advice from the parents who have already been through it themselves –
- Find something you’re good at and that you love, and enjoy exploiting your passions.
- Don’t expect too much of yourself – parenting is hard work and tiring and emotionally quite draining. Remind yourself that you are doing a good job (nobody else is going to tell you!)
- Leave the housework – life’s too short.
- Don’t think you can work from home with small child there all the time.
- Your child deserves attention and stimulation, to be read to and played with and taken to the park.
- You still need some form of childcare.
- Have a back-up plan for if your child is ill and you must meet work commitments (grandparents for example).
- Make sure you have a good network of friends you can rely on to help out if you’re behind schedule at the end of the day and can’t pick up your child.
- Work out your after-school childcare arrangements – the 3.30pm to 6pm slot is often the most challenging!
- Be realistic, be disciplined, and be professional.
- Don’t take on a job or contract unless you are certain you can devote the hours to it.
- If you choose to work from home around your kids, you still have to get into the ‘office’ and ‘business’ mindset – make sure you have an office or space at home that you can work in so you have a home/work divide.
- Don’t take calls with your child screaming in the background – or worse, allowing your toddler to answer the phone!