One of the phrases I hear a lot these days is work-life balance. You know, searching for the elusive spot where we have the perfect blend of work time and home time. Where we’re not stressing ourselves behind a desk for hours but instead wonderfully balancing parenthood with a career, a home life and goodness knows what else.
Since becoming a mother, I’ve changed from a full time role to a part time role. My working week consists of two long days in the office coupled with additional contracted hours working from home. It sounds like perfection doesn’t it? A little bit of office time to fulfil social needs and get face time (rather than FaceTime) with my team followed by time at home that’s flexible and works around my parenting needs. But is working from home all it’s cracked up to be? Is it really the dream?
In my past life (aka. pre-parenthood), I’d fantasise of being able to work from home. I’d have a mental image of me sat tucked up under the quilt, mug of tea next to me as I tapped away diligently. My productivity would be sky high without the day to day distractions; no conversations about the weekend, no need to commute, no getting caught up in things that didn’t concern me. I’d be a lean, mean, home working machine. Every so often I’d turn on the TV, catching a bit of This Morning before turning back to my desk. Working at home would allow me to become a domestic goddess, sorting our evening meal in between checking emails and turning the computer off at five with a good day’s work done.
The reality? My home working time is far from relaxing. My working day doesn’t resemble rolling out of bed only to roll back in with a laptop, instead it’s spent toddler herding, getting him to nursery or bribing him with toys to just allow me five more minutes to finish this email. Rather than ending the day at five, my day begins once bedtime is over, dinner is off the table and I can get an hour or two of peace. That precious time when pre-parenthood me would be collapsed on the sofa is but a hazy memory. Each night I do a mental check off of all the things I’m meant to have done, knowing that there’ll be something missing that will make itself apparent at 3am. Because that is my thinking time these days. Sleep is for the weak when you’re a parent. Especially, it would seem, a working one. In fact, bits of it look a lot like this video from Furniture at Work…
Beyond that, there’s the guilt. The guilt of not being in the office. The guilt of sending your child into childcare only to go home to an empty house. Knowing that you have to do it and yet, could there be a way to avoid it? The guilt of realising that you haven’t cleaned in weeks because the brief snatches of time away from your child are spent frantically working. Plate spinning at speed to show that home working does work. I miss the office. I miss the conversation with co-workers. I miss the steady supply of drinks and cake (#officejoys). But mostly, I miss the validation that someone has seen me working.
That’s the main issue. Even today, in a society where over 1.5million people last year were working from home, a figure that’s up 19% in the last decade, there’s still a need for home workers to ‘prove’ themselves. To show that for all the stereotypes, all the gems that are true (hello working in pyjamas!) and those that aren’t (errr, where’s my TV break?!), home working is just as effective and just as worthy as the hours someone spends sitting at a desk. If not more so. My experience is that home workers go above and beyond to get their work done. They know that their free time is dictated by doing the work itself rather than showing face behind a desk for eight hours a day. There’s a pressure on us to perform, in a limited time frame and to focus that performance to get the job done.
Is working from home the dream? The jury’s still out. Yes, it gives me flexibility. It gives me time with my child. It gives me freedom. But is that worth the price of constant justification of your performance and output, a pressure that’s applied by others and yourself? I’m not 100% sure. What do you think?