If the daily grind in and out of work is familiar to you, flexible working or working from home may look like the answer. After all, it’s something which many employers are keen to promote as a potential employee benefit.
For many the idea of working from home can seem more convenient; and for the parents who want to spend more time with their children this can feel like a great opportunity for them.
Yet we can get a little rose-tinted and ignore some realities that are faced on a daily basis. We fall in love with the idea and jump over the ‘getting to know someone’ stage. Seduced into the belief that we can sit around in our pyjamas all day and the work will get done. As though time somehow stretches for us even if we’re still eating cereal at 11am.
However the reality can be a lot more challenging than that.
Discussing with the client, we had to get really honest about what working from home or flexible working would be like. He was finding it quite stressful as a new father and wanted to be present with his daughter. Equally difficult to ignore was his responsibility to his work and the demands of his role. This push and pull between work and family was causing stress and anxiety for him.
So we looked at flexible working. And rather than look at benefits of flexible working, we gave a hard look at whether this was really achievable. Not so much the practicalities of approval from work, or whether there’s the right space and set up at home. Is it achievable for me? A bit of self-awareness and honesty can go a long way to understand how achievable working from home can be.
We discussed some scenarios so he could get honest about how he would handle them.
Are you the type of person who can go to your office space and ignore your baby crying? Are you the person who can walk away from your child needing their nappy changing and leave your partner to deal with it?
This example is taken from a scenario faced by another client who worked from home. He would need to be starting work yet called away by his partner to help with their children. He felt torn between wanting to help his child and a strong feeling of responsibility to work. Yet more often than not he would choose the family. This left him feeling frustrated and stressed as it meant he was starting work half an hour later than he’d planned.
Do you have the ability to switch off and start work, perhaps with the background noise of your partner managing the baby? It’s not always as easy as you think. But it’s certainly a reality that needs to be thought about, especially in those first 12 months.
You’re partner may be struggling and you’re going to need some solution to handle that. If you’re the type of person who feels that they couldn’t ignore and just focus on work, if you’re going to suffer under these conditions, then perhaps working from home isn’t for you.
Let’s remember too that it may be that there’s a play date with a number of children at your home and the noise levels may be too much for you to be effective and efficient at your job.
That’s why this is such an important scenario to consider. Being truly honest with yourself is better for you in the short and long term.
It’s very easy to get pulled into the emotional needs of the family overiding the needs of work. Taking the time to get really clear on what’s best for you can really help.
The next step is to then discuss with your partner what working from home would be like. And yes it’s time to get equally as honest and not fudge the challenges. Can your partner accept that whilst you’re in the home, you’re not available at the drop of a hat? Will they appreciate that you’re not ‘on call’? Can they realistically cope with that, or will it be a source of frustration?
You can discuss working hours. Perhaps start work earlier, then help with the parenting and pick work up in the evening. This is about finding the best combination for you.
What became clear for the client was that his stress came from not being around and not able to support enough. He had felt that flexible working would allow him to support and help. As we talked it became clear that flexible working would be difficult. So we looked at other ways he could do to still meet that desire to support.
It would be worthwhile to remove the rose-tinted glasses about flexible working. Get honest, work out what the reality would look like and really can you work with your family around you.
Sometimes we get caught in the idea of having it all, all of the time. Yet to make that even remotely achievable the considerations I’ve outlined above will be the difference in making it work or not. It’s time to get really honest with yourself.
Ben Jackson coaches for personal development, leadership and transition for career parents. Juggling work, family and life in the Chilterns, he’s currently studying consecutively for a diploma in counselling and a diploma in teaching.