When I speak with Olivia Pilip, owner of Edmonton-based Boutique Events, she’s in her car – a place she admits to taking most business calls since starting her own company. Running a home-based business and caring for her two sons, Birk (two-and-a-half) and Brody (16 months), isn’t exactly the ideal set-up this working mom anticipated. "My original notion of what I pictured as work from home and what I’m doing as work from home are very different,” she says.
Olivia was on maternity leave as director of marketing for Go Auto when she found out she was pregnant with her second child. Knowing she didn’t want to go back to the high-pressure job, but also not wanting to be a full-time mom, Olivia started her own event-planning business. She imagined days sitting in her newly decorated office with her kids playing in the next room. In reality, the office is the last place she gets to work. “It’s a great place for filing,” she laughs.
While Olivia often finds herself the source of admiration of working mom friends who commute to their office jobs, she says working from home is far from the dream it’s made out to be.
Working outside the home means set hours, but a home-based business often runs 24/7, with work taking place in tiny chunks of time rather than between the hours of 9 to 5 p.m. “Naptime becomes so productive for me,” says Olivia, who runs to her office the second her little ones’ heads hit their pillows. When nap time is cut short, she’s in trouble. “If they only sleep an hour when I really needed them to sleep three hours, [it means that] at 8 p.m. I’m not going to be able to plant my butt in front of the TV; I’m going to have to work,” says Olivia.
A conference call in the middle of the afternoon may be the norm for office workers, but for moms working from home, taking a call means quieting the kids down first. “I’ll take a call from my car or in the pantry surrounded by Wheat Thins and Baby Mum-Mums while Birk’s outside banging on the door yelling, ‘I want a snack’,” she says.
Olivia’s professionalism is often challenged as a work-at-home mom. “My computer gets opened, my kids think it’s a toy. People don’t always appreciate random keystrokes in the middle of an email that’s supposed to sound professional,” she says.
Although Olivia enjoys the days when she’s able to get dirty and paint with her kids in the morning rather than being stuck in a commute, she admits there are days when she’s jealous of her husband who works outside the home. “He has a shower in peace, goes to work, drinks coffee when it’s warm,” she says.
Despite the challenges, Olivia still says working from home allows her to spend quality time with her kids while keeping one foot in the working world so she can make a decision in the future to continue as an entrepreneur or return to an office job. For now, to manage the high-pressure times of her business, Olivia has hired a nanny who allows her to sneak off to the coffee shop (the remote office) for some quiet working time.
Georgina Forrest, Productivity Coach and owner of Smartworks! Enterprises Inc. says working from home and being a mom at the same time is possible. She offers some tips to make your home office more productive.
Fill the office with quiet, kid-friendly activities such as puzzles and colouring books, or give kids an old computer so they can mimic mommy at work. “If you’re working from home, part of the reason is because you wanted to play a more active role in raising your children, so shutting the office door seems to negate that,” says Georgina.
Breaking down large tasks into smaller parts that can be completed quickly can help you feel more productive and make those interruptions less devastating.
Perhaps you’re most productive at naptime, in the early morning or at night when everyone’s in bed. Figure out the best time of day for you to work and schedule the rest of the day around it.
Yes, it can be hard to come off as professional when your two-year-old is screaming in the background, but advising clients that you work from home will make them more understanding of interruptions. Consider investing in a wireless headset that you can quickly mute or that will allow you to move to a quieter space in the house, away from tantrums and loud play.
Be selective in the jobs you accept. Remember, the reason you’re working from home is to afford you the flexibility to be a working mom. While no one likes to turn down work, being strategic and considering the consequences of saying yes to an assignment can help you strike a better balance between work and motherhood.
Originally published in Me & Mom, 2014.