Whether you identify as a small business owner, entrepreneur, mumpreneur, home businesswoman, flexible worker or some other hybrid I’m yet to find on Google: if you work outside of a traditional office setting and have kids - this article is for you.
I’ve experimented with working during nap-time and after kiddie bed time, babysitting, enlisting help from the grandparents, co-working, crèches and everything in between. If you’re a mum running a business, I hope you find this summary of what I’ve learned through my many and varied tests helpful.
As I see it, there are three options:
Work from home with no child care
Work from home with child care
Work outside of home with child care
There are pros and cons for each option, and I have provided some tips for each.
Option 1: Working in your home with no childcare
Whether you have a dedicated home office in one corner of the house that you escape to when the kids are asleep, or you’re working from your lap while your child watches cartoons next to you, working from home has many benefits and challenges.
Cheap - there are no extra costs associated with renting an office space outside the home
No prep time – clothing is optional, pajamas are ideal, no need to express breastmilk or create an allergy-friendly lunch for your child to take to communal care.
No travel time – just the time it takes to walk to your desk or couch.
Fits around the family – had a bad night with the bub? Don’t work. Got lots of rest? Go for it!
Distractions and interruptions – lots of them. What you save in prep and travel time is probably spent doing the 1,000 acts of service your toddler demands the moment you do something that isn’t 100% about them.
Quality time – if your business is your passion, switching off is hard. Expect to struggle to be smiley-mum all the time if your child keeps interrupting you when you’re composing that important email.
Lose sleep – I’m writing this at 2:47am. ‘Nuff said.
Annoy your partner – if you’re going to work at home, odds are you’ll be passing up any time you’d usually get 1:1 with your partner to work instead. This can put pressure on your relationship.
Tips and hacks:
What you used to do alone while the kids are napping – eating, showering etc – do it with the kids awake. Their nap-time will become your best working time, so don’t waste it on petty things like hygiene. Take the kids in the shower with you. Take them outside when it’s time to hang out the washing. Make all that menial crap an activity you do together – they don’t know they’re chores… yet.
If you have children not yet on the move (under six months generally) then take advantage of it baby! They don’t need anywhere near as much stimulation or entertainment before they move. These will be your best working months. Sadly, we generally don’t realise this until bub #2 comes along, and by then we’ve got a toddler.
If you have two or more kids, your mission is to get them to nap at the same time, and into bed as early as possible in the evening.
If the kids are having ‘one of those days’, just let work go for a day. I’ve tried pushing through, it’s simply not worth it.
TV is a wonderful babysitter when you have to make that all-important call or deadline. I’m not saying it’s good for the kids, but perhaps it’s OK to use the ol’ electronic babysitter every now and then.
Option 2: Work at home with childcare
Like Option 1, you work in your home wherever you’ve managed to carve out a spot, but you have someone helping you with your kids – in the home, or at a day care or similar. It might be unpaid help, like the grandparents, or a babysitter/nanny, or perhaps have enrolled them in day care. Whatever way you go, the premise is this – for at least a while, you’re not the primary carer.
As for Option 1, no prep or travel time if you stay at home and the care comes to you.
Better focus – get a couple of hours of dedicated working time with limited distractions.
Can be cheap – if your parents or in-laws are willing to help.
Convenience – you’re on hand if there are any problems.
Can be expensive – a nanny is roughly $200 a day, a babysitter anything from $15-30 an hour, and day care can be anything from $50-120 a day after the government subsidy.
Can still get distracted – especially if you’re in your home. Hard to resist the temptation to spend the time cleaning or watching crap TV.
Stretching the friendship – with your folks or your in-laws if you tire them out or expect too much. Don’t work them too hard!
Tips and hacks:
Keep the cost down with thoughtfully timed four-hour blocks. For example, if your kids nap in the afternoon, get the help for the morning and to get them off to bed. That way you might get an extra hour or two in the afternoon. Also, a shorter work period has a wonderful effect on your prioritization!
Remember Parkinson’s Law: the work will take the time you allow for it. Keep yourself to a tight working timeframe and you’ll force yourself to get the work done without procrastination.
Segregate a work area, preferably with a door, if your kids will stay at home with you. Babysitters, nannies and Grandad are all great, but not as good as mummy. If you’re easy to access, expect distractions.
If you know someone else in a similar situation, consider sharing care (e.g. you care for the kids one day, she does the next day) so you can keep cost down. You could also hire a nanny to care for the kids together on the same day.
Option 3: Work outside the home with childcare
Mimic those mummies that work for companies with offices – get out of the house to do your work. Whether you go the library, the local coffee shop or a dedicated co-working space, having your own office space is not essential these days (unless you need a shop front).
Minimal distractions – depending on where you choose to work.
Access to other adults – you might even get to finish a conversation with one of them!
Productive – especially if you’re somewhere designed to inspire work.
Can be expensive – depending on how you arrange care and whether you use an office space.
Multiple drop-offs and pick-ups – make no mistake, having to do two stops each way (one at the childcare and one at work) is time consuming and the low point of many a working parent’s day. Fortunately this is avoidable (see info on BubDesk below).
Travel and prep time – getting lunches ready, looking presentable to the outside world.
Discomfort – if you don’t have a properly set up desk, you can end up with a very sore back, neck and shoulders.
Tips and hacks:
Use a co-working space (options below) to get access to desks, WiFi and the benefits of an office without the full burden of overheads.
If you can’t afford co-working, head to your local library instead (note Perth has a free co-working space! See below).
Invest in a portable desk set-up so you can save your neck and back. More on that below.
Co-working space options in Perth
Shared office spaces are on the up and for once Perth isn’t lagging. Here are the options I’ve found and my thoughts on each:
Spacecubed – on St Georges Tce in the city. Now in its fourth year with over 650 members, the community alone is worth the annual fee. Lots of flexible options for desks – use the group area or hire a dedicated desk as needed. Plenty of meeting rooms. Multiple locations. Great for tech people. However, when I asked if it was OK to breastfeed my newborn son, I got: ‘we’ve never been asked that before. I guess it’s fine, so long as he’s not too noisy.’
BubDesk – in North Perth. The co-working gods must have seen my face when I got the above response re: breastfeeding at Spacecubed and sent me this glorious solution: a co-working space with a (very affordable and clean) crèche. The workspace is fabulous and the nannies are amazing. They’re very new so still ramping up – the crèche is only available Monday to Wednesday right now.
St George Business Hub – in Central Park in the city. This is the ultimate bootstrapper’s option as it’s free. You can book meeting rooms, use the WiFi or use a desk and you don’t even need to be a member of St George Bank (who have graciously provided the space). Major downside is the opening hours – they don’t open till 10am.
Broadspace – still in concept, but will be launching this year I believe. The vision is a women-only co-working space. Not my cup of tea as I quite like diverse work places, but if you market exclusively to women this might be worth a look when it’s up and running.
The Portable Desk Set-up
I love my back. I want it to feel good. If carrying a kid on each hip isn’t ideal, neither is hunching over the keyboard on your laptop at whatever desk you nab, or working off your lap. I now use this set up for my workspace at home and when I’m co-working. It’s quick and easy to set up, and it doesn’t weigh much:
It consists of:
Cicada laptop stand ($50)
Wireless mouse ($120 – because it’s Apple. You can get a much cheaper one)
Wireless keyboard ($165 – again, because Apple)
I also carry with me:
An external hard drive – for daily back-ups
My wireless presenter – because who knows when you’ll get a chance to pitch (though turns out KeyNote on your iPhone works too – wished I’d learned that earlier!)
Adapter for Mac to hook up to projector/TV – they’re usually PC only, though more and more places are catering for Macs
Charger for computer
Cord to connect phone to computer (if in need of charge)
Headphones – in case that one noisy co-worker sits next to me
USB – for easy file sharing if needed.
It all fits neatly in one bag.
Now you've got it all sorted, it's probably time for your kids to start school and you won't need this guide anymore!
I'd love to hear your tips and hacks for working with young kids - please share in the comments :)