On a sunny Monday morning, just a few weeks ago, I crammed onto a tube platform at Highbury & Islington to head to my first day at a brand new job. After more than a decade of freelancing, I had signed an employment contract, packed up my shared office space and joined the throngs of commuters making their way to and from central London every day.
With self-employment often held up as a holy grail for parents who want the flexibility to work around their family commitments, why did I decide to leap the other way? And what are the advantages, as a mum, of having a 9-5 job?
- I am working the same number of hours as before but spending MORE time with my family. Gone are the weekends and evenings spent tapping away at my computer, snatching glances at my phone while my son plays or hurrying him into bed so I can finish off an urgent piece of work. I get all of my work done in the allocated hours and then I can be 100% present when I’m with him.
- I have ‘me time’! As I work four days, and my son goes to playgroup for five days, I have one magical day that’s just for me. I have big plans for that day… I can also enjoy work-free naptimes and hang out with my hubby after our son is in bed.
- Flexibility can exist in a 9-5 job. As we don’t live super close to family, we have sometimes needed the flexibility of self-employment to cover ad hoc childcare needs, such as INSET days or illnesses. However, as I discovered when I had a family emergency this week, employers can be really understanding and are often willing to make sure you get the time you need when you need it. I can also work from home, and they have taken my needs as a mum into account at every stage. This was totally unexpected, and has made me realise that there is no reason whatsoever that this shouldn’t be the norm.
- Teamwork is great. While I always had shared office space as a freelancer, so I never felt isolated, I’ve rarely worked alongside people in the same industry, let alone on the same projects. The internet is a wonderful thing, with tools like Trello and Slack making it so easy to work within remote teams, but it’s also nice to share a physical space with coworkers from time to time to bounce ideas around and learn from one another in real time.
- Fixed working hours can be a good thing! I’ve written before about how difficult it can be to fit in a full working day when you’re also trying to do school runs, chores and life admin. The advantage to having fixed working hours is that you just sit at your desk and get on with it.
- I have an excuse to buy new clothes and wear make-up! It’s a bit of a myth (as far as I know) that freelancers spend their days at home in their jim-jams, but I have lived in jeans and scruffy trainers for a long time now, and have rarely worn make-up. It’s actually a treat making (a bit of) an effort in the morning and wearing clothes that don’t have toddler snot on them.
- And finally, an unexpected bonus: I don’t miss my son as much as when I was self-employed. It might sound crazy but the knowledge that I have no choice but to be at work, rather than feeling like I always had the option of not working at any given moment, has quietened the previously ever-present mum guilt. My new office environment is so different to my old relaxed studio space, and I can’t just pop home, or decide to leave early because I want to hang out with my son, so I can finally switch off that nagging voice for the day.
The most important lesson for me here is that #workthatworks for mums doesn’t just mean one thing. It’s important to investigate different set-ups to find the one that works the best for your family. Flexible working doesn’t only come through self-employment, and there are plenty of employers out there who are willing to provide parents with the flexibility they need if that’s the route you want to go down. Otherwise, self-employment has lots of advantages too and, who knows, that might be the best option for us again in the future (Anyone else feel a pros & cons post coming on..?)