During the COVID pandemic, we have heard a lot about the negative impact it has had for the career of those with caring responsibilities, and working mums specifically. And rightly so, it was tough. Albeit master jugglers, the mental impact of working full time, home schooling and everything else that comes with family life, was immense. However, as we start to return to some sense of normality, I do find myself thinking that the pandemic has presented an increased opportunity to ‘have it all’ as a working mum.
Working in healthcare communications, I am in an industry dominated by women. Yet working mums in agency life are still few and far between. The agency world seems to have a reputation that it isn’t suitable for those wanting to enjoy motherhood whilst continuing their career. Despite this, those who have been most inspirational to me throughout my career are those that seemingly mastered being an inspirational leader in the office and a super mum out of the office – often with a bit of team mothering along the way.
At Hanover I am lucky in that the wider team are incredibly supportive and aware of the additional pressures faced by working parents. While the comms/agency industry are perhaps a little more advanced in flexible working approaches when compared with other industries, pre-COVID flexible working approaches were still not really that flexible – an hour late start/early finish in an industry which is far from 9-5 does not really support when school hours are 8.30-3.30.
I feel the pandemic has helped employers and employees realise we are in fact grown-ups and on the whole work to deliver – thus can work at times suitable for our clients and ourselves that perhaps aren’t the traditionally set working hours. Everyone is different and may work more productively in different patterns, which means flexible working is also of benefit for employers as you may actually get more and better work from your team – especially in an agency setting which is all about the people, an hour working at your best is worth 10 bad hours of working.
I will caveat this – the negative implications of working from home during lockdown has meant that finding the balance between work and home life has become increasingly blurred – and working late into the night, early in the morning to cover off ‘time missed’ while home schooling etc is not to be condoned. But flexibility to suit you and your clients is now much more open and honest – and if structured appropriately can really support working parents.
If we take the positives and learn from our experiences to embrace different ways of working and improving our approach to ways of working – not only will it present a huge business benefit, but people can really have it all.
With that, the logistics of life whilst working from home are much, much easier – especially for those, like myself, that choose to live out of London. My commute to the office is approximately 1hr30 – when you add a deadline of collecting kids (by 6pm latest for me) the pressure and stress of leaving and getting back are huge – and one you feel terribly guilty for from all aspects. Leaving the office early when the team are up against it, praying for no train delays, and your kid being the last to be collected results in a lot of guilt.
Working from home makes my working day longer and more productive – plus I can flexibly work around the kids’ schedule. Don’t get me wrong – I miss the office and will be returning – but the option to work from home I feel should continue to be an option – and on days where I need to churn through a lot of stuff – I am potentially more productive in doing this locked away at home.
The final positive outcome for me, is the impact the pandemic has had on humanising my working and client relationships. Having now had a much greater insight into each other’s lives, getting to know everyone’s cats, dogs, kids, and a switch to video call rather than telephone – there is a far greater understanding and openness to the fact we are all human…and doing our best!
In short – I truly hope we never have to experience lockdown/home-schooling whilst working again – but I am feeling immensely positive about the future. If we take the positives and learn from our experiences to embrace different ways of working and improving our approach to ways of working – not only will it present a huge business benefit, but people can really have it all. Perhaps we will even see more working parents within agency.