Monday, December 3, 2012

Self-employed and working at home with kids: A blog mini series - Profile 3: Tony from Between Coffees Web Design (Part 1)

Welcome to the third profile on my mini series on people who are managing the working at home while being a primary caregiver juggle. Today I'm featuring web designer Tony, who can also be found at his own blog, Between Coffees.

Today is part 1 of Tony's reflections on combining these roles; part 2 will be published tomorrow. So without further ado ... introducing Tony Malloy, web designer, dad and all-round good guy.


I guess it's best to start with the reason I work from home. I'm a dad of four. There's P, our teenager, A our seven year old and the twins (K and H) who are five. When A came along we managed my working away from home thanks to a lucky combination of long service entitlements and my wife’s convenient work based child care. However, by the time the twins came along we had to make a decision. Work to pay for child care or one of us stay home.

I am a web developer so thankfully I have skills that translate well to working from home. I had also been slowly working up my business in my own time for a few years so I wouldn't have to start from scratch. I still had some long service leave left so after taking that I officially stopped working for The Man and started out on my own. No more calling clients on my lunch hour and racing home to deal with any problems.

I work 99.9% of my time for home. Leaving paid work conincided with building our own house and one of the items on the must-have list was an office for me. I now spend most of the day in my office, overlooking the comings and goings in our street. Any meetings, and they are rare as most of my contact is via email then to a lesser extent phone or Skype, are held in cafes dotted around town. When I first started out this was viewed as a novelty but I don't think anyone has commented on meeting for a coffee to do work for years now.

One of the changes we made to the plan of our house was to include doors on what was an open office. You can't work if the kids can wander in and out, it's simply impossible. The kids know that if dad's door is shut he's working and not to be disturbed, although this doesn't work all the time. Sometimes I just have to be told about the Lego construction underway, or that K called A a pea-brain.

I have a nanny come in two days a week (two different nannies, both named Rita, so one is Old Rita who has been with us for five years, the other new Rita who has been with us three) for four hours each so I can sit down and get work done in uninterrupted blocks. This has been in place since I started working. The other saviour has been Nana who hail, rain or shine has taken the kids on a Thursday since they were babies which has given me a whole day to arrange meetings or work.

Up until this year this meant I had two full days with K and H, Mr A being at school. I look back on these days and wonder if I could have managed my time better. Some days work would have to be done and they wouldn't get my full attention which always left me flustered. To this day I still feel bad when I hear one of the say "no, dad has to work so he won't be coming". Now the twins are in kinder and heading off to school next year this won’t be so much of a problem, I will have five days a week from 9 to 3 that I will be able to plan out.

I never considered putting the kids in to child care outside of the home. Cost was a major factor but I always liked the idea of having them here with me and paying someone to care for them here was my first preference.

As the kids have grown older I have found it easier to work with them around. They are reasonably self-sufficient and the three younger ones form a tight unit that can generally find some way to fill their time. They’ve learned that when dad says he’s making a phone call they need to be quiet and that sometimes they will have to wait a couple of minutes if I’m finishing something off. When they were younger it was much more of a struggle – we all know you can’t reason with kids. I found that letting my clients know I worked from home and had small children helped. Not one client ever made an issue of it and just this week one apologised for forgetting it was school pick up. Communication is the key here.

The trouble I have is working when other adults may be visiting. This doesn’t happen very often but I feel I’m being a poor host if I have to excuse myself to go and work. The better I know the visitor the easier it is though. Attitudes to working at home seem to have changed over the years and it’s no longer regarded as ‘being at home with a bit of work done every now and then’. Most understand I am working, it’s just I don’t have to commute to my office.

My biggest struggle though is drawing a boundary between work and family life. I am a workalholic and have the fear that every business owner/freelancer has that this job may be the last I ever get so I work hard to deliver. I find it hard to switch off, my mind is constantly thinking of solutions to problems or prioritising projects. Recently I tried to turn off my computer at 5.30 but this didn’t work for me. I find an extra hour or so in the evening makes me feel better, but it means that’s an hour I’m not spending time with the kids or my partner.

I don’t know a solution for this; how does one overcome ones built in drives? If anyone as the answers…. In the meantime I have made one concession and no longer answer work calls on the weekend or in the evening. One hint to those starting out working from home is to get a second phone number. I made the mistake of using my personal mobile when starting out. A rookie mistake, but a big one.

Tomorrow - part 2 of Tony's insights on how to manage the juggle.

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