In the week Britain ground to a halt, costing the economy some £1bn or so a day, more power to the elbow of the homeworker, I say. Once I knew the children’s schools were closing and their buses had been cancelled, I left them snuggled up in bed, mosied downstairs to my desk, logged on to my computer and set about a day of normal productivity. Give or take the odd stop to find gloves, scarves and wellingtons for awake-and-ready-to-snowball offspring a couple of hours later and to answer the door and decline the offer of a dog walk with a passing friend, who hadn’t been able to get to her teaching post, it was business as usual.
My partner James runs his design company from home and we’ve grown used to people thinking that we don’t have “proper” jobs. The fact we are flexible enough to pick up children from late school clubs or ferry them to doctors’, dentists’ or opticians’ appointments notwithstanding, we are full-time contributors to the nation’s economy. It has taken several years and frequent reminders to impress this fact on our children – we have tax returns to file every year lest we forget the reality ourselves. In common with other homeworking parents, we juggle holidays (the children’s, not ours) with business meetings, do the school run instead of taking a lunch hour and work into the night to “make up” any snatched minutes or hours we feel we owe employers (me) or clients (James).
When I had my eldest son, now 18, and decided I didn’t want to return to work as a news reporter on a daily paper, but still wanted to keep my brain ticking over, I was told the company had a no freelancers, no part-timers, rule. Okay – a few months later an enlightened Editor-in-Chief had come back to me, offering me a “project” – but I was lucky and I worked long hours into the night once my babies (I had a second in the middle of it) were in bed, to prove my worth. The “project” won an award – I’ve still got it somewhere, filed under D for Done That. Eventually I was employed as an editor at the head office for the same company employing me now, I never felt guilty about a trip to the basement cafeteria to buy lattes for my co-workers, a visit to the ladies rest room including hair re-styling and make-up refreshment would be part of a normal day. An exchange of info with colleagues on another floor, a hunt for stationery or back issues, a request from reception to talk to a reader – all time away from my desk, counted as work, nonetheless. Instead I felt guilty every day as I screeched to a halt outside the nursery where my youngest child was looked after and dashed across the road to my daughter’s after-school club. A stop off at Waitrose on the way home, a quick, easy supper and a bedtime story and I was ready to repeat the whole thing the next day, until I decided to step off the treadmill and go back to freelance work.
Turn the clock forward and, thanks largely to the power of the Internet and the improvement of Broadband, homeworking is encouraged by those same employers. They get a team of dedicated staff, who supply their own light, heat and office space, in return we employees get a greater degree of flexibility in our lives, and, in my case, a dog under my desk. It’s not perfect. There are times when I’m uploading large files at the same time as trying to cook dinner, when my children get barked at (by me) because I’m trying to concentrate on proofing and I have been known to have midnight e-mail exchanges with contributors who are catching up, just like me, much to our mutual horror. I may only dress smartly a few times a month, and I may feel more often snowed under than snowed in, but in weeks like this week, homeworkers rule. Ok?