When her daughter was born, Jennifer Forest was working as a project officer at a government agency, but she desired a different life.
Specifically, Forest wanted the flexibility to spend time with her daughter ... on her schedule. "I didn’t want to be confined by the 9-to-5 workday routine," she says.
So she began her own business as a freelance museum consultant and writer, which organically led to her book, "Work Women Want: Work at Home or Go Part-Time." Her goal? Help other working moms who face the same challenges she did (and still does!) figure it all out.
We sat down with the enterprising mother to discuss everything from how to have the flex-time talk with your boss to the biggest work-from-home pitfall.
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LearnVest: How can new moms go about deciding if working from home or part-time is right for them?
Jennifer Forest: You won’t know unless you have a firm grip on what’s important to you. Many mothers want to be there for their children, but they also still enjoy the satisfaction of—and income from—working. Frankly, the only way to have that and more time with your kids is to either control the hours you work or have reduced hours. Since a lot of women find themselves in workplaces that may not be flexible, this means negotiating part-time work or working from home—so if you need to be at the school gate for pick-up time, you can be.
What are some tips for broaching the topic with your boss?
It can be scary for a manager when a staff member asks to go part-time. They're going to worry about all of the unknowns: How will you get the work done? Will you be around for meetings? What problems will it cause with other staff—and will everyone want to go part-time if you do?
So if you're the one doing the asking, it's your responsibility to show how you can still deliver on your workload and the key priorities of your job. This means having a well-thought-out plan that eliminates all of these worries and shows how you can still be a valued part of the team—regardless of your hours.
What if it’s not possible? Say, your workplace doesn’t offer that kind of flexibility or your boss says no?
In that case, there are two things that I’ve learned: First of all, take the time to find the right workplace. This means not accepting a job offer without fully considering if it will help you with your career path, while also letting you care for your children in the way that you want. Let’s face it: Not every job opportunity or employer is going to be a perfect match for how you want to live your life, so investigate fully before you sign that contract.
Second, get help! It's practically impossible to run a business or have a successful career and raise a family alone. There are only so many hours in the day, so moms need to share family responsibilities with partners, grandparents, family friends and—if they can afford it—a babysitter. I think it takes a village to build healthy families, with happy parents and children.
The biggest pitfall is thinking that you can do quality work with your kids in the same room as you.
So if a woman decides to work from home, what’s the first step?
Understand your skills. I spent a lot of time studying how to be a share trader—only to find that I hated the daily work. I think it's much easier and quicker to take skills you already have from your career or other experiences, and then find paying clients who want you to do the things that you're really good at and value. I’ve had the most success this way, and quite a few women in my book have had similar experiences. With clients, you know what they want, and how you can help them.
I work from home and have kids—and I think it’s harder than going to an office! What’s your advice for juggling it all?
The biggest pitfall is thinking that you can do quality work with your kids in the same room (or sometimes even the same house) as you. Generally, most work needs your undivided attention, just like being with your children—young ones, in particular—means you need to be with them completely. It's a recipe for disaster if you try to work with kids around. Everyone turns out unhappy!
The best way to deal with this is to work when they're at school or having their daytime naps, and to share caring for your children with family and friends. It's hard, but the big benefit to nontraditional work hours is the control and flexibility you have over your time and workweek. If your work at home focuses on the outcomes you deliver, it doesn’t really matter when you actually do it—as long as it gets done!