12 October 2020
To mark National Work Life Week (12-16 October 2020), our Senior Learning & Development Specialist, Paul Miles, shares his journey towards balancing his home and work life.
Three years ago, when our second child was born there were two things that I hadn’t predicted:
- Having ‘two under two’ really is as tough as they say it is; life as we knew it in our household had to change.
- Three years later, my wife and I would be juggling the roles of full-time work, pre-school teacher and parent, all while locked down in our house.
Life had to change
Managing my own work-life balance has been a multi-staged process – five years ago I was in an operational role as a senior manager in another of the UK’s leading organisations; The National Lottery. My role meant being on call if there were issues to be resolved late at night or at weekends in addition to a full working week in the office.
My wife worked in London, often getting stuck at Euston when her train was delayed. We found our lives to be inflexible and very full. We relied heavily on our parents to support us with childcare on the days we were late at work, and we both quickly decided that this wasn’t the lifestyle we wanted for us or our kids.
We started planning for the life we wanted. My wife wanted a role more local to us, so she wasn’t reliant on the trains to get her home in time to see the girls before they went to bed. I wanted to change career completely and to do that I needed to find an employer that would see my potential in another field entirely – Learning & Development.
I remember back fondly to my second stage interview here at FirstPort. It was going well – I was asked to prepare a presentation (I have always liked a good PowerPoint) and I felt confident. I had learned the values and I had prepared good examples of my previous work.
After I had given my presentation, is when I was truly sold on FirstPort – I was asked a question “what is your perfect day at work?”, I paused for a second, considering the safe answer I should give and instead, took a risk and went with a heartfelt answer.
You see, my perfect day is one where I am working from home, I have dropped the girls at nursery, taken the dog for a walk (all before 8:30am), then I get comfy on the sofa with the dog curled up next to me and plough through my ‘to do’ list with an occasional pause to stretch, grab a cup of tea or let the dog in the garden.
I am glad I shared this insight in my interview because it was met with; “So if I could offer you that roughly once a week – would you want to come and work for us?” I said yes and couldn’t be happier to accept when I was offered the job.
Managing the different roles right now
At the beginning of last year, my wife had transitioned to a new role outside of London – 20 minutes from our house – and we were pretty proud of ourselves for re-arranging our lives. We had successfully (or so we thought) transitioned our careers to better shape around our lives and felt that we were really nailing this thing called ‘adulting’.
Obviously the COVID pandemic threw a huge curve ball our way and, like everyone, it had a big impact on how we needed to manage the balance in our lives. Our children’s nursery was closed for four months during the pandemic, both sets of grandparents (who are a big part of childcare support for us) were deemed part of the critical shielding group and, at two and four years old my daughters, lovely as they are, needed a lot of support and attention during the day.
This left my wife and I in a position where we needed to juggle our days and effectively look upon our respective working days as one calendar. We knew we couldn’t both be on video calls for eight hours a day, as the girls would tear the house (and each other apart), and their learning would take a back seat.
In addition, there were some video calls my wife or I needed to attend (sometimes lead) that needed to be without the interruption of the girls, so one of us needed to be ‘on defence’ to prevent the adorable Issy or Tildy just nipping into the corner of the call to tell everyone about their favourite unicorns.
I spoke to my line manager, Emma, who was empathetic, kind and flexible. We agreed what I needed to deliver and, as we both had childcare commitments during the day, moved some of my one-to-ones to the evening, via video call after our respective children had gone to bed. I moved some of my workload to the weekend which could be done without needing to collaborate with others; this was a hugely productive time for me.
I found that by looking flexibly at not just 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday but my whole week from the moment I woke up to the point I went to bed, I was able to be much more productive by working at times when there were no distractions at home.
The great learnings I took from a challenging time were;
- Be honest with your line manager and work on solutions together.
- Get clear what you are expected to deliver and take ownership of how that gets delivered to a high standard.
- Be mindful of what you can achieve and reach out to others if you need help.
I hope this blog helps you as much as putting it down on paper has helped me realise just how far I have come on my flexible working journey.