There is something of a wistful dream that many mothers have, thinking I'd love to be a work at home mum, avoiding the chaotic dash from home, the suit, the blow-dried hair and makeup and the dash via childcare or grandparents. Work at home mothers (commonly referred to as WAHM's) get to stay at home all day in their pj's, go on lunch dates, down tools on sunny days, working as they please, spending quality time with the little ones and bypassing all that full-time work angst. You get to be your own boss, make your own decisions, live the life you want! Or do you?
Kathryn Hawkins is a busy wife and mum to one toddler, one cavoodle and two adult step sons. She is also an Accredited Dietitian and Nutritionist and the owner and director at Hawkins & Co.
Kathryn lives on Sydney's Northern Beaches and, after 10 years of being employed in the health care system, started working from home as a consultant dietitian approx. 3 years ago, mixing it with contract work in a local clinic. Since having her daughter and launching Hawkins & Co in early 2017, Kathryn now operates both businesses form home.
Question: Can you talk about the disadvantages you encountered when you began working from home?
Kathryn Hawkins: I think the biggest disadvantage was the lack of support and accountability.
By this, I don't mean that my husband was unsupportive, or that I didn't find support in online groups and at events like networking breakfasts etc. It was the day to day support I missed.
It's really the little things that come from a team environment; like bouncing ideas off each other, cross checking facts and general workplace discussion that I felt was lacking and it took some getting used to…
I also found that not having anyone to be accountable to and no spreadsheets/ timesheets/KPI's hanging over my head – did make it hard to forge ahead. Particularly when battling sleep deprivation and managing a family too!
Working from home can be a lonely game sometimes, however there are great ways to still feel like you're part of a team through online groups.
Question: What were you doing wrong?
Kathryn Hawkins: With anyone starting their own business (and working from home), there are so many new things to learn every day. I live by the mantra that 'It's not what I've done wrong, it's just something I haven't learnt yet'. There is really no cookie cutter approach to doing business 'your way'. You have to find the right momentum that works for you.
I am aware that there are many ways I could be streamlining and automating business that I'm not doing yet. However, I am growing and adapting at my own pace that I am comfortable with.
Question: How were your relationships impacted by working from home life?
Kathryn Hawkins: My closest adult relationship is with my husband and luckily for me - my work life hasn't put too much of a strain on our relationship, but that is not to say it hasn't changed it in little ways.
For example, I do a lot of work after dinner so that has impacted our evenings together. However, I try to ensure to have 2 nights a week with no work and just quality time with him, which has made us appreciate that time more than ever.
I know he respects my work and appreciates what I provide for the family, but he does not understand what it is like to try to fit working at home, with running a household. There is some degree of assumption from him that because I work from home, I'm able to fit in more housework, parenting and general errands than he is! I have to keep reminding him that I am working.
In regards to my relationship with my daughter, she is too young to really understand, however I love that my career allows me the flexibility to adjust my schedule to whatever works for me. I have the freedom to live my life according to my rules. When my daughter isn't at daycare, I am able to spend more time during the week doing 'fun stuff' that she enjoys! I hope as she grows older I can be a good role model for her as a working mum.
One thing we have trialed in recent months is a family breakfast time - just us with no TV, phones or iPads. This came about because we find it hard to always manage family dinners around work, and my husband and I both feel that a daily family meal is essential. So when dinner time wasn't working, I changed it to breakfast! We have 1-2 courses and set the table properly. So far it is working really well for everyone involved - a lovely way to start the day, and also to communicate/confirm our plans for the day.
Working from home has some major benefits - creating stronger relationships, good role models and 'valuing' your time with loved ones, sure is one of them.
Question: What advice do you have for those of us who struggle to turn off because they work from home?
Kathryn Hawkins: From my experience, it is really normal not to be able to turn off day to day! Having your own business is a '24hr a day hustle' and is in your mind constantly. I have found these strategies to work wonders for me:
1. Write a to-do list. Find a quiet 10 minutes before bed each night and do it the old fashion way with pen and paper. I find that doing it before bed, sets the tone for the next day - it's quite therapeutic knowing that I've woken up and am completely prepared for what the day holds!
2. I carry a notebook in my hand bag and as soon as I think of something I need to action, I write it down! Work, mum-life, personal activities - doesn't matter what it is, write it down and it will help
3. Make time 1-2 times a year to get away and switch off. Completely. The only way to do this is to PLAN – get the to do lists done, let all clients know you are on leave and the dates, automate your email response and really try to check out. Even update social media, or plan posts ahead of time and schedule. Just do it!
Question: How does working from home now benefit you?
Kathryn Hawkins: Ultimately, it is the flexibility. It's enabled me to schedule my own time, prioritise my family and better support them.
It is a case of -the days are long but the years are short'. I quite often work late into the night or early hours and then woken at 6 am by a toddler. BUT when I look at the overall year and the time I was able to travel with family, be present when needed, take small holidays and not have to ask anyone permission - the long hours are completely worth it.
I also love the freedom to take my businesses in any direction I like. I'm the ultimate decision maker for everything and it feels good!
Question: How did you harness the power of digital automation?
Kathryn Hawkins: I'm afraid this is an area I am still learning about… and it is a very steep learning curve!
I currently use the Facebook scheduling tool and try to plan ahead, and I'm currently trialing other automation tools that allow me to work 'smarter not harder'. I still haven't found the right one for me...
Question: How can we protect our mental state, when working from home?
Kathryn Hawkins: One word, 'network'! Get out and meet other women who are working from home.
It can be very tempting to stay in our comfy lounge wear and never leave the house, but it is so important to just do it.
We are very lucky these days to have a number of groups organising local networking events, breakfasts and evening events with inspiring speakers. There are two groups that I regularly attend their events and, as well as learning a lot and becoming inspired, I have made some wonderful lifelong friends!
I think the other way to protect our mental health is to make sure you have a nourishing diet, and move outside in the fresh air every day, even if it is just walking the dog. When we are physically healthy, we can better support our mental health.
Oh and sleep – the late nights and lack of sleep are part of the journey, but you do need to try and schedule 1-2 nights a week when you go to bed early and sleep through.
Question: Do you ever see yourself returning to an office?
Kathryn Hawkins: Maybe if my business ever grew big enough to need an office, I would, but in regards to returning to employment, it is not something I see happening in the near future. I think whilst ever I have children under school age it, I will keep working from home. It is working for us at the moment!
Interview by Brooke Hunter