According to a report published this week by the London School of Economics and Political Science, the benefits of working from home disappear over time for both employees and the organisations they work for. One of the reasons, says Dr Esther Canonico of LSE’s Department of Management, is that “working at home leads to an increased sense of professional isolation and a decrease in sharing knowledge with colleagues.”

Added to this is that fact that even though many of us think that home workers are more productive than office-based workers, the report showed that on a long-term basis, there are actually no differences between the productivity of home and office workers.

So what about working mums? How does working in an office vs working from home affect their work-life balance and ability to juggle kids, professional demands and family life? To find out we spoke to four mums – two home based, two office based – to find out what works for them, and what doesn’t…

Home Based

Lily, 42-years-old, Writer, London

Lily has two kids aged seven and 10

For me, the flexibility that working from home offers is of course the biggest benefit. But more than that, working at home makes me far more productive. I know that some people complain of distractions but I’m happy to step over clothes and laundry for a morning if it means I get more work done. I then tend to do things like the laundry and tidying when the kids are around. I wouldn’t be able to concentrate to the level I need to in my work if I was in an office. Writing needs quiet, and my home offers the best environment for that. 

Saying that I definitely don’t factor enough breaks into my day. I tend to work from the moment I get home from taking the kids to school, right up until the moment I have to go and pick them up. I then often also work in the evenings, and at weekends. Sometimes I take myself off to the British Library to break up the week. I find that it helps to have a change of scenery.

One of the downsides of working from home is the sense of isolation. When my kids were young and I was trying to get back into writing, I found that balancing a life with young children and solitary work made me quite lonely. But my work is more interactive now that I am doing some teaching, and my kids are older, so I have a lot more human contact to break up the day. 

I am generally happy with my work-life balance now, though it has taken a while. I don’t really get time to do much else in the week, other than work, but it’s work that I enjoy doing and it takes me out of the home more than it used to so it’s OK. I think when children are young, working from home can definitely feel more isolating though. 

Chloe, 34-years-old, Personal Assistant to Yoga Studio Manager, London

Chloe has one son who is 19-months-old

I work from home, part-time, Monday to Friday. What’s really great about working from home is that I don’t have to commute so there’s no time wasted, and if something crops up, or my son is poorly (or won’t sleep) I can adjust and do work in the evening or at weekends to catch up. Working from home means I knuckle down, get on with my work, and the time flies. On the rare occasions that I travel into the studio to work there are so many more distractions and chatting, plus the wasted hours spent travelling.

I definitely think working at home makes me more productive, so long as I ignore the mess and household chores. There are definite downsides though. If I’m sitting at the dining room table and know there is a pile of washing up to do, or a load of washing to hang out, I have to be very strict with myself and ignore it to make sure I get my work done. And while I don’t find it too isolating, it can be frustrating. For instance, if  I need an answer on something and don’t get it in time, and then I’m looking after my son, it means leaving it until the next day, or doing work in the evenings.

But on the whole, and as long as I’m organised, it’s working well for me now at this stage of my life. It’s flexible which is good. If I work more on a day when I have childcare, I can then be free on another day. As life is much more unpredictable now that kids are involved being able to adapt when I do my work is an absolute godsend.

Office Based

Bethan, 35-years-old, Marketing Executive, York

Bethan has one daughter aged two

I work a normal office working day – with a short commute from York to Leeds – four days a week. In practice, this means getting up and leaving as soon as I can in the morning so that I can come home in good time to spend a bit of time with my daughter before bedtime. I enjoy working in an office. It’s much easier to separate home and work when you have an office to go to, and the contrast between the two helps keep a sense of perspective. I enjoy getting out of the house, and while it would be lovely to work from home more (it is an option for me) I find I benefit from the informal interactions and conversations that happen in the workplace, and being able to finish a cup of coffee.

My husband looks after our daughter in the mornings, and she’s with a childminder in the afternoon. We’ve been incredibly lucky in that we have compatible schedules and a childminder she adores. We don’t have family nearby to support, so sometimes everything falls apart, but we usually manage. This will all change once she starts school, nothing stays settled for very long.

The downside to working in an office is definitely the commute – it means a longer day for all of us, and can be very unreliable – although on the plus side it does give me some much needed time to read, or plan, or daydream on the journey. But working in an office is definitely better for me. To be fair, big companies are pretty good on flexible working and I can usually flex my hours when I need to. I think the challenges are more around managing your own (and others) expectations of what you can and should be doing, and finding time at work for the extras – the conversations and informal support networks that help the world of work go round.

Ariadne, 34-years-old, Teacher, Manchester

Adriadne has two sons aged 17 months, and four years

I work as a teacher in Manchester. I work quite long hours so we have to stick to quite a strict routine during the week. I wake up at 5:30am, do an hours work – planning and answering emails – before kids get up, which is usually around 7:30am. I then drop kids off at their childminder and am at the school that I work at by 8:00am. Once my working day is over I go and pick up children from their childminder, at around 4:30. Then three days a week I do private tutoring for an hour in the evenings from 7:30pm. This all works well until one of the kids gets ill, or when something unforeseen happens which then throws things off course.

Being a teacher, working from home is not possible even if I wanted to do that, but to be honest I’d imagine you’d get more done in an office (or at the school in my instance) than you would at home because of the constant distractions. Saying that if I could have some days where I started earlier and finished later, or vice versa, then that would be great as then I could take my older son to school, and / or pick him up, and always working office hours means that I can’t do that.

Where do you work, at home, or in an office? And how does it affect your work-life balance? Do you wish your job was more flexible? Or are you craving being around other people? Join in the conversation over on our Facebook page… 

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