WORKING from home may sound relaxing, but for most, it’s a juggling act.
That’s because many home workers are disabled, carers or parents, and are choosing remote jobs so they can balance them with other responsibilities.
Now mothers — already known for the strength of their online communities — are championing the home front, creating forums, social media pages and websites to help each other succeed.
“Australia’s so behind the times in working from home and telecommuting,” says Leah Gibbs, 48, founder of Work At Home Mums and jobs website Lifestyle Careers.
“Some people hate it, they miss those little office luxuries like air conditioning and chatting at the water cooler, but working mums love it. It means they can balance work around their families.
“Employers have happy employees and mums come back to work from maternity leave — it’s win-win.”
Leah posts job opportunities, articles and tips on flexible working on her Facebook page, which has 20,000 likes.
She says there is still a lack of support for work-at-home mums, but predicts “exciting times ahead”.
“A lot of employers are cottoning on to the freelance lifestyle,” she tells news.com.au. “There are great jobs out there that pay well — personal assistants and executive assistants can earn around $60,000 working from home. We’re also seeing many roles in telemarketing, call centres, graphic design.”
Leah says the most important skill is being organised. She has posted 12,000 jobs to date, and is getting ready to launch a website dedicated to helping work-from-home mums, while taking on consulting and digital marketing opportunities.
“I work core hours of 10am to 2pm, and then I’m online from 9pm til midnight” she says. “That fits in with a lot of working mums who are online then.
“I’ve got a timer to see where I’m spending my time.”
Rachel Perkins, 38, is the founder and director of justmumsrecruitment.com.au in Melbourne, and mother to Jake, three, and Ruby, six.
Everyone in her business works from home, from the recruiters to the IT support to the designers.
“There are challenges not being in the office daily — with cohesiveness, support and communications,” she tells news.com.au. “We have fortnightly team meetings in a cafe, we produce weekly reports, we email all day and we use Facetime. We often use Facetime with candidates as well, as they find it more personal.
“One of our members does a lot at night on our database and back end because their kids are at home.”
Not only does her website find flexible opportunities for working mothers, they also educate businesses on the advantages of hiring flexible workers.
“You can get an increased calibre of candidate, with experience and talent,’ says Rachel. “Salary is not always a priority, people will take pay cuts to get flexibility and that is significant.
“If you can accommodate them, they’re going to be loyal, they have maturity and a good work ethic. They’re not going to be on Facebook, or taking long lunches, They get their heads down — that’s the feedback.”
Naomi Dyer, based in Camden, has two high school-age children and runs a business called Lime Lizard, selling Young Living essential oils, which treat issues such as scars, snoring and insomnia.
The 45-year-old is another mother juggling several jobs while also helping others to get into business, running workshops to educate new employees in distribution and helping them set up websites and social media pages.
“I give them key things to achieve in the first week, and then we can talk and email. I also have a Facebook page where I post motivation and inspiration.
“We have a monthly meeting and we often use Skype to talk to our 100-plus employees around the world. There’s so much we can gain from each other.”
One strategy she teaches is “10 at 10”.
“You get home from dropping off kids and any other errands, you take a breath and then you make 10 phone calls at 10am and then the pressure’s off for the day. You get on with your other business or home related tasks.”
More than a third of mothers returning to or starting work after the birth of their child make use of flexible work hours, while a quarter work from home, according to the ABS.
But are the opportunities there?
Liz Grant, 31, lives in Brisbane with her husband and three children, two of whom are on the autistic spectrum.
She works from home as a finance manager for a domestic violence refuge, going into the office one day a week and earning around $40 an hour.
She is contracted for three more days a week, but spreads her hours over the rest of it.
“It takes a great deal of planning and preparation — we have schedules everywhere.
I use Google Calendar, colour coded for family, medical appointments, my two roles (she also does work for a second refuge) and when my son has to go in for distance lessons.”
Liz says her flexible work schedule has allowed her to take her six-year-old son off some of his medication and watch him get back to straight As.
But she is scared about what roles will be available if her workplace loses its funding. “If I lose this position, there’s nothing out there,” she tells news.com.au. “I only ever see jobs in admin or sales jobs, and they’re usually in Victoria or Sydney.
“There’s lots of work for very little money, like party planning.
“Employers are resistant, they aren’t aware how well it’ll work, or whether people will have the work ethic to complete tasks without supervision.”
Liz now checks Leah’s Facebook page on a regular basis.
And it’s thanks to mothers like these paving the way and supporting each other that an increasing number of opportunities look set to open up.