5 Tips to Make Working from Home Work for You

At Girls’ Globe, we know a thing or two about working from home. Our small team works remotely from different cities, countries and time zones. But doing your job from home when you’ve been used to working in an office is a major adjustment. As more and more people across the world are being encouraged – or required – to work from home, we thought we would share some of the things we’ve learned along the way. We hope these tips can help you to stay healthy, happy and able to do your best work amidst great uncertainty and change.

Say Good Morning & Goodbye

To create a feeling of camaraderie when we aren’t arriving into the same physical space, we send each other a short voice note to say good morning at the start of our working day. Even if you have a morning team meeting scheduled first-thing, a quick hello ensures you start the day on a positive note. Plus, it helps to signal to your brain that the work day has begun – particularly useful if you are used to a commute to the office. The same applies at the end of the day. A quick message to your colleagues letting them know that you’re finishing up for the day can stop the afternoon drifting into evening without a clear transition from work to your own time.

Trial Different Tools

There are many, many, many excellent free tools available that can make collaborating remotely quicker, easier and more efficient. The best tools for your team will depend on the nature of your work, and so what works for us might not be what works for you. What will apply to everyone, though, is that it’s ok if the first thing you try isn’t the best fit. If your new project management app is still confusing everyone after two weeks, it might be worth giving an alternative a go. With so many options available, there’s no need to struggle with a tool that doesn’t serve you.

Create a Routine & Embrace the Benefits

Without the regular routine that comes with going to the office, days spent working from home can feel unstructured. By building yourself a routine that you can realistically stick to, you’ll be more likely to move through your day without getting distracted, bored or overwhelmed. Set times for phone calls, admin tasks, lunch breaks and coffees, put these in your calendar, and try as best as you can to stick to them each day. One of the biggest positives of working from home is the flexibility to fit your routine around other parts of your life, so make the most of this as much as the current situation allows. Listen to a podcast or put laundry on while you work, call a loved one at lunch time, or take a break to do some exercise.

Get Some Fresh Air

Even if you sit on a bus or a train most of the way, travelling to and from the office gives you daily opportunities for a breath of fresh air. Make sure you don’t lose out on that while working from home. Taking a short walk round the block or a local park before sitting down to start working can be a great way to boost your energy for the day ahead. If it’s not safe or possible for you to go outside at the moment, simply opening a window and standing by it while you have a tea or a coffee can have the same effect.

Separate Your Space

If at all possible, try to work from an area of your home that you can then move away from at the end of the working day. If you have a spare room or a study – great – but most people don’t have a home office waiting for them each morning. Even something as simple as working at your kitchen table during the day, then moving to your living room or bedroom to chill in the evening can create a distinction in your mind between work and the rest of your day. This is especially relevant at the moment, when many of us will be spending most, if not all, of our time in our homes.

Over the coming weeks and months it will be more important than ever to be patient and compassionate with one another while we face the many unknowns and uncertainties of the coronavirus pandemic. This includes with our colleagues, team mates and employees. With children at home, relatives to care for and health and livelihoods at stake, many will be finding themselves in impossible situations.

Do you have experience of working from home? How do you make it work for you? Or, if you’re now doing it for the first time, what are you finding difficult?

Please leave a comment and the Girls’ Globe team will get back to you directly. With conversation and digital connection we can support one another through the challenges ahead.

Becoming a Mother can be Good for Your Career

When I was pregnant, headlines such as Children Hurt Women’s Earnings, but Not Men’s (Even in Scandinavia) kept popping up in my feed. This was not very encouraging – but it also wasn’t surprising. Women face discrimination in many areas of life, and returning to work after having a baby is no exception.

Have you heard of the Motherhood Penalty?

The Motherhood Penalty refers to the disadvantages women with children face in the workplace – including being paid less than working fathers and women without children.

And it doesn’t stop there. Working mothers are less likely to get hired and promoted, and the recommended salaries are lower. They are also perceived as less competent and less committed to their work. Working fathers, on the other hand, seem to benefit from being a parent by being perceived as more committed. It also seems to be more acceptable for men with children to be late for work.

Having been a mother now for over a year, I really don’t see why working mothers should be discriminated in the workplace. To me, it is obvious that motherhood has made me better at what I do. I wish there was more awareness of how being a mother can help you in your career.

Regardless of whether you are working from home, working for a company, have your own business or work in academia, being a mother can bring value to your career.

1. You learn to work smarter.
As a working mother, you will master time management. Time is always short, and things need to get done.

2. You learn to adjust and solve problems quickly.
No matter how good you are at planning, you will encounter unexpected problems that need solving – fast. This skill is useful in all aspects of life.

3. Your patience grows.
As a mother, you know that good things take time. If you find something worthy of your time, you’ll be willing to wait for it.

4. You learn to delegate.
If you, like me, used to be the kind of person who took on too many tasks, motherhood teaches you not to do this – you simply don’t have the time.

5. Your priorities change.
Perhaps you start to reconsider your previous life and career choices, or maybe you decide to change career altogether. Having a child is indeed life-changing.

6. Being a mother could make you more ambitious.
Because of your lack of time, you might start to avoid certain tasks and realize that you only have time to do the things that take you forward.

I ask all working mothers to emphasize that being a mother can make you better at what you do for a living.

Don’t hide an employment gap due to having a baby in your CV. Instead, put it out there and explain how it has changed you and improved your performance.

Motherhood is challenging, for sure, but it can also be incredibly empowering. Giving birth and raising another human being gave me a new type of confidence. It made me feel like I could do anything.

As a new mother, you will get a crash course in life and this little human will train you in ways you can never expect. Motherhood made me stronger, more creative and ambitious. I thought I was tough before, but motherhood made me rock hard. If you decide to become a mother, don’t let anyone tell you it will hold you back in your career.

Sustaining Breastfeeding When Working

After the birth of my daughter, a combination of the strong bond I had developed with her and my choice and commitment to at least six months of exclusive breastfeeding meant that I was stressed about returning to work.

Thankfully, my fears were allayed by a strong support system that helped with the transition and supported my goals. Advancements such as improved legislation on parental leave and nursing care, allocation of nursing rooms, breastfeeding breaks and institutional mechanisms for redressing grievances are some of the progressive arrangements that have been adopted in the workplace to recognise breastfeeding as a woman’s right.

In 2004, the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) launched the World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative (WBTi) to assess and monitor key breastfeeding policies and programmes. One inherent strength of the process is that it brings together actors working on various issues on one platform, and since then, IBFAN reports that the collaborative efforts have resulted in improved maternity protection measures in many countries.

One of the areas that has signified progress in many countries is legislation on maternity leave. While the International Labour Organisation (ILO) recommends a minimum of 14 weeks’ maternity benefit for women, many countries have gone above and beyond this. In India, for example, the National Maternity Benefit Act 1961 was amended to increase maternity leave to 26 weeks from existing 12 weeks for employees in organized sector. The revised Act also provides Crèche facilities in workplaces with more than 50 employees and flexibility to work from home.

Despite marked progress, there remains a lot of ground to cover. The National Union of Bank Employees (NUBE) in Malaysia highlights the lack of awareness of women’s rights. NUBE launched the Maternity Leave campaign in 2010 to incorporate the right to 90-days paid maternity leave into a Collective Agreement with employers in the banking industry. Building on its success, NUBE now engages with a wide group of stakeholders to extend this provision to benefit women workers in the industry. By reiterating the importance of breastfeeding, they continue to educate young mothers about their rights at work particularly child care and lactation rights.

Similarly, the Centre for Research on Women and Gender (KANITA) at the Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) works to address the issue of women exercising their rights to maternity protection. These include prenatal issues such as protection from employment dismissal while pregnant and postnatal matters such as breastfeeding and reasonable child care facilities while working. KANITA collaborated with Middlesex University to identify gaps and map research areas of maternity protection and implementation in Malaysia.

“The research is novel in many ways as it aims to open pathways to deeper studies that will continue to build the business case for institutionalizing and expanding the scope of comprehensive maternity protection at the workplace.” – KANITA

Finally, there is need to recognize, reduce and redistribute care work that is primarily done by women and girls. In no country in the world, regardless of the level of development, do men and women do an equal amount of care work. MenCare, a global fatherhood campaign with partners in over 40 countries on five continents, emphasize: 

“Full equality will not be reached at home or in the workforce until men and boys globally take on 50 percent of the unpaid care and domestic work.”

They highlight that care work being undervalued both socially and economically and thought of traditionally as ‘women’s work’ is problematic. As an advocacy strategy, MenCare launched the first ever State of the World’s Fathers report in 2015, providing a global view of the state of men’s contribution to parenting and caregiving around the world, which has inspired multiple translations, national reports and advocacy.

From the research and advocacy work required to legislate maternity protection, to education and information dissemination targeting attitude change and shift in social norms, to integrating women’s issues in the undertakings of trade unions – efforts to make workplaces more breastfeeding friendly and thus empower women to breastfeed and work can only be achieved through multi-level partnerships. 

World Breastfeeding Week takes place from 1 – 7 August 2017. Celebrating collaboration and sustainability, it will focus on the need to work together to sustain breastfeeding. World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) has created an online platform with downloadable resources available in a range of languages to support individuals and organizations in their own campaigning and advocacy. 

Feminism and Motherhood in the Nordic Countries

This week, Girls’ Globe is highlighting examples of Nordic feminism. The Nordics – Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Iceland – are often thought to represent the model for gender equality in terms of education, health care, political and civic participation, and equality in the workforce and pay. One area where the Nordics are also considered trailblazers is maternity and family support – something that is inherently interlinked with feminism, gender equality and women’s empowerment.

It is easy to assume that there is controversy between motherhood and feminism – becoming a mother means giving up part of your independence, and almost everywhere in the world, the primary caregiver is still considered to be the mother. This inevitably means that women end up sacrificing their careers – or at least slowing down their career development – for the sake of starting a family.

Women should not have to  choose between career and family any more than men – and some of the policies in place in the Nordic countries represent ways to support women’s empowerment and gender equality and could potentially offer models for other countries to follow in their effort to promote women’s participation, gender equality and women’s empowerment.

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Licia Ronzulli, an Italian MEP, brought her baby to work at the European Parliament. Image courtesy of European Parliament.

My native country Finland offers approximately four months of paid maternity leave for the mother, and nearly five months of paid parental leave which can be taken by either parent. This means that for up to 9 months, a parent can stay home with the baby with almost full pay – and job security. Mothers still usually use the whole nine months, but fathers taking up a growing share of the parental leave is becoming more common. In addition to maternity and parental leave, fathers get special paternity leave, which can be taken simultaneously with the mother – allowing both parents to remain home together with their newborn child. Some countries, such as Sweden and Iceland, are coming up with policies to proactively promote for a more equal division of parental responsibilities. In Sweden, parents are entitled to 480 days of parental leave, 60 of which are reserved for the dad. In an effort to encourage a more equal division of the parental leave, Sweden also gives a gender equality bonus (jämställdhetsbonus) in the form of an extra daily payment if 270 days of the parental leave are divided equally between the mother and father. Iceland went even further, passing a law that gave three months of non-transferable parental leave to both mothers and father – and additional three months which would be split as the parents saw fit. The law has resulted in over 90% of Icelandic fathers taking paternity leave, and in a more equal division of parenting between fathers and mothers. The country plans to push it even further by turning the 3-3-3 model into 5-5-2, in which each parent gets 5 months of non-transferable leave and 2 months that can be taken by either.

Denmark provides what is called guaranteed day-care availability, which means that all children between the ages of 26 weeks up to 6 years are offered a full-time spot in a day-care facility. Norway introduced a law that requires at least 40% of public limited company board members to be women – a law that would never be possible in a country without strong maternal and family benefits and support systems that allow women to combine family and career, on an equal stance with their male counterparts.

In most countries, these kinds of laws and policies are unheard of – and often met with disbelief and even resentment, as they can be seen as government hand-outs or charity. It is essential to realize that strong maternity benefits and family friendly policies are not handouts, but tools to ensure that women and men not only get to participate in the labor force on an equal basis – but that women and men can also enjoy equal parenting roles as mothers and fathers, both just as essential for their children’s well-being and development. Such policies promote feminism and gender equality, but also highlight the importance of fathers as caregivers and parents. Equality in the workplace requires equality in the home – and in a country where both are achieved, it is both men and women who benefit and win.

The Nordic countries are far from perfect, and have ways to go before real gender equality is achieved – but they are already well on their way. Hopefully, sooner rather than later, more countries will start following their lead.

Featured image courtesy of Flickr user Jelle Druyts.