As workingmums.co.uk prepares to celebrate its 10th birthday, we asked Gillian Nissim, its founder, how she set it up, how things have changed over the last 10 years for working parents and how she organises her own working life.
workingmums.co.uk: What did you do before WM?
Gillian Nissim: After leaving university I went onto a management training scheme at Abbey National then moved into communications and worked my way up to managing the internal communications team. I worked on Abbey’s first intranet and corporate website and then moved to a financial services institution in the City when my first son was born before and from there to the Criminal Justice department of the Home Office where I worked in internal communications.
WM: Why did you set up workingmums.co.uk?
GN: After the birth of my second son, many of my friends were in a similar position, needing flexible yet challenging work, but not being able to find it. There seemed to be a significant demand and a great business case for an organisation which could bridge the gap between those employers who were able to offer flexibility, whether that was full-time work with flexi hours or some homeworking or part-time work or any other form of flexible working, and parents who were seeking flexible positions.
WM: What does your job involve on a typical working day?
GN: There is no typical day! My job involves lots of different things. I have to keep on top of any issues relating to the running of the business: liaising with our finance director; conference calls with our sales, marketing and editorial teams; meetings with policymakers or like-minded organisations about how we might work together, presentations about flexible or family friendly working to organisations such as Women in Rail or KPMG; talking to the media about issues related to working mums; and keeping up with trends in the recruitment industry and best practice in flexible working and in areas like Search Engine Optimisation. I oversee recruitment so there may be interviews with prospective employees or job applications to sift through.
In the last year we have had a big relaunch of our website to make it more user friendly and mobile responsive. That has meant a lot of meetings about technical issues.
WM: What have been the biggest changes over the last 10 years?
GN: Although I have felt frustrated that progress for women at work seems to be fairly slow in some areas, there have been huge advances in flexible working. When I started workingmums.co.uk it was hard to persuade businesses about the benefits of flexible working and there was little research around.
There is a much better understanding of the business benefits of flexible working now and good examples of best practice, of companies walking the talk. There is also a clear desire from many to ensure there are more women moving up the ranks. Linked to that is movement towards greater equality at home and in the workplace, latterly with Shared Parental Leave.
That is quite a significant step forward from 2006. Another big change is the advance of technology. The first version of our website was quite basic and smartphones were in their early days. Fast forward 10 years and we have just launched a new website which allows people to search and apply for jobs from their smartphones while they are on the move.
How we communicate has changed significantly, not just in terms of how we use the website, but also how we use social media. Facebook has come into its own, as have LinkedIn and Twitter.
WM: What is the biggest challenge setting up your own business?
GN: It has been a huge learning curve, but the biggest challenge has been weathering the recession which threw the recruitment industry into disarray. Budgets for recruitment changed overnight. We had to change the way we were running the business as a result. There were some hard decisions to take and it was emotionally difficult and highly stressful. Ultimately this has had a positive impact – we have had to refocus on our core strengths, but I definitely didn’t see the recession coming when I started the business!
WM: workingmums.co.uk is a virtual business. What is the best thing about working remotely?
GN: For me it is the flexibility it provides. It relieves so much of the time pressure of commuting and rushing to get home in time for pick-ups. Psychologically it is brilliant. I feel more productive and I feel I am more present when the kids come home. If something happens in the day with the kids I can make the time up later. I can fit things in like going to the gym in the morning and be back at my desk by 9am.
WM: And what is the worst thing?
GN: I have to work harder to make sure I get out and about at least a couple of times a week or I go stir crazy.
WM: What are your tips for remote workers?
GN: Have a place where you work which is separate, where you can physically or psychologically shut the door at the end of the day or try to create some kind of difference between work and home. I was bad at that in the early days, but I’m much more disciplined now. Also don’t work from home without childcare when your children are little.
It’s impossible to focus and you feel torn between work and children. I think when you are at work your focus needs to be as much as possible 100% on work and when you are at home it should be as much as possible 100% on home. Working remotely means you also have to work harder to stay in touch with people. You need to pick up the phone. You may feel you are missing out on office banter, but there are ways to create that virtually. It’s also important to get out of the house.
WM: Where is your desk?
GN: It’s in an office at the front of the house, looking out onto the street.
WM: What does it look like?
GN: Today it is quite tidy because I had a clean-out at Christmas, but normally I am a paper fiend. Maybe because I’ve had years in a communications environment, I feel more comfortable with paper around me!
WM: How do you stay in touch with your colleagues:
GN: Usually by Instant Messenger, phone, conference calls or face to face meetings. Technology is very helpful. Phone is very important if you work remotely. You don’t have the same type of conversational exchange on IM and it’s a great way of sharing successes if you don’t work in the same place as your colleagues. Ideally, I’d like to have more face to face meetings, but in their absence the phone is vital.
WM: Do you have a lunch break?
GN: I do tend to eat at my desk so I can focus on work or catch up on reading, although sometimes I pop out to meet a friend.
WM: How often do you see your colleagues?
GN: It varies. It depends on what is going on in terms of client meetings or meetings with potential partners with our marketing or editorial team or with our tech suppliers. It’s usually a few times a month.
WM: What are your hobbies?
GN: Going to the gym, netball, watching my kids play sport. I like spending time with family and friends.
WM: How do you balance work and family life?
GN: Over the years I have learnt to manage it better. I try to cut off from work at around 6pm, although I do look at emails later. That means my children know that when I am not working I can be focused on them. The balance between work and family life can shift either way over a month, but it usually manages to level off. I try to be disciplined both ways.
WM: What is the best thing about your job?
GN: I love doing something that I feel so passionately about and I work with a really great team of people who feel equally passionate about what we are doing and really care about our candidate and client audience. They are also really good fun to work with! I feel like we are really making a difference.