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Mandy Garner, editor of Workingmums.co.uk, talks about her role and the way she works.
Workingmums.co.uk was set up in 2006 by Gillian Nissim to act as a bridge between professionals looking for flexible new jobs and employers looking to attract an experienced, talented pool of candidates. Since then it has grown to be the number one jobs and community site for professional working mothers. It has over 320,000 registered users and works with thousands of employers. It also now offers advice, support and inspiration to those looking to set up their own businesses and franchises. Workingmums.co.uk is a fully flexible employer. It operates as a virtual business so everyone in it works remotely and with various degrees of other flexibility. We wanted to give you an inside view of how it works and who the people are behind the website. For week two of the series, we turn the tables on our editor, Mandy Garner.
What do you do at Workingmums?
I'm editor of Workingmums so I do all the editorial content, from writing features and news, editing blogs [and writing one!], posting events and fielding any questions for our expert panel. I also write content for other sites on Workingmums issues and do the press work for Workingmums which involves sending out press releases, doing interviews and finding case studies, often at very short notice and to very specific requirements. I've been there though so I know the pressure! I also write the Workingmums' Best Practice Report and proof marketing copy. I work part time, but I'm a bit of a workaholic so you'll often find me answering emails at odd times of the day and night.
What's the best thing about your job?
I love interviewing people about what they do and how they make it all work. I get to talk to some rather amazing people from all walks of life and all professions. Some of their stories are incredibly moving, particularly when they have been through a personal ordeal and had support to deal with it from their employer. It makes all the difference and it should be the norm, but unfortunately it isn't. We get a lot of questions in to our experts about discrimination and lack of flexibility. This is another area of my work that I feel very passionately about. I know what it's like to be in a stressful position at work and if we can do anything at all to help even one person it makes my job worthwhile. I also love being part of a movement for change in workplace culture. It makes all sorts of sense for all sorts of reasons which I won't go into now [see all the articles!].
How long have you been at Workingmums.co.uk?
What motivated you to apply to Workingmums?
I had had a bad experience at work and was looking for a new flexible job. I signed up on Workingmums as a friend had told me about it. I saw the job advert and applied. I worked 10 hours a week on a freelance basis at first, building up editorial alongside other work. The whole ethos of Workingmums is something I feel very strongly about. Journalism is still a very male-dominated profession and I had seen several colleagues and friends suffer discrimination. It made me extremely angry and I wanted to do something about it. I couldn't see for the life of me why I or anyone else should be demoted, made to feel less competent or have to take a lesser role simply because we wanted a bit of flexibility [and I'm not even talking about part time. I was full time] and support. It all seemed to be a huge waste for everyone concerned.
What did you do before?
I had worked for over 15 years as a journalist/researcher. I worked for six years for the writers' organisation, PEN, researching human rights abuses, then for a local paper in North London. After that I got a job on an online social affairs magazine and moved to the BBC. From there I joined an education newspaper where I was features editor. When I took the Workingmums job I was also freelancing and working for Jolly Phonics, a literacy publisher, and then I moved to work for the University of Cambridge.
Workingmums is a virtual business. What’s the best thing about homeworking? And the worst?
I love homeworking. I don't think I could do any of what I do without it. I have four children and I live in a village. Homeworking means I can drop them off every morning [I've always done this, even when I worked in an office, but I worked late] and be at my desk straight away. I'm quite self disciplined and I just get straight down to it. Sadly, this often means that my lunch gets slightly singed. If children are sick, I can be around and not get behind at work.If there are inset days or someone needs to be picked up from band rehearsals [she knows who she is], I can be there and bend my day around such things. My partner – or my fantastic mum – can cover if I need to go to meetings, but it just means less last minute panics and stress. The worst thing could be the lack of people to talk to [though I'm talking on the phone all day] and the general office banter [although on the up-side there's no office politics]. I do miss a busy newsroom from time to time. I have gone into offices and they do seem quite quiet nowadays. I tend to be the annoying person who wants to chat because I don't get to do it at home, while everyone else is plugged into their phones.
What are your top tips for homeworkers?
Use technology to your advantage, such as instant messenger, though I don't tend to be the most technological person around. Develop a good relationship with someone who knows about technology! I spend a lot of time just shouting at my computer. It does not respond. Don't work when small children are around, if you can avoid it. It's too stressful. Due to the nature of my work, sometimes people are only available for interview at odd times of the day when said small children are around, even if theoretically being looked after by their father. This makes for interesting times. I have lain on the floor doing an interview with my foot jammed against the bedroom door. I have done interviews in cupboards. I have locked myself in the bathroom while being pursued by a small child with a potty. Not recommended. I have also done interviews in the school toilets during the school disco. It's got a bit of an echo. Another tip, having seen the next questions, is be organised and keep all your stuff somewhere safe so no-one can get to it and doodle all over it, causing you to spend a whole evening trying to decipher a quote under a picture which purports to be an Octonaut.
Where's your desk?
It's a movable feast. Currently it's on the big table in the living room because the main computer is nearing the end of its life and the office room [known as the Mac room] is now Octonauts Central.
What does it look like?
Clearly, I don't take my own advice so my desk is a total mess. Papers with notes on are strewn across it, there are books, little notelets with things written round the corners, envelopes with ditto. Things like teddy bears and a back scrubber, a recorder and a plastic stethoscope seem to be in the mix, but the important thing is that I know where everything is. It was exactly the same when I worked in an office [bar the stethoscope and the back scrubber]. I call it creative chaos.
How do you stay in touch with colleagues?
Mainly email and instant messenger. We have a weekly conference call and we all meet up for meetings every now and again.
Do you take a lunch break?
Never. I am very bad. My kids tell me off and I fear I am a terrible role model. I often eat lunch after the school pick-up.
How often do you see your colleagues?
It depends on how many meetings we have together. We have regular meet-ups for things like Christmas, though. Everyone lives all over the country so it's really good when we do meet up.
How do you avoid isolation?
I don't feel that isolated as I am talking to people all day and have such a lot to do that I don't notice so much. Plus I have four kids [aged 14, 11, 9 and 4] so when they get home there is no way you can feel lonely. Often they are all talking to me at the same time. I do go out quite a bit for work too, to conferences, etc. I get the best of both worlds, as Hannah Montana would say.
What’s your daily routine?
Things do vary a lot, but I tend to get up at around 6.45/7. I am not a morning person. I prefer doing late nights. Daughter two is already up, but I have to virtually drag daughter one out of bed. I then do all the packed lunches, get the dinner ready [the slow cooker is a wonderful invention], get other people up, shout at people to get out the house, etc, etc. Once a week I have to take daughter two to gymnastics club at 8am [a 40-minute drive there and back]. Once everyone is where they ought to be, I crack on with work. In fact, I post the main articles while doing the packed lunches, listening to the news etc. It's probably not a recipe for a stress-free life. I work solid until 3pm then go and get the youngest two kids. I then check emails and make the dinner, chat about the day's disasters and Octonauts, and then log back on when my partner gets home around 5.30pm. I then help with homework, do stuff with the kids, get stuff ready for the next day, find out there is a last minute planning nightmare and deal with that, fix/yell at the computer, that kind of thing. Eventually everyone goes to bed and we read Tiddler for the 1001th time. I then generally log back on to check if there are any questions for our experts as they tend to come in at night when people are not at work.
What are your hobbies [if you have time]?
I don't have time! I do some sporty type things with the kids, but it's not really a hobby, basically because I am not necessarily doing it voluntarily. I spend most of my life planning. Is that a hobby?
How do you balance work and family life?
I would like to say I am very disciplined and there is a line I keep between work and life, but I would be lying. It all merges into one big lump. But I do get to spend time with my kids, go to school events, be there for them and have time to chat if they need me to chat [they think I talk too much]. That is the most important thing for me. I will bend my day any which way to ensure I am there for them.
Can you imagine doing an office job in the future?
I sometimes fantasise about it, but I'm not sure how it would work logistically. Maybe one day.