The Reinvention of Work (by Natalie Buckham)

I frequently come across cool sounding things on Facebook or Twitter. Or even Linked In. One such thing was a “blogathon”. It sounded like fun so I signed up. Belinda from Elance emailed me to say my entry had been accepted. I figured it was about promoting Elance in SA but didn’t think further. So I arrived tonight planning on blogging about the things I normally blog about: diets, food, pregnancy, child-birth, how I want to raise my kids like a French mommy would and other such critical topics. But on arrival I was handed the list of topics: “Digital Nomad”, “Reinvention of Work” and “Key to Happiness As a Freelancer”.

Kind of far removed from my world of bottles, nappies, tantrums, my three year old insisting on wearing her Crocs with socks…I know, who said socks with sandals isn’t cool? Right? Right?

I do obviously have some recollection of the world of work prior to becoming a lady of leisure (for two idyllic years – thank you, my darling husband) and then a stay-at-home mom which brings me to the topic at hand: “The Reinvention of Work”.

In the first four years of my working career, I worked in companies and for bosses who expected their underlings to be at their desks at 8 or 8:30 and to leave at 4:30 or 5 (or 6 or 7) period. Imagine my surprise when I joined KPMG Johannesburg’s advisory division and my boss supported the notion of “working from home”. He wasn’t an early bird either and didn’t care what time you arrived or left – so long as your work was done. It was liberating and I absolutely loved it. Sometimes I may have taken advantage of all the freedom but other times I would work around the clock if that was what was required. For me, the world of work had been reinvented overnight.

Now, as a stay-at-home mom and part-time student, I find it almost impossible to “work” (study/ do assignments). I rent space at Slow in The City so that I can escape my domestic environment and focus. I admire moms who work from home – either they do so to enable them to spend less time commuting and therefore have more time with their children or they do so because renting space doesn’t make economic sense. But I think it must be really tough to shut yourself off in your study if you have small children at home. You must constantly be feeling torn between work and home. In this regard, I have a perennial memory of an episode of Oprah I saw over 20 years ago. It was one of the episodes showcasing the amazing interventions of Super Nanny (I think that was her title). In this particular instance, the parents in question worked from home and the kids were totally out of control. Needless to say, Super Nanny whipped them into shape and viewers were shown the incredible transformation and happy ending. I was a teenager and I recognised that I hadn’t understood what the problem with the kids was in the first place. I didn’t admit this out loud but I remember my Dad spontaneously summarising the issue. These were his words: “They were at home, but they were always working. The children were playing up because they wanted attention from their parents.” And I guess the parents were impatient with the kids because they had work to do and couldn’t focus and the kids felt neglected so they acted out which made the parents even more frustrated and the whole thing was a vicious circle. And I think that this can happen very easily if you don’t have the luxury of a very separate study or workspace.

I imagine though, that there are rules and tricks that parents who work from home can implement to enhance both their work productivity and the quality of the time spent with their children. A friend who works from home makes it a rule never to start work in her pyjamas. My dentist’s wife has a second child who wakes her up at all hours. When she can’t go back to sleep after being disturbed by the baby, she works.

We are so fortunate to live in a digital age where working from home has, in more and more instances, become a real possibility. I suppose the challenge, in a country like South Africa, is to figure out how to, first of all, create work for the estimated 36% of the population who remain unemployed (expanded definition). And then maybe we can look at reinventing a slightly greater proportion of the workplace.

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Mom to Chiara and Joe, wife to entrepreneur & cyclist, David, blogger, serial dieter, accidental exercise addict, part-time student, lover of Romance languages & food. Faking it till I make it as a lady of leisure.


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