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Working Remotely as a Mother—It's Harder Than Expected!

Updated: Aug 21, 2019

I recently returned to work after my second child's maternity leave and began working remotely one or two days per week. Here's what I found.



Nice to meet you. I'm Manyu, and I work with the Xtra, Inc. marketing team. This blog is mainly aimed at full-time freelancers who do work with clients online. However, many of the same issues are faced by company employees who work remotely.


I'm a working mother who joined the company in 2014 and returned from work last month after having a second child and going on maternity leave from September 2017 to April 2019. From this perspective, I'd like to share with you my experiences with remote work and the challenges I faced.


Xtra, Inc. allows employees to work remotely, and around 70% take advantage of the arrangement at least one day per week. Allowing for flexibility in working styles has increased the productivity of the company as a whole.


In this graph, you can see how we're utilizing remote work:



As for my impressions of remote work, these are the positive aspects I noticed:

  • Less commuting time.

  • Easier to concentrate and be productive

  • Can work at any time or place

Although there are naturally some positive aspects, I found it challenging initially, and it took a while for me to adjust. Until now, I had always worked in an office, so whenever I had a problem or issue, I was able to talk to someone in person to resolve it or get answers. So, this is one thing that was a dramatic change in my work style. Below, I'll go into more detail on how I adapted to this change and figured out how to best utilize the benefits of remote work.


Communication

First of all, I was surprised when I returned to work because the communication tools had evolved. In the past, I used to communicate with colleagues and superiors mainly through direct conversations, email, Skype, and in-house messenger software.


Nowadays, we use Slack to communicate internally. It is handy not only for sharing files and links but also for staying up-to-date on the activities of other departments in real time. On the other hand, many staff members use a nickname instead of their full name and a random image as a profile picture rather than a photo of their face. This makes it hard sometimes to recognize a team member in the office.


How are online and offline communications different? I think it is the amount of information. With direct communication, we are impacted by the person's facial expressions, tone of voice, and gestures. When chatting online, all we have to go on is text.


It's hard to go on working indefinitely in an optimal way without such context. To counteract this trend, the company holds regular events such as team lunches, welcome parties for new staff, and end-of-quarter parties at our office or nearby. For those who can attend, these provide our team members opportunities to meet their colleagues and communicate face-to-face.


One of our recent team lunch meetups

Understand Your Own Work Style

To realize the benefits of remote work described above, it is necessary to understand your own work style and create an environment that supports it.


My Working Arrangement

Each of our employees adapts their work style to fit their job. Here's mine:

  • Most days, I commute to the office, start work by 9 AM, and leave around 5 PM. If there is anything urgent or incomplete, I'll do further work remotely.

  • When circumstances permit, I work remotely.


What I Noticed

  • Travel for dropping off my kids, commuting to work, and picking up my kids takes a lot of time out of my day.

  • Working remotely at home often leads to my doing household chores.

  • Since the time spent at the office is relatively short, I end up having to do work early in the morning and late at night to keep up.

  • Despite the many interruptions, I often feel like I've been glued to my computer screen all day.


For my schedule, early morning before my child woke up and after they went to bed were the golden times. When I tried working remotely from home, I encountered more interruptions than expected, such as answering the door, housework, and miscellaneous chores. Then, once my kids came home, there were the inevitable interruptions as I'd take time out to talk with them or they would drop or spill something.


Of course, this is all natural, so I carried on making the best of it, but it was difficult to maintain concentration. I also realized that it was hard to focus when I was feeling out of sorts. So, rather than force it, I would concentrate for short periods when I was in the zone, which made me more productive.


Once you figure out the rhythm of your day, you can make your own routines for starting and ending work and spend your day more efficiently.


Finding a Comfortable Workspace

Of course, remote work will only be possible if your employer has set up their business to facilitate the arrangement that allows employees to work from anywhere. Once you have that, the next step is to find a comfortable workspace so that you can maximize the benefits of remote work.


Since there are so many interruptions and distractions at home, I decided to find somewhere and work there as much as possible. Of course, I work from home when a family member needs taking care of, or there are some other needs. However, it's refreshing to get out of the house and easier to focus in a different place.


In my case, I needed somewhere under ten minutes walk away with wifi that was relatively quiet and had few distractions. It turned out that the library space in my apartment block was out ideal.


The library space in my apartment block

Summary

As I experienced life events such as marriage, childbirth, and childcare, I thought about what I wanted to do at work. I was worried about how I might continue working while caring for my children and keeping up with family responsibilities. However, thanks to our a company's system that encourages employees to work remotely, I am able to balance home life and work.


Since it can be done anywhere and anytime, remote work requires disciplined time management skills. While it took a while for me to get used to it, I would like to see my employer and myself grow while enjoying this new and flexible way of working, which is easy to adapt to changing lifestyles.


In this article, I shared my experience of remote work as a mother who is a full-time employee. However, we operate the following two crowdsourcing sites where many freelancers work remotely, and I know that a significant number of them are mothers. Check them out if you're seeking to get hired online:

  • Conyac connects freelancers with a wide variety of jobs.

  • Quick Translate matches translators of Japanese with projects of all sizes and genres.

We have also recently set up a forum site, the Xtra Freelancer Community and would love to have you share your experiences or ask any questions that may be on your mind.


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