Work-life balance: how to get it right when running a business from home
The current health crisis has seen many business owners shift their operations from office to home with varying degrees of success. We spoke to business leader and work-life balance champion Prue Gilbert to get her expert advice on how to keep things running smoothly.
As the founder and CEO of coaching and consulting firm Grace Papers, Prue Gilbert aims to shift the dial on workplace gender equality by helping parents and businesses better balance career and care.
With a national team, as well as three school-aged children, the transition to managing her business from home has been a challenge. But with her expertise in workplace flexibility it was one she was better equipped for than most.
Here, she shares her insights and what she's learned about the best ways to run your operations while keeping your personal and professional life on track.
This is probably going against the grain in terms of the tactical support people think they need, but I think it’s actually mental health. You need to ask yourself, what is it that you’re going to do to ensure you can manage all the different challenges from an economic perspective, a managing staff perspective and family perspective? What can you do to actually set up sound practices for your own health and wellbeing?
If you put your oxygen mask on first, you can better support your team and your clients. You’re more likely to have the mental clarity to focus on your business and less likely to be reactive throughout this phase.
It’s about recognising the things we can continue to do, such as exercise, and also being aware of and thinking through all the other resources available to you.
For me, prioritising exercise as a daily ritual, not an afterthought, is critical. This period can easily feel overwhelming, so whether you’re a meditator, yoga practitioner or walker, it’s these small daily rituals that can help hold you in good stead while running your business from home.
One of the benefits of this pandemic is that so many different health and wellbeing services are now available online. For instance, my local osteo clinic put all of their Pilates training online for free. Then there are apps like 1 Giant Mind, which offers a free 12-step program to teach you how to meditate.
Sharing these resources with your team and talking about what you’re doing is also important.
With the fluidity of the way things work when you’re at home, especially with home learning and school holidays, rituals are also one of the things that enable you to set boundaries. Find out what rituals of connection are most important to you and your family and use them to punctuate your work.
For us, these are activities like our family bike rides at lunchtime or the 4.30pm park play. Making them part of a ritual means your kids are going to help hold you accountable as well.
We’ve found that people who are seeing a silver lining through this period actually established a vision for what they wanted it to look like. What do you want to remember and what do you want your kids to remember when you look back in 12 months’ time? For me, this helps to strike a balance between surviving as a business and managing family time – it’s not an all or nothing.
One of the things we’ve found most beneficial is finding a time early in the day when we connect with everybody as a team via video. This has two main purposes: one is to check in on everybody’s health and wellbeing and the other is to set the priorities for the day.
As a leader, my core role is to listen to what is said and also to what’s not said, so I can follow up with team members individually and ensure they receive the support they need. Do they need more/less direction, more/less support from a flex perspective, are they clear on accountabilities, do they need a break?
We’ve actually found that running our meetings remotely has been more inclusive of different workers. When you’re in the office the loudest voices dominate, but by being invitational and calling on everyone to contribute, you’re more likely to hear from everybody.
My advice is to prioritise ruthlessly. Rather than focusing on all of the things you would ordinarily require your team to deliver on if you were in an office with no distractions, think about what it is that’s most critical to keeping your business viable during this period. Set that as the focus and be really clear with your team on what you need from them.
It’s also important to give them the flexibility to achieve those outcomes. Flexible working may be a new way of managing for you, but trust they will deliver. The lived experience and the data backs it up – it’s not a risk, it’s good business.
I would say that now’s the time to lean into your own network, or your coach or mentor. Being able to draw on the wisdom, experience, and expertise of others who have managed their business through difficult situations is invaluable.
I have a paid coach and my peer mentors are also critically important. They help me ensure I can unpack the different challenges I face and re-frame them as opportunities .
As a small business owner, it’s easy to think you have to do it all on your own, yet there are usually plenty of people out there who are happy to help while you’re running your business from home. And if you don’t know where to start, just think about one specific ask of the person you’re going to in terms of the support you need, and that will help start the conversation.
This article is a general overview and should be used as a guide only. We recommend that you seek independent professional advice about your specific circumstances before acting.