• Stephanie Reed

Reflecting on 2020: lessons learnt

“It would be helpful if you could work from home even just one day a week,” I remember saying to my husband in late 2019 when I was juggling looking after a newborn and two-year-old (doing their bath and bedtime on my own felt like an impossible task). My husband agreed and, like many others who commuted to the office, was keen to have more flexibility in his job.

The concept of working from home was still foreign to many businesses stuck in time; something I increasingly found odd when countless surveys found staff wanted more flexibility with their working hours and work location more than anything - even over a higher salary.

I first experienced working from home during a job at a social media marketing agency in the States. The team worked from home on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with the rest of the time spent in the office. It was the perfect mix. It felt like we had some freedom and funnily enough I was always more productive when I was working at home.

It is what inspired me to embark on a freelance career once I returned to the UK, especially because I knew I wanted to have kids in the not too distant future and I couldn’t imagine being restricted to a 9 til 5 office job. I wanted to be able to work projects around my kids and still spend a significant amount of time with them when they were young.

Cue March 2020 and lockdown, and within days the majority of office workers found themselves working from home, including my husband. Many companies suddenly had to adapt to this set up in an incredibly short amount of time. While working from home every single day might not be ideal, businesses will hopefully offer more flexibility to staff in the future now that they know it can work. This pandemic has had hideous consequences for humanity and many industries, but I think it’ll bring positive change eventually too, including this new flexibility for office workers.

The pandemic and lockdown has affected everyone in different ways. For me, the first lockdown which started in March felt like a struggle. There’s something quite depressing about seeing playgrounds and soft plays shut down. Nurseries and childminders unable to open. Not even being able to buy formula for my five-month-old baby in Sainsbury’s because of all the unnecessary panic-buying. But, I was grateful to have my husband there to help with the kids during his work ‘breaks’ and I never had to do bath-time on my own.

Once childcare settings re-opened (and my eldest started pre-school) and councils removed the tape around playgrounds, my mental health massively improved. I could finally focus more on my youngest child and even take on work projects again. In many ways, looking after two tiny people during lockdown may be exhausting but it has brought a lot of joy too. I love that they’re completely oblivious to what’s going on in the world.

Every one of the clients that I had before the pandemic were affected by it sadly. Many of these companies were travel brands and I look forward to the day that they’re back on their feet. Yet I was so fortunate to have new opportunities came along, including managing social media channels and influencer partnerships for a new UK luxury glamping company called Kymani.

As a mother, I’m continuing to learn lessons too. Before motherhood, I dedicated so much time to running my business and could take on a lot of projects. I loved it most of the time and I found it very rewarding. When I had my first son, I was able to keep a lot of that momentum going with my business because my husband had six months paternity leave (I know!) and I had more time with just the one child. Once I had my second son, things were much busier. I couldn’t keep up. My husband only had two weeks of paternity leave this time and then with lockdown and little childcare, I had to accept that I’d need to temporarily pause most of my business activity. This shift of identity is something that has taken a while to feel comfortable with and I’m still learning. I’ve learnt that you can’t ‘have it all’ in the sense of wanting to be really involved with your children and running a busy business. There has to be sacrifice one way or another. Sometimes motherhood (and fatherhood) doesn’t feel like a role that is rewarded enough in society, yet it’s quite possibly the most important, difficult role you’ll ever do.

What lessons have you learnt this year? I think many of us haven’t yet fully processed what a crazy year 2020 has been. That will take a while. I think many of us haven’t stopped to congratulate ourselves for getting through it. For adapting better than we think. For being so resilient. I hope you are able to relax this festive period and here’s to a brighter new year, please.

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