In the week that most children in the UK either started or went back to school, the sigh of relief from working parents across the land has been palpable. Not because we’re so keen to see the back of our little ones… (honest). But because regardless of your working style – whether in an office, from home, at a hospital or supermarket – working around children is hard. Really hard.
So, when I saw this piece from Fiona about how she bit the bullet and took her young son on a business trip with her to Amsterdam – blending work and family – I couldn’t help but feel inspired. I, for one, am guilty of feeling guilty if I work in front of my girls. But I also remember the joy and fascination I felt when I visited my parents in their workplaces when I was growing up. A child’s eye view of the working world is a wonderful thing. The camaraderie that both my parents had with their colleagues at work inspired me – as well as their work ethic.
As more and more of us are working remotely – either from home, a co-working space or hot desk (both myself and my husband do) – our link to clients and colleagues is largely via wifi. We travel for meetings occasionally. But my girls’ main experience of us working is at our desks at home on our laptops (or at the odd photo and video shoot with me). And I’m really keen to show them that working isn’t just about tapping some copy out on a laptop or virtually meeting people online. The ‘people’ part of work is one of the best and most important aspects of it (there’s a whole other blog to follow on this bit…).
So how do we inspire our next generation and teach them what the working world is and can be?
Fiona Chow is a fellow communications professional. Read about what she and her son learnt on her recent business trip below. Thank you for sharing Fiona.
I took my child on a business trip and here’s what I learned…
One of my favourite memories from my childhood was one half term when my father took me with him to a conference just outside Paris when I’d just started secondary school. I can still remember the smell of the shoe polish as he gave my recently purchased “grown up” shoes a going over in the motel room before straightening the shoulder pads on the tartan jacket borrowed from my mother (don’t judge – it was the early 90s!).
Thus, came father’s first business lesson:
“Buy the best shoes you can afford; they give even a cheap outfit class. And you need to look after your feet, you’ll be on them all day!”
In the lift down to breakfast came lesson two:
“The handshake. Firm, not too tight. Eye contact, Slight incline of the head to indicate your respect for the other person.”
At breakfast lesson three:
“Don’t have anything too heavy. Today we’re doing deals. It helps to be a little hungry.”
It also helped that we were at a food trade fair. So the pauper’s breakfast was replaced by endless delicious samples from some of the world’s best global suppliers. I don’t know if hunger helped with brokering deals as I’m pretty sure I would have given the charming Italian man who gave me a gelato the size of my head anything he wanted!
Still, working the floor of that vast exhibition space toting my dad’s huge Samsonite briefcase (NB See point about early 90s above) was fascinating induction into the world of business. I got to see my father at his best: charming, persuasive but with a core of steel. I learned to listen, to what was unsaid as well as what was said. I sucked up a whole new language around things like “volume”, “supply chain”, “percentages” and “incentives”. And yes, I learned corporate intrigue, standing near competitor stands listening to their pitch and scurrying back to dad to report back. My the end of the day, my little feet in grown up shoes were aching, but my heart, head and tummy (thank you gelato man) were full.
Fast forward a *cough* few years and I found myself nearing the end of the last summer before my little boy starts school. I wanted to meet up with a client in the Netherlands but was also conscious of spending as much time as possible with my son before his next big adventure starts without me. Despite being a young batchelor with limited experience with kids, my client was surprisingly up for the idea of bringing my four year old on his first ever business trip.
“Easy!” he said.
“Ha! I’ll show you!” I thought.
So, one sunny August afternoon, my son and I headed to Manchester Airport and boarded an easyJet flight to Amsterdam. I prepared him beforehand, explaining that we were meeting Uncle M and that he and mummy needed to do some work while we were there. We would try to have lots of fun as well. But first and foremost, mummy’s work was helping Uncle M’s business.
However, I’m sure any parents with small children know that you can only plan for the worst and hope for the best. Here’s what I learned from our 24 hour business trip:
My biggest worry before taking my son with me was how to keep him suitably entertained while we worked but still be able to keep an eye on him. As he is a stereotypical boy, obsessed with engines and mechanics we took ourselves out of our usual coffee shop/office/pub meeting spots and instead had a campaign review on a canal tour through the city, personnel discussions over pizza and ice cream and planning sessions at the wonderful NEMO science museum.
For my son, he could play and learn in safety and he particularly enjoyed going nuts with the interactive exhibits at the museum. For us, a change of scene helped engineer fresh thinking.
Lesson: Flexible working can take any form, if you’re flexible.
Wandering around the museum, having clearly been listening in to the “grown ups”, my son suddenly piped up; “Uncle M? What’s blockchain?” Now, we are used to writing acres of academic and technical explanations for articles, blogs and investor presentations. But explaining it so a four year old can understand? That’s a real skill.
So, as an impromptu exercise we decided to think about what an exhibit on blockchain at the museum would look like and used that as a really useful starting point for some new messaging.
Lesson: Retain a childlike curiosity and view of the world
It will be no surprise at all that small children aren’t the most patient creatures and my darling is no exception. To keep him under control and ourselves on track we set small goals i.e. finish this topic before we go to the next floor; medium goals i.e. agree details for this project before we go into that exhibit; and long term goals – finish everything then go up the rooftop cafe and playground for hot dogs and ice cream.
Breaking the work up into manageable chunks, with a reward at each stage helped with keeping us strict on timing and agenda and motivated by the next target.
Lesson: Break big challenges into smaller goals and reward and recognise each step.
Finally, after a whirlwind 24 hours in Amsterdam filled with pancakes, pizza, ice cream, canal boats, museums and three working sessions in different locations it was time to go home. As Max snuggled up to me on the flight home, his new blockchain lambo HODLed tight under his arm, he turned to me and summarised the final and most important lesson of all…
Lesson: Work is hard work, isn’t it mummy?
As a business owner and working mum, working is hard work. But also an intrinsic part of my personal DNA. While I embrace flexible working and my own #workstyle through platforms like The Hoxby Collective, where I am a proud partner. I’ve never really been one for work-life balance, the assumption that the two are mutually incompatible, but more for work-life blend where all the elements of what makes you, you can be harmonious.
I firmly believe that we need to show our children our work face as well as our parenting face. Which is why I support initiatives like Pregnant Then Screwed’s “Pregnant Then Elected” campaign and other ways of normalising women in positions of power at home, at work and within society.