“I think the optimal solution – just like kids – changes all the time.”
Ciara Garvan wanted flexible work that could fit around her three children, and having spotted a gap in the market, founded WorkJuggle.com, an agency that matches people to flexible roles. Here, she talks about her SAHM days, her optimistic expectation of a Little House on the Prairie life, and her new life as a business owner.
Thank you for taking part in this interview series for Office Mum – so let’s start with the basics – could you tell me how many children you have and their ages?
I have three children, my eldest boy Darragh is 11, Eabha is 9 and Oisin my youngest is 6.
And now could you tell me a little about your job – what do you do and for how long have you been working at this?
I am the founder of WorkJuggle.com we connect professionals to flexible, remote and contract work. The company launched last year. This is very different to what I did before! Previously I worked mainly in IT as a Project Manager. I took voluntary redundancy while I was on maternity leave with my third child and then was at home for a few years. When I wanted to go back I found it really hard to find the kind of job I wanted to do – and so WorkJuggle was born.
What kind of hours do you work?
So my schedule is a little crazy right now. I only have help one afternoon a week so I am managing this by getting up very early in the morning – I won’t say how early but let’s just say even the dog doesn’t want to know me at that hour! I have been quite influenced by Cal Newport and this book Deep Focusin which he talks a lot about how important it is to switch off social media, the phone, the notifications and just get some really focussed work done. I find the early mornings are great for this. And then I have meetings or calls all morning till about 2.30 when I pick the youngest up from school. I tend not to work at night – mainly because my brain seems to be too tired – but I will sneak in a few hours over the weekend while my husband is around.
Do you work from home?
I tend to work from home at least two days a week. Like most people who work from home I find I just get lots done and the day is less tiring without a commute. Lisa and Alison who work with me also have young kids and work from home most of the time so any team meetings we have tend to take place in my kitchen.
The rest of the week I am in DogPatch Labs in the IFSC. I walk my little boy to school and then it’s a ten-minute walk to the train station and I get the train to Connolly. DogPatch is a two-minute walk from there – I am either there or meeting customers at their offices.
Do you have to travel for work?
I travel to London for work but that is about it. I have to confess I love travelling to London, I think there is such a great buzz and I get a huge amount from it. The great thing about working for yourself is being able to manage your own schedule – within reason – so any trips like that I organise in advance and aren’t sprung on me at the last minute.
What kind of childcare do you use?
I had a childminder last year but at the moment my parents are helping me out. We live close to each other, the kids can walk to school and it seems to be working, so far! I have used after school in the past and that can work out well and have had great childminders and really appreciate all they have done for us.
Do you have any regular “me-time” or do you have something that you for yourself, apart from being a mother and an employee?
There is not a huge amount of “me time” but I do like to run. I find 30 minutes running around the park a few times a week is a great way to recharge and manage stress. I also do a meditation class one evening a week, which I am evangelical about.
I don’t really feel too much pressure to have “me time” to be honest. I really love what I do and get a huge amount of satisfaction from it so it never feels like a chore. I have definitely had jobs where this has not always been the case! Also I find it has gotten much easier now the kids are a little older and I’m not quite the refereeing the way there used to be when they were smaller!
On a practical level, what do you find most difficult about balancing work and home?
For me it has to be the housework! I hate housework but paradoxically I love to have a clean and tidy house so it is always a battle. Yesterday I should have done laundry – it is literally piling up to the ceiling – but I baked a cake instead… that pretty much sums it up.
In terms of work the number one most stressful thing for me would be when the kids are sick. It is so hard to manage – and last year there were lots of bugs and that awful flu so it was very difficult.
And psychologically, do you find it challenging or stressful to work outside the home – do you suffer from working-mother guilt?
When they were younger I suffered huge guilt, really crucified myself with it. I also had rose-tinted glasses about what life at home would be like – think Little House on the Prairie crossed with the Great British Bake Off.
When I stopped working I really felt a weight lifted off me in that sense but I also realised how hard it can be to lose your career identity. I really enjoyed my time but it is easy to lose your sense of self and I struggled with that especially towards the end of my time at home when I started thinking about how I would get back to work and what that would look like.
Now I am back working I don’t really feel guilty to be honest. I think it is a better balance. I also try to involve my kids in work, tell them about the people I meet and show them what I am working on so they can get a sense of what it is I do and why.
Do you think there’s an optimal solution out there – a perfect balance that enables a mother to have a fulfilling career while being there for her children?
I think the optimal solution – just like kids – changes all the time. It also really depends on your personal circumstances. I am lucky to have lots of family support around me, think if you don’t have that it becomes very difficult. Also if you live outside Dublin and are depending on a car to commute everywhere it becomes trickier again. I think the ideal is to have some control over your schedule – whether you work for yourself or in an organisation. Having to travel constantly can be very difficult with a young family. Similarly being able to work from home a couple of days a week allows you to de-compress a little.
If you could do any job, what would it be?
I really love what I am doing now and just want to keep doing that JI really believe it is important and helps people – if that doesn’t sound too cheesy!
Would you be a stay-at-home mother if there were no financial considerations?
No. I was a SAHM and it was great but think that time is over for us. The kids are older and I think they gain more seeing how both their parents are trying to balance everything and share the load.
Do you think there’s a glass ceiling for women, or is it a perception based on the fact that mothers often look for flexibility or part-time hours, which in turn limits their opportunities?
Personally I didn’t find there was a glass ceiling – until I had kids and wanted flexibility – then things became much trickier. I don’t think working flexibly should limit your opportunities. We had Lisa Unwin who wrote the book “She’s Back” over in Dublin recently and she talks about how women’s careers are more a jungle gym then a ladder and that rang true for me. I think the main thing is to try to stay working – even if it is part-time or a lateral move for now – but to stay engaged in the workforce and stay at it for the long-term. I think when you have been out for a long time then it becomes more difficult to re-engineer a route back which is why we run Back to Work workshops
Do you have three top tips that you could give any mother returning to work, to make her life easier?
What we focus on in the workshops is not really about updating your CV, but more about asking, “What are your work values? What is important to you?” Going back to work can be hard but if you are going back to the right job and have a sense of purpose then it makes it much easier. Especially if you have been at home for a few years, going back to work can impact on many other people in your life. What are the conversations you need to have with other people to prepare them for that change?
I think if you know what you want to do and why you are doing it, it all becomes much easier. After that is just putting name tags on everything that moves, investing in slow cooker and trying to get the kids to do as much housework as possible.
Ciara, I love your Little House on the Prairie crossed with the Great British Bake Off expectations – I think we’ve all been there! And I guess the reality is, we do get an afternoon every now and then that’s not far off Little House on the Prairie, and it keeps us going through all the other afternoons that are more like Arrested Development crossed with Malcolm in The Middle.
But even more than that, I love that seeking flexible work is what spurred you to set up WorkJuggle – a perfect “necessity is the mother of invention” story!
I remember when I went back to work after my third maternity leave, and began really thinking about flexibility and the challenges working mothers face, I looked for agencies specialising in flexible work and while there were some in the UK, there were none here. Five years later, there are – that’s a great step.
And it seems to me in that even in that short space of time, there are more and more discussions about the topic of flexible work than ever before – we’re a long way off where we need to be, and some employers are still very short-sighted, but I think we’re moving in the right direction.
I’m so delighted you set up WorkJuggle, and I wish you continued success with it – it’s a business that brings better work life balance to working parents who desperately need it, and that’s something well worth striving for.
For more information on the next Back to Work workshop (Tuesday October 2nd) see WorkJuggle.ie