Friday, December 17, 2010

Logistical Kryptonite Part 1: Pumping

In this crazy holiday season, working mothers face a logistical crunch: how do you finish year-end financials when your daughter wants you at her holiday classroom party? How do you sneak Santa gifts, shipped to your office for signature delivery, into your home if you're on daycare pick up? One of the super powers of Super Working Moms everywhere is superior logistics management skills. But, surveying my working mama peers and mentors, two logistical challenges come up over and over: pumping and conference calls. Call it Logistical Kryptonite.

I consider my greatest accomplishment in life breastfeeding preemie twin boys. Without a doubt, that was the hardest thing I've ever done and I came up with a well of determination and persistence that I didn't know I had in me. But when I returned to work when the boys were 6 months old, I had no pumping facilities, which quickly spelled the end of that accomplishment.

I was new to the firm and was working on a client site, sharing an 5x6 office with a Navy Commander. I wasn't exactly in the position to say, "Excuse me, sir, would you mind stepping out of your office every 3 hours for approximately 20 minutes? Just ignore that whoooshing sound."

Long after I was past the pumping stage, I moved to my company's corporate office where there was a dedicated pumping room, replete with sink, mini-fridge, recliner and most importantly, a lock on the door. Routinely I'd see men in their 50s carrying stinky sandwiches in there, women looking for privacy on a call, you name it, all manner of folks not toting a Medela Pump-in-Style. Naturally, I took it upon myself to politely educate these colleagues on the intent and purpose of such a room and suggest an alternate location for said sandwiches and calls.

Turns out, I wasn't alone. Practically every nursing mom I surveyed has a pumping horror story. A former colleague at a major financial services firm pumped in a shared, 3-stall ladies room and once had a male office cleaner walk in.

Another friend shared many relatable pumping stores. Pumping in a partner's office when no other locked door existed. Walking to metro, realize you left all of your pumped milk in the office fridge, trudging back to retrieve it. Pumping in an conference room, someone knocks on the door, you fix your shirt, answer the question then can't let down again. And by far the worst, traveling for work during the TSA ban on flying with breastmilk without a liquid: dumping 3 days worth of liquid gold pumped on the road.

But the tide might be changing. As reported in Strollerderby, Congress has expanded its pump facilities to now include more than a half dozen lactation suites on the Hill, including the "Boob Cube," an 8 x 10 state-of-the-art lactation facility with frosted glass, 2 hospital grade pumps, sanitizer, mini-fridge and most importantly, a lock on the door.

As a mother of 3 and small business entrepreneur, the thing that stands out as completely obvious is that a small investment (and we're talking small people, couple hundred dollars max) in a dedicated lactation room will help you attract the best and the brightest who increasingly make career decisions on the family-friendliness of a firm and keep your current employees happy and most important to your bottom line, productive. Set aside $250 for a lock and mini fridge in an empty supply room and don't be surprised to find a working mom spending her twice daily 20 minute pump session with a laptop burning up the year-end financials so that everyone can go home early to their families.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Telecommuting: Best for the Chatty? posted an article today with the results of a funded by Cisco Systems by the psychological consulting firm Pearn Kandola on personality types and the success of telecommuting. Turns out, telecommuting is not for the shy or disorganized. Instead, the most successful telecommuters are chatty and extroverted as they feel connected to coworkers using digital means.

I can relate. I don't think anyone's every called be introverted and I think I'm fairly organized, but I too felt the isolation of the home office. Although I'd always done some work from home in a large corporate environment, my first two years with Momentum Resources were from a home office. While successful, I still felt somewhat isolated in my creative thinking.

Here's how I've learned to combat the telecommuting silo:
  • Get out of the house! I leased an inexpensive interim office in my neighborhood and am now working in an affordable co-working space called Connect113. I still do a significant amount of work from my home office, but as I type this 2 of my 3 boys are talking at me before 6:30am at home and I can't wait to be among the creative thinkers over the age of majority in my office.
  • Leverage technology. I use both Google Chat and Skype (both IM and video) to stay connected to my business partners, employees who work remotely and contractors. Sometimes it's just to check in, sometimes it's meaningful collaboration. Video communication allows me to feel much closer to my colleagues spread out across the Mid-Atlantic region.
  • Join a Group. Every industry had a professional association with local chapters that hold lunches and networking events. Even if you don't have a business development role, get out there and network. One of the most supportive groups I've become involved with is The Enterprising Moms, a group of women who are raising families and growing businesses.
  • Set boundaries. The biggest downside to telecommuting is that you're never "off." Why do you think so many employers encourage it now? They know you'll log many more productive hours than in the office! Set your business hours, teach your family the home office rules. In my house, if I'm on a call and the office door is locked someone had better be bleeding if there's an interruption.
That said, leave a small window for exception. One of my 8 year olds just came in to my home office before 7am, a big no no, and said, "Mom, come watch the sun rise with me!" I certainly wouldn't have that moment if I were already on the beltway to Tysons Corner.