Part of the allure of entrepreneurship is that you can spend your time however you see fit, but this goal is often more fantasy than reality. Long hours, hard work and sacrifices are the norm for entrepreneurs in various industries, even as personal obligations increase.
More and more middle-aged adults are caring for their children and elderly parents at the same time, both financially and emotionally. Entrepreneurs in the “sandwich generation” can become particularly tense when they assume responsibility for the care of their elderly loved ones while carrying the weight of a company. Fortunately, technology-enabled shifts in work practices can provide entrepreneurs with the opportunity to create flexible workplaces that meet life’s demands. Here are three ways to achieve that.
1. Set up a support system
To balance their work commitments and caring responsibilities, entrepreneurs need to cultivate a good support system. Outside of work, this could involve researching and hiring reliable, skilled professionals or nursing home staff to take care of your loved ones. In your business, this means hiring staff and delegating responsibilities to facilitate your care needs.
Many entrepreneurs strive for lean teams, either because they want to keep an eye on cash flow or because they want to maintain a horizontal organization. But if you still do your own administration and pick up the break room snacks, a personal assistant or office manager is a wise HR investment. As healthcare needs creep in, spend the time you have at work on growing your business and making it profitable, not planning team lunches.
And as you delegate tasks, you designate a second-in-command to answer questions and prioritize when you’re called away, either by a child with the flu or a parent’s neurologist’s visit. By sharing this authority, you ensure that business operations do not come to a standstill if you have to be elsewhere for care tasks.
2. Develop a work style that maximizes your productivity
Launching a startup requires dedication, focus and often long hours. However, when care obligations arise, the main support work must take a break. Depending on your care arrangements, these disruptions can be planned, spontaneous, or both. Given the unpredictable but highly likely possibility of pop-up emergencies and last-minute appointments, you need to make the most of every working hour.
Research and try different work styles to see which strategies give you a productivity advantage. Many entrepreneurs swear by time blocking, where you create special calendar blocks for different types of tasks. This approach allows you to work more effectively because you don’t lose 20% of your productive time switching contexts. So instead of answering a handful of emails, calling three clients, and doing a one-on-one for your dad’s physical therapy appointment, you can divide those duties between both sides. You can handle them all faster and better if you single-task.
Another way to maximize the work time you have is to learn about your chronotype, which will reveal what times of the day you are most productive. Use this information to structure your day and schedule your most challenging work. If you’re a morning person, tackle monthly reporting first and schedule Dad’s PT appointment during your afternoon slump. Working with, rather than against, your chronotype will help you perform your best at work and as a caregiver.
3. Embrace technology-enabled flexible scheduling across the business
Matching your workday to your chronotype isn’t the only way to maximize scheduling flexibility. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses have become increasingly accustomed to both remote and asynchronous working. Lean into both trends to tackle work tasks when you’re most focused and your caring responsibilities are on hold — and let employees do the same. Fellow carers on your team will appreciate working non-traditional hours while fulfilling their own care duties.
Fortunately, technology makes this infinitely easier. By using collaboration spaces, shared files, and messaging platforms, team members, including you, can work when it makes sense for them. In addition, these robust systems allow you to closely monitor project progress without breaking the neck of your employees. That’s good for your people and for you, as your caregiving duties leave no time for micromanagement anyway!
To maintain team connections and occasionally allow for real-time collaboration, you may want to schedule certain hours of the day or one day a week when all employees overlap. Any meetings that need to take place can be limited to one or two days per week, leaving other days meeting free. Researchers at the University of Reading found that companies that introduced two meeting-free days a week saw their productivity increase enormously 71% percent. So not only does this practice give the caregivers on your team more flexibility, it’s also great for your business.
Care provision and entrepreneurship can coexist
Better access to health care and longer lifespans mean that more entrepreneurs are likely to care for both their children and their elderly parents. Fortunately, it is possible to create flexibility in the workplace to fit life’s responsibilities. With the right support system, work practices and technologies, you can grow your business while taking care of your loved ones.