After giving birth to her third child, Alix Walker – Stylist’s editor-at-large – decided she needed to reevaluate how she structured her working week. She put in a request to work from home and it was accepted. Here’s how she makes it work…
Alix Walker, 36, lives in Crouch End with her husband Matt and their three children: Miller, four, Lilac, two, and Misty Blue, one. She’s editor-at-large for Stylist Magazine.
Before having children, you did an eight-year stint as Stylist’s deputy editor. Did this, at the time, feel like the pinnacle of your career?
It was certainly a career highlight – it’s the most creative, inspiring place to work with such a brilliant team. I still feel like I have a thousand things I want to achieve, which was actually one of the biggest drivers for me taking on a new role which will give me some space to do that. I still consider myself very much part of the Stylist family, which has definitely helped with the transition to less office-based role.
If so, how did you feel about the idea of having children; did you worry about how your career might be affected?
I was lucky enough that Stylist’s editor, Lisa Smosarski, was a brilliant role model. I’d watched how she navigated returning to work after her first child and basically copied that! There were three of us on the Stylist ‘top table’ and we essentially rotated maternity leave for six years … it meant that it was a really supportive work environment with a lot of understanding when it came to midwife appointments and the need for carbs every hour when pregnant. Championing women is so much part of Stylist’s ethos that the work environment had to reflect those values, and they do! I appreciate that not everyone has that.
So the work culture at Stylist supports motherhood and maternity leave?
It did. It’s a very fast paced job so your head is completely in work mode when you’re in the office but I’d say 25% of the current team are working flexible hours to support their family. In my experience having children has made me work faster, more confidently and more efficiently than I did before, and I think mothers (and fathers!) are very much valued because of that.
How was it, taking maternity leave and then returning to work – did you enjoy both stages?
I struggled with the early months of each maternity leave, especially the third. I found my brain was still travelling at that extreme ‘work’ pace despite my body being on a couch feeding a baby. I couldn’t switch my brain off and felt like I should be launching a new business in the first few months of motherhood (I recognised this pattern by the third but it didn’t stop it!) and felt a bizarre pressure from myself to make my maternity leave count. I did some odd things … organising massive parties when my baby was a few months old, writing a chapter of a book, walking miles and miles each day, but they were all really projects to keep my mind busy while I got my head around a different pace. I did eventually settle into a very lovely pace, at which point it was usually time to go back to work!
Returning to work was tough for a few months each time. My son nursery and I felt so guilty basically every day, plus I was editing for four months at that point, so I was away from him a lot. And it takes a lot of adjustment to put your work down at 5pm and go to pick-up when your colleagues are still working. I never found that got easier. But it soon feels like you never left and it’s so nice to have a bit of ‘you’ back, to feel mentally challenged again and to actually sit and eat lunch without various children crawling all over you.
When did you decide to start working from home, and how did this come about – did you request it, or was it offered?
I requested it. On my third maternity leave I sat down and worked out what my working week could look like if I planned every day to suit me, my life and my children. I knew that with three very small children something had to give, and that something was likely traditional office hours. My husband works away a lot so all regular childcare falls to me, plus I had different projects I wanted to give some headspace to and I knew I never would if I was back in the office. I created the job I wanted and asked for it.
How was it received within the office?
I was very lucky in that they went for it straight away. Having worked there for so long I knew how I could support the team and the magazine in a role which would also support me and my life. As much as a company should support your flexible work request, it’s important that the new role/style of working works for them too for it to have longevity. I do feel very lucky though.
Was it after your third maternity leave that you were made editor-at-large?
It was, yes. Before that I’d done a four-day week after each baby.
You have three young children, and a (presumably) high-pressured job. How do you manage your time?
By juggling a pretty ridiculous rota of childcare (nursery for girls; my son has just started school), grandparents (my mum and dad help out every fortnight, Matt’s mum is always on hand for drop-offs and picks-ups), my brothers (one of whom is a teacher so could help over summer, the other is studying so can have my back if I’m desperate) and then a lot of working in the evening and at weekends. I don’t get stressed easily, which does help when you’re juggling so many different things. Also, having very strict hours – I work between school drop off at 9am and pick up at 3pm – means I’m pretty efficient with my time. I also go to bed at 9pm five nights a week. That’s my sad reality! I also think there’s an element of perspective when you have kids – I have three children under five, life is already ridiculous so an interview falling through just before deadline no longer feels like a disaster, just another ball to juggle. Having said all that, I do have to say no to things I’d really like to do because of the kids, which is hard. I have to be realistic.
If working from home hadn’t been an option, what would you have done?
Good question…. I’m not entirely sure, to be honest! (Good job they said yes!)
Do you feel you’re setting a marker, in terms of flexible working, within the company?
They are a young, modern company so their attitudes are pretty forward-thinking when it comes to flexible working anyway. I hope it’s an example to my colleagues that motherhood can and should work alongside your career, that they don’t have to be two completely separate entities and one shouldn’t prohibit the other. Having said that, there’s no shame in prioritising motherhood for a few years, work will still be there when you have more time to dedicate to it as long as you’re willing to be flexible too. I hope that companies can see that there is a huge pool of talent to be taken advantage of if they’re willing to a) Be flexible and b) Spend some time/money reintroducing parents to the workforce after a few years looking after children. They’re fools if they don’t.
Are there any disadvantages to working this way, with regards to your working relationship with colleagues?
If I’m being completely honest this style of working feel like a compromise, as much as it might seem like the dream. I’m so lucky in so many ways – I pick my children up most days, school holidays aren’t nearly as stressful for me as they are for other parents, I have days where I get dressed up for the office and days where I work in my giant sweatshirt. But there are many things I miss … I miss working with my team so much, I miss being able to train and offer support to junior colleagues, I miss the buzz of a brilliant brainstorming session, I miss being there when decisions are made and therefore not understanding the thought process behind them. And for my ego, I miss not being ‘the boss’. (Unfortunately my kids don’t listen to me so I definitely don’t feel like one at home!) Luckily I have plenty of office days to give me my hit of all of the above but in a perfect world I’d probably do 9-3 in an office and somehow completely eradicate the commute! (Teleportation?!)
Do you have three tips for making ‘working from home’ work well for everyone involved?
Colleagues: Make sure your role is communicated properly to everyone in the office so they understand exactly what you do. Make sure you have regular ‘face-time’ with colleagues … you get much more done in 30-minute coffee meetings than you do over email. If you’re waiting on an answer get on the phone rather than feeling frustrated at home. Make sure you get to drinks/Christmas lunch etc so you still feel like part of the team.
Employee (you): Give yourself a structure and stick to it. Make your ‘office’ a separate entity to your home, whether that’s a separate office – shared workspace, garden shed etc – or an area of a room in your house that feels different (a desk you never use apart from for work). And have a very strict routine – although children usually see to that aspect!
Follow Alix on Instagram: @alixwalker1