Conference calls when you work in an office are no big deal, right? You read the memo, dial-in for the call, make awkward small talk until all of the participants are present, hold the meeting, agree on actions, end the call and subsequently head downstairs with a select handful of trusted colleagues to have a smoke and a bitch about how much of a narcissistic douche the Team Leader from Ad Traffic is.
Teleconferencing as a work-at-home mum is a different kind of hell.
When you work from home with children around there is so much more strategic planning and preparation required to successfully take part in even the most minor work-related conference calls. It’s nowhere near as simple as rocking up to your desk with a notepad, a functioning phone and an open-minded willingness to engage with the discussion points raised by your peers.
Conference calling is exponentially more challenging in the presence of children, the same way that the simple act of using a telephone in the presence of children is exponentially more challenging and using a toilet to urinate is exponentially more challenging and any number of other things you might care to consider are exponentially more challenging. For various reasons – which I won’t go into here – it just is.
The implication being is that prior to participating in any professional meetings from home as a WAHM, you need to take care to ensure that you have actioned most – if not all – of the listed items below as part of your meticulous preparation:
1. Assemble a production-line of distractions, which you will distribute to your children on an ad-hoc basis at various times throughout your meeting. This action point is fairly self-explanatory, and I would suggest any or all of the following be employed as useful tools of distraction:
• Pre-prepared buffet of age-appropriate finger food items
• Multiple bottles of water
• Six pack of pop-top apple juice in case water won’t suffice
• Fully-charged iPad
• Loaded DVD player
• Basket of “new” toys which have been “on-rotation” in the “Donate to Charity” section of the garage
• TV remote with channel pre-loaded to ABC2 and appropriate volume level selected
2. Ensure your child has had all of his or her basic needs for survival met. Feed them, clothe them, change them. You can’t always predict a poo-nami or a random incidence of projectile vomiting, but you can make sure all your frontline defenses are as up-to-date as possible. Dry nappy. Clean clothes. Full belly. Also, take care to avoid feeding your children foods with emetic properties, or those which are known to cause loose or watery stools.
3. Smother your children with “quality-time” in the lead-up to the call. The most crucial stage in nullifying your children as a possible threat to your professional credibility is in the hour directly preceding the call. You need to spend every possible second of that sixty minutes “love-bombing” your children to the point of suffocation. You’ve read through the entire “Maisy” canon, you’ve sung through the standing inventory of domestic livestock at “Old McDonalds Farm”, you’ve cuddled so much that callouses have formed on the soft cushiony skin of your inner elbows. To recover from this intense emotional onslaught your children will no doubt require an extended period of time away from you which, incidentally, will coincide with the hour of “alone-time” you need to make your phone call without interruption.
4. Know where the “Mute” button is on your phone and know how to use it. It can be worth doing several emergency drills prior to your meeting, in order to test your reaction-time and to help prevent you getting flustered and pressing the “End Call” button instead. Let me be clear: you are running a business here. It is difficult to maintain a professional appearance if your child is howling in the background like a demented extra from the set of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, or screeching “MAMA! LISTEN ME, MAMA!” while you are trying to have an adult conversation about SEO metrics, inbound marketing, link building and “I HATE ‘CHOOOOOOOOO….”
5. Pray to the “Toddler Gods” that your child is going to amuse themselves quietly with independent play for the duration of the call. Instead of spending the lead-up to your meeting suspended in a state of dread about your child’s Dionysian capacity for generating noise and chaos, use those moments to mindfully visualise your child playing quietly in his or her bedroom, like the sweet gentle lamb he or she is. Ideally you would invoke Hypnos, the God of Sleep, but it can be counterproductive to invest too much faith in miracles. Don’t waste valuable time and energy conjuring worst-case scenarios; you will have plenty of time to think about all that once you get mommy-tracked out of all the major projects at work.
6. Have a final contingency plan if things descend into complete and utter mayhem. If food, movies, quality children’s broadcasting, technology, emotional manipulation and your ability to effectively master the mute button have all failed you, it is important to have a back-up plan; one last-ditch strategy to salvage what is left of your professional reputation, your credibility and the general perception of your ability to function effectively as a parent. I personally recommend hanging up the phone and sending a post-factum email apologising for the regrettable and unanticipated “line drop out”. Alternately, the other option is to write it off as a “hardware issue”, and THROW THAT MOTHER#&@#$%&@ PHONE AT THE GODDAMN WALL UNTIL THE @##$^@^@% THING SMASHES.
Software glitch or hardware issue notwithstanding, either way you will have brought your ill-fated conference call to its inevitable child-enforced conclusion. Once your meeting has successfully finished, dust yourself off, pour yourself an over-sized glass of wine and raise a toast to the promising career you used to have, avoiding at all times the temptation to collapse into a sobbing heap on the floor. It’s unprofessional.