How I coped with Covid: the award-winning flexible working pioneer

25 March 2021 | Thoughts and Opinions

How I coped with Covid: the award-winning flexible working pioneer

‘Even though we are used to remote working, it took us a while to figure out how to do things.’

For anyone running a business, 2020 will be remembered as a year of uncertainty and lockdown. Despite the challenges it created, Companies House statistics show more new businesses were born during the pandemic than at any other point.

Few people sum up Britain’s entrepreneurial spirit better than Jess Heagren, the founder of That Works For Me. Her business brings together small to medium companies in need of expertise with skilled professionals seeking flexible and remote work. Since launching the start-up in late 2019, Jess has already had notable success and won prestigious national awards.

That Works For Me’s flexible working marketplace now serves 3,000 members, has made more than 100 matches and has a success rate of more than 95%. The team recently won Tech Nation’s Rising Stars 3.0 Diversity and Inclusion award and were named Enterprise Nation’s Female Start Up Of The Year.

The Enterprise Nation award is supported by Harper James Solicitors and Jess is now receiving a year’s free legal support from our team of experts in a partnership which will enable her business to grow and develop.

Impressive accolades aside, Jess, like many thousands of other start-up founders, has found the last 12 months a challenge for her mental health: ‘People keep on asking me what it was like starting a business in a global pandemic,’ Jess says. ‘On the one hand, I haven’t known anything different. On the other, it’s been so tough. All of my plans for things that could go wrong have gone wrong. I’ve found myself staring into the bottom of a gin glass after a day’s home-schooling, combined with answering customer queries, wondering if it’s supposed to be this hard.’

As a former City Director, Jess is well used to dealing with stress. Previously she managed 600 people across six sites in the UK and reported to the board of a FTSE 100 company: ‘I understand pressure. But nobody could have predicted how this year has gone. That Works For Me launched in December 2019 and the pandemic hit in March 2020. My business partner had to go back into full-time work, so I took responsibility for the test and the fix cycle of our website, which isn’t my comfort zone, so it felt utterly draining. I was immersed in an already stressful situation having my three children, all aged under seven, at home. My husband is self-employed too, so we have split childcare since our first daughter was born six years ago. Even though we are used to remote working, it took us a while to figure out how to do things.’

Jess said one of the hardest things to cope with has been the constant lockdowns. She says the worst moment came with Boris Johnson’s unexpected last-minute decision to cancel Christmas: ‘Every time we got going, another lockdown came. For my sanity and the sake of my family, I shut down as soon as the announcement was made in December. I needed that Christmas break with friends and family to experience some normality, to restore my energy levels and to be ready to start over.’

Starting the New Year with a renewed sense of vigour was a challenge, as Jess tells us: ‘Work and life continued to have zero degrees of separation. I had my laptop next to me while I home-schooled. This constant friction affected my mood. And like everyone, I have good days and bad days. On the bad days, I have had to find new coping mechanisms. Previously I could run, walk, meet a friend for coffee, whatever it was I wanted to do. The point was that I had time on my own to deal with things.’

‘I find that the more time I spend at home with my family, the less inclined I am to leave. I stop speaking to the outside world and isolate myself. Every so often someone will penetrate my self-made fortress and I’ll remember that I’m actually quite a social being, and I enjoy interacting with other people. There are other things I do to try not to slip into a rut. I run when I can, I try and do a Pilates class or two a week, which makes me feel better.

Business-wise, I try to plan my weeks using a to-do list at half the length I would have normally have, so I’m not feeling like a failure before I’ve even started. I spread my meetings out making sure I speak to outsiders every day. I use the limits on my phone to avoid social media. The only content I really read is work-related. I make sure I always have a good book on the go. Audio books are my go-to. My resilience has taken a real hit over the last year. But, moving forward, things are looking promising. I can see a light at the end of the tunnel and am dreaming of the things we will do when things return to normal.’

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