Work, play and business support during the coronavirus lockdown

Clare Gallagher is head of membership for Women in Business NI. Like many during the Covid-19 crisis, she is working remotely, sharing her kitchen table with her school-age son. She chats to Jenny Lee about juggling work and home life and supporting the organisation's 4,000 entrepreneurs and business leaders

Clare Gallagher of Women in Business NI at home with her 10-year-old son Riley

AS THE coronavirus pandemic continues, it is a time of great uncertainty for everyone. This is especially true of small business owners, many of whom have been forced to shut up shop in bid to halt rapid spread of the virus.

Helping to support entrepreneurs in these uncertain times is the role of Clare Gallagher, who is head of membership for Women in Business NI. For the past two weeks she has been working remotely from home, working from her kitchen table, alongside her 10-year-old son, Riley.

Clare has been busy communicating with her organisation's members during this uncertain time and is having to find innovative ways in which to do this.

“It's a completely different way of working. As well as social media, we do Microsoft team chats and Zoom video calls, which are so valuable in making you feel less isolated.

“We have 4,000 members and are trying to be as proactive as possible to support them during the current situation. We have sent them a Covid-19 member support survey and our chief executive will use that feedback to lobby the government to provide support to them, especially small business.”

Clare has also noticed how, as within communities everywhere at this time, members are helping each other in various ways.

“We have members working in various sectors including health, wellbeing, human resources and communications. Some have provided us with tutorials on using video technology to reach your community remotely; others are providing advice on keeping fit by using home workouts. We have shared these on a special coronavirus support section of our website.”

Like many working women at this time of school closures, Clare is combining working with being a parent and teacher.

“Thankfully Riley is such a great boy and my main problem is he's flying through the work. But you can't help have parental guilt when you are trying to juggle work and wait on a video conference call when your child is asking you to explain how to do something,” says the 42-year-old.

“We do still get up early and go for a morning walk and then I ring the virtual school bell at nine. We schedule break time at 10.30 and lunch at 12.30, like Riley would be used to at school. But we try not to be too rigid.”

Although worried that Riley is due to do his transfer test in November, Clare is also encouraging him to use his time away from school creatively, listening to David Walliams books online and even trying his own hand at writing.

“I'm writing a book at the moment called The Boy Who Defeated Covid-19,” says Riley, a pupil at St Michael's Primary, Belfast.

“He travels to the future and finds a cure, which he brings back to the present day.”

Riley says he is enjoying being at home with his mum but there are downsides of course.

“I do miss my friends and playing sport but I practice my basketball and football at home,” he adds.

Clare's advice to fellow parents is “just take one day at a time and do whatever suits your child. Also encourage them to help out at home. Riley makes his own lunch. He's a whizz at making sandwiches; I've yet to let him loose on the cooker,” she laughs.

And apart from playing basketball with Riley, how is Clare filling in any spare time during this time of social isolation?

“I'm currently reading Michelle Obama's autobiography which I hadn't had time to read – and of course working out to Joe Wicks.”


1. Get dressed for your home office just like you would for a professional workplace?Dress in clothes just short of business casual attire – overly casual outfits may make you feel like you are just hanging out at home, not working from home.

2. Keep a schedule and make sure others respect it

Start work at the same time every day, link in with your team at the start of every day, eat lunch at the same hour.

3. Take real breaks during the workday?Along with keeping a real schedule to make sure your work-from-home arrangement remains productive. You need to take real breaks during the day to make sure it stays manageable.

4. Create and maintain a real workspace?Create a dedicated workspace – it just might need to be rearranged at the start and end of each day. Always put your computer, phone, papers, and coffee cup in the same place on your table.

5. Learn to use lists and workflow management software?Check out which programmes you can use to organise your workload and coordinate with other colleagues working remotely. Platforms such as Google docs and Microsoft teams can be very useful.

6. Check in with co-workers regularly?Check in with the team at least once a day to support planning and focus on outcomes and deliverables.

7. Don't treat home like home?If you allow yourself to blur the line between home and work during work hours, you will quickly start to lose time as the home projects snowball on you.

8. Get some fresh air and, ideally, some exercise?Breaking up a work-from-home workday with fresh air and getting the blood moving is essential for keeping your workdays low stress and even enjoyable. You can use afternoon exercise to transition out of working: When you return to your house after your jog/walk, the workday is over and you're just home.

9. Make sure there's plenty of light in your workspace?Even if you tend to keep your home more softly lit in general, during the workday your workspace should be brightly lit. This will help increase your energy, reduce eye strain, and keep you better focused.

:: For further information and support visit

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe from just £1 to get full access