Updated: May 21, 2021
For many years, homeworkers have been something of an anomaly. Our peers may face a daily commute, but we have kept ourselves hidden away enjoying the comfort of our own homes, or perhaps the anonymity of a local café. With our numbers swelling and the nature of employment changing, at Homeworker Hub we felt it was time to start putting faces to the millions of people who consider themselves ‘homeworkers’. It’s time for us to come out of the shadows and showcase the range of careers open to people who work from home.
We have put together a series of interviews with several homeworkers, available to read or (coming soon!) as podcasts. If you would like to be featured in this series, please do drop us a line. Otherwise, sit back, relax, and enjoy finding out who the homeworkers are.
Building Consultancy - Clive Gibbs
Based in West Sussex, Clive Gibbs started his career 1967, initially working in civil engineering before moving into the building trade. By the early 1980s he was tinkering with architectural projects, and in late 1983 he made the decision to go self employed as a building consultant.
Clive has been homeworking for nearly 40 years, sharing the family home with his wife, two daughters (of which I am the youngest) and a succession of dogs and cats.
Clive, how would you describe your job?
Building designer, really. Architect is the sort of generic term. I’m not a ‘qualified’ architect, but everybody seems to think that ‘architect’ fits the job I do.
What sort of buildings do you design?
Anything really. Extensions… houses… I had four or five years working with Glaxo Smith Klein [the pharmaceutical giant] and doing most of their small work stuff, design and building regulation applications. Currently, although I am semi-retired I am doing an awful lot of equestrian projects – stable blocks, polo fields, and various other bits for a planning consultant who specialises in equestrian work. I’ve been doing that for six years now, on and off, and it’s quite interesting.
Generally I do anything. I designed a green house in Columbia, I’ve done a house in France, I’ve played around with a house in Atlanta…
And all of that from your home office?
Yup! I know you’ve been homeworking for nearly 40 years now. How has the landscape changed for you?
Computerisation, really. Planning applications and building reg applications have become a lot more onerous, at great expense to the client. In fact, I have virtually given up doing planning applications because they have become all ‘legal’. I’m quite happy to do them with extensions and small bits and pieces, but I have specialist planning consultants that we go to for anything that is more than sort of a ‘box on the back’ extension.
What equipment did you start out with?
I had a big A0 drawing board which was parked at the far, far end of the galley kitchen. It had its challenges, but it worked for three or four years, by which time we had built the ground floor extension and I moved into what is now my office and general depository. The drawing board was in the office for three or four years and that worked extremely well. I also had an ammonia dyeline printer that was relegated to the shed because it stunk of ammonia.
Then [in the early 90’s] I came across quite an obscure American CAD programme which we bought, and it cost me £110 instead of the £4,500 that AutoCAD would have cost. We got it up and running, then I could print drawings straight onto tracing paper with an A1 pen printer, and it evolved from there. We bought an A1 inkjet printer which meant that the ammonia printer and pen printer were redundant. But was a big piece of kit – it took up quite a large chunk of the office but it worked quite well.
Then probably, about 6 or 7 years ago, all of the local authorities and my clients started accepting PDF drawings which meant that I was going from using probably about thirty 40-meter rolls of paper a year down to about half a roll a year, so we decided that the printer would go, and we sold it to a builder friend because he obviously needed big prints to take onto site. Now I am basically down to one PC, two screens and a laptop.
How did you find working from home with a ten-month-old and a 2-year-old?
It was interesting, but I must say that you were both very well behaved, and your mother kept you under control! When I moved into the office, you were told that if the door was shut, “Don’t Disturb Daddy”. And that worked well. I mean neither of you were a particular problem, shall we say. I was possibly very lucky.
Also, when I started, I used to have several regular customers visiting, and I think you were probably put down as entertainment, because I think they all sort of fell in love with both of you. And you mustn’t forget that when I was working in the kitchen, the occasional cat used to wrap itself around my neck. And also, at the time, we had two Labradors – very crowded house – and they weren’t usually any problem but one of them had a liking for chewing plastic and got through a few hard discs and things that I had been sorting out mini-programmes on, which annoyed me intensely.
How do you make sure that you give yourself headspace to maintain a healthy work-life balance?
There was no such thing when I started. I don’t think anybody had heard of that. I mean basically, if work needed doing, it got done. I tried to avoid deadlines where possible, but it wasn’t always possible. Phone calls in the evening were a necessity because it was possibly a new job.
I think that the fact that if I didn’t work the mortgage wouldn’t have been paid, and we wouldn’t have eaten. It was really, I think, flexibility is the word. And yes, if I got totally screwed up with something; go and clean the fishpond or mow the lawn or whatever which is quite therapeutic. It gets me away from the computer or drawing board just for half an hour or so. The other advantage was if I worked a weekend, I was very easily able to take time off during the week. I don’t think I missed a sports day or anything of yours or your sister’s over the years because it was just written into the contract, if you like.
Your experience of homeworking is as a self-employed individual though… I think it would be different if you were working for a company from home, but I still think you have – well, I don’t know, but I would guess that you have the ability to go out and walk around the garden for 20 minutes or whatever you can do to get away from it. Of course, the other advantage is working from home either way, there is no commuting, which means you can either make your workday longer or you can stay in bed a bit longer.
If you were starting out as a homeworker now, what advice would you give yourself? It got quite lonely, professionally-wise, initially, but I quite quickly built up a network of useful people to bounce ideas off or take the pressure off a bit. But I think you would need the ability to contact other human beings rather than just sitting pouring over your laptop or whatever.
You’re lucky in that respect because although you do the designing from home, you still have to go out and do site visits.
Less so now because Google Earth and any photos emailed to me are great. I mean, the only time I need to go out is to go and measure up somebody’s house for an extension. With the equestrian project we have a land surveyor who I have known forever, who does all the very detailed land surveys, the planning consultant takes loads of photographs and I’ve got Google Earth to look at. It’s a completely new ball game really with respect to that. And everything, absolutely everything is digitizable.
Over the years, dealing with other people, we’ve actually made some very good friends. I now have a very wide range of professional contacts/friends. I think you need the ability to be able to talk to other humans, even if it’s only about the weather, that’s important.
The other thing obviously is; comfortable chair; good place to work; keep anything chewable out of the way, or the dog out of the office or wherever you work…
I didn’t realise that she was such a prolific chewer.
Oh, she was. Yes.
I love that it’s you that has the whole, you know, the dog ate my homework excuse and not me - I never used that in my whole school experience.
Well I think your homework wasn’t plastic enough!