Practice Talk: Jessica Pillow from Pillow May

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Joining Practice Talk this week is Jessica Pillow, founder of Chippenham-based firm Pillow May. 

Jessica Pillow’s decision to start her practice was driven by the challenge of accountancy's always-on culture and the opportunities presented by emerging technology -- recurring themes that seem to crop up almost every week in the Practice Talk series.

Working long hours with a newborn, Pillow knew there was another way. While her former employer’s unsupportive attitude pushed her towards the door, emerging accounting tech presented the option of a more balanced life. And so Pillow May was born. 

“Cloud has made things so much easier for working mums with the whole remote and flexible working,” she said. Brandishing her mobile phone, Pillow demonstrated this to AccountingWEB at a recent conference, where she was able to do everything without the worry of being out of the office.

While we’ve seen the dangers of technology exacerbating an always-on culture, Pillow enforces clear boundaries. Her team of working mums are not expected to work as she did when her employer told her that she “wasn’t pulling her weight” following a particularly hectic tax return season.

As a result, Pillow is able to balance her lifestyle with her work. If she wants to work from the South of France, she can. That balance is the reason why she's decided against growing her practice until her children are older.

“Pillow May has always been for women,” she told AccountingWEB in a recent article to mark International Women’s Day. “It's to show the profession that you can be a fully professional accountancy firm but still be a working mum at the same time.”

What's the first thing you do when you start your working day?

I walk across to my office from my house and try and appreciate the beautiful day. I then switch the computer on.

Are you guilty of checking emails well beyond the traditional working hours?

I normally run a quick check very first thing when I first wake up. To be honest, I don't do much in the evenings so I don't get much come in. I was really ill a couple of years ago and after that, I realised I really needed to reduce my working hours. My mum helped me get in the right mentality that I need to leave work behind when I leave. I get strict with myself about not looking at emails. I know that they're there but I don't look at them until the next day.

How important is achieving a work-life balance for yourself and your firm?

It's massive for me and my practice. It's the whole reason behind our decision not to grow at the moment. All of us have children at the age where we need work-life balance. It's been very important to get a good work-life balance at this stage of our lives. We said for the next five-to-ten years the most important thing is for us to have a work-life balance. So we don't want to push ahead and grow. We'll re-evaluate when the children have grown up and maybe we do want to then.

We're completely flexible and, of course, the cloud has made it so easy nowadays to offer flexible working. I think having an office is really important in terms of team communication and building a team because that doesn't happen if you're not working together at some points. But it's so easy to offer flexibility. Anything you give in that respect, you get paid back time and time again by the loyalty of your team.

What do you do to escape the world of tax, accounts and cloud computing?

I tend to go out at lunchtime and spend half an hour or an hour out in the countryside. My PA notices me getting annoyed and says 'it's time for you to go'.

Since you qualified what's been the biggest change you've seen in the profession?

The benefits from the cloud, really. We were already trying to use it early-on for flexible working, but it's become so easy with all your data on the cloud. I now go every year for three weeks in July to the south of France and work remotely from there. I literally just take my Surface and that's all I need. I can plug into my screen down there and I can travel with such a small amount of stuff but have everything at my fingertips.

(Everyone in Pillow May has a certain kind of calculator)


Can you remember your first calculator?

I can but I prefer my latest calculator which is, of course, pink and all my team have the same one.

About Richard Hattersley

Richard Hattersley

Richard is AccountingWEB's Practice Editor. If you have any comments or suggestions for us get in touch.