Lockdown was tough for many: But what if you were running a business with a spouse?

As New Zealand went into lockdown in March, families around the country faced the prospect of an unknown number of weeks together.

Juggling home-schooling the children while working from home was a challenge for many, or balancing the financial stress of being unable to work with the boredom of being unable to leave the house.

But some who own a business together faced different hurdles again.

New Zealand is a nation of small businesses. It has been estimated that family-owned firms make up as much as 75 per cent of all businesses and 55 per cent of these are owned by two family members – usually a couple.

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Auckland mother-of-two and business owner Jaye McGregor and her husband, Jeff, have been in business together for more than 10 years.

They usually run their digital marketing and web analytics company, Web Wonks, from an office in Albany but, like thousands of others, the McGregors and their staff were forced to work from home at alert level 4.


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Although there was some initial uncertainty about the logistics and how to tackle the unusual situation, McGregor says there were definite upsides to working with her husband during lockdown.

She puts having constant support from someone who knew her inside-out at the top of her list.

“It’s only a spouse in a small business who really knows how hard the other person works,” she says.

“[Jeff] mentioned to me at the beginning of the year that he was prepared to smash through brick walls this year, and that’s exactly what he is doing.

Jaye McGrgor says only a spouse in a small business really knows how hard the other person works.

Chris McKeen/Stuff

Jaye McGrgor says only a spouse in a small business really knows how hard the other person works.

“Little did he know what was coming with Covid-19 but he is phenomenal at seeing what needs to be done and making it happen.”

Having their two children, seven-year-old Monty and Juliette, 3, at home was the biggest challenge, McGregor says.

“We had to sort of tag-team to handle that, to make sure the kids were able to get out of the house and burn off some energy, but also to make sure we both had some time out.”

McGregor says although they reacted differently to the sudden upheaval and uncertainty of lockdown, their responses complemented each other.

“He is very rational. I think I am too, but I think when lockdown came along, I went into nurture mode, doing a lot of checking on people.

“In such a time of uncertainty, when you have staff to look after, it’s really hard to get your head around how it’s going to affect your own family, let alone everyone else’s. “

From a business perspective, McGregor says Web Wonks came out of level 4 in good shape, having sold more of its flagship product during four weeks in lockdown than in any other month.

Jaye McGregor says she and Jeff reacted differently to the upheaval of lockdown but their responses complemented each other.

Chris McKeen/Stuff

Jaye McGregor says she and Jeff reacted differently to the upheaval of lockdown but their responses complemented each other.

“People had time to get that job done but we also kept advertising when others didn’t,” she says.

“I believe also that it’s due to having such an amazing team, that completely pulled together, to ensure that we could continue to deliver to a high standard to our clients.”

To nurturing that team spirit, McGregor set up a WhatsApp messaging group and staff also used internal contact systems and Zoom to stay connected.

Although it was a challenging time, McGregor says lockdown provided some valuable lessons.

“Once I got over everything being so uncertain, it did make me have to stop and focus on my family. I think a lot of people will be really grateful for that.

“I also really loved seeing how innovative businesses were with their offerings and how they delivered them.

“I saw a lot of the good old ‘Kiwi ingenuity’ come out of lockdown – people became very inventive, especially with their online operations, which I felt proud to be a part of.”

But not everyone had such a positive experience.

Counsellors and divorce lawyers reported a spike in calls after lockdown.

Auckland divorce lawyer Jeremy Sutton said lockdown forced couples to spend significantly more time together than they were used to and that had caused issues for some.

“They’ll see the other party’s parenting style and spending habits, and they might decide they’re completely different.

“For some people it might be the last thing. They’ve had doubts about whether they might separate or not and during the lockdown, they’ve had a lot of time to think.”

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