There has probably never been a better time to run a home-based business or work from a home office. Actually, depending on the nature of the business, it may never have been even possible to have a home office in the past, and certainly not a relatively inexpensive one. Rapidly-developing technologies, specifically mobile telephony and computing, have contributed immensely to making a home office possible and practical. Smartphones like the iPhone can put just about all of your business connectivity literally in the palm of your hand. Use an iPad and, depending upon your business, your “office” can be wherever you are. And no one has to know!
Here are some of the technologies that help the home office…
- the Internet
- tablet PCs
- instant messaging
There are of course some things that can hinder a home office:
distrustful managers/employers who assume you are slacking off
- home improvement issues
- personal calls
The goal of these posts will be to highlight the helps and deal effectively with the hindrances.
Making the transition from an outside, perhaps corporate, office to a home office sounds appealing, but amongst the many hidden pitfalls is that we often forget that when we work from home, we generally work alone. This may sound peaceful, but we often find that there are many tasks that we used to rely on others to take care of—and when we suddenly need to handle them ourselves, it can be overwhelming.
Take the phone (please!). Answering the phone isn’t a big deal, right? We do it all the time. Yet, without someone to screen the call or deflect it to someone else, the one-person business owner has a decision to make every time it rings: answer it, or let it go to voicemail? Even if it’s someone we know—and maybe especially if it’s someone we know—we may not want to answer it. Every phone call is a possible business opportunity—or a potential time sink. Is it a potential client looking to hire you—or is it a telemarketer? Is it your most important client with a change or a new project—or is it the garrulous friend or relative who will never get off the phone? Caller ID and customized ringtones can be a good part of the screening process, but even when we know who it is, we still have a decision to make. And caller ID doesn’t identify every caller.
If you’re a writer and you’re “in the zone,” that phone call can derail your train of thought. Sure, it could be a chance for new business, but more often than not it isn’t. Instead, it’s probably a salesperson, or someone from the insurance company with a question, or a client who wants to make a change to something you thought was finished and delivered weeks ago. Or it’s a friend or significant other who is bored at their own place of work and wants to chat. After a few calls that eat up a significant chunk of your time, you begin to wonder if administrative assistants aren’t vastly underpaid.
That’s just the phone. Let’s not forget e-mail and Internet intrusions. And what about the doorbell—should you answer it? Is it the kid next store selling band candy? Where’s that receptionist anyway? As master of your own business domain, it’s incredibly easy to drown in a sea of busy work that distracts one from completing current projects or cultivating new ones.
As a result, a big part of time management is managing these tasks. Sure, they may seem like they don’t take a lot of time—but they can add up.
Most home office fails usually involve the telephone, or some kind of interruption to a conference call, phone interview, what-have-you. One of my first experiences working from a home office was while was a full-time employee of a magazine in Southern California, after our parent company moved the office (turning what had been a nice 10-minute walk into a hellish 90-minute drive), I cajoled the powers that be to let me work from home at least two or three days a week.
One day, I had to conduct a phone interview—from home—for a story I was working on. As it happened, within 30 seconds of starting the interview, the gardeners showed up and began mowing the lawn. Even with the windows closed, the mowers and blowers created an unearthly din. As a result, I had to keep moving from one room to another. I would stand in the living room and, when I heard the mower approaching, I’d dart to the bedroom, then to the second bedroom which was the office, then back to the living room—all the while having to listen to the interviewee, ask follow-up questions, and take notes!
There are some obvious, and some not-so-obvious, advantages of a home office. On the other hand, it’s not all a bed of roses, and there can be some pretty big disadvantages. Here are some advantages and disadvantages:
Advantages of Working at Home
- no need to commute, thus saving money on gas, car repairs, and ulcer medication
- the ability to work in sync with your natural rhythms, thus enhancing your health and productivity
- escape from office dramas, meetings, and the other occupational hazards of the office environment
- the flexibility to live where you want, improving quality of life
- the ability to spend more time with your family, especially young children, as well as being able to travel at off-season times
- the ability to exercise, shop, and run errands during off-peak times of day, avoiding crowds and other hassles
- better health as you avoid being exposed to coworkers’ illnesses
- no need for a professional wardrobe everyday, saving on clothing and dry cleaning costs
- overall greater control over your life
Disadvantages of Working at Home
- no real distinction between being “at work” and “at home,” which can be fatiguing and lead to burnout
- too many distractions—family, children, home maintenance issues, and other hazards of home life, decreasing productivity
- the lack of consistent, secure income
- the lack of office camaraderie and collaboration
- the expense of setting up, equipping, and maintaining a home office
- having to do all the little administrative things you or your employer may once have paid someone to do
- the need to do self-promotion, marketing, and networking
- the residual stigma of working from home (“You don’t have a real job, do you?”)
- overall too much responsibility in your life
Before you decide to set up and launch a home office—assuming this is your decision to make—you should spend a not insignificant amount of time asking yourself why you want to work at home. There are of course many good reasons to work from home, but there are just as many good reasons not to. If you envision that your days will be spent lying on the sofa eating chocolates, watching soap operas, and only occasionally doing a bit of work, you are destined to fail. Either financial circumstances and/or irate family members will exile you back into the working world. Yet one of the advantages of a home office is that you can often set aside defined time to indulge in some of these leisure activities. One of the greatest reasons to work at home is to make managing other commitments and pursuits easier, all while being a more productive worker.
Good reasons can include wanting to spend more time with family while avoiding the hassle of office politics and other workplace issues. You may even see a greater financial opportunity in being your own boss. Bad reasons can include not really wanting to work at all or generally having unrealistic expectations of the benefits of working from home. It takes tremendous discipline to make a home office work effectively and productively.
But before you begin setting up your office/business, first ask yourself these questions:
- do I really want to do this?
- can I can dedicate considerable time and energy to this effort?
- will I be able to maintain this level of effort over time?
- why do I want to work from home?
Going into the home office with realistic expectations—both about the work-at-home experience in general, and your own habits and tendencies in particular—can mean the difference between success and failure. And if you are forced into a telecommuting situation, success and failure means keeping or losing your job.
That is, Working at Home vs. Working at Home
This never happens.
When we find ourselves stressed, either getting to or from work or while at work, it’s easy to let our imaginations take us to a place where we could work peacefully at our own pace. Our thoughts naturally turn to calm, pleasant images of contented productivity within the confines of our home. We can be near our families, the fridge, and the restroom while being away from the hassles of commuting and office dramas. We can be masters of our own calendar. And yet these visions of paradise quickly fade when we discover what working from home really involves. It doesn’t take much for reality to come crashing through the front door. That’s because we tend to put the emphasis on the wrong word. “Working at home” should really be “working at home.” They’re deceptively similar phrases but differ drastically in meaning. The placement of the italics makes all the difference.
Subsequent posts will spell out these differences in greater detail.
Many people who start businesses from home do so because they simply can’t afford outside office space or they are concerned about paying the rent if income slows down. After all, many businesses’ cashflow is subject to peaks and valleys—feasts and famines, or perhaps an ongoing light snack. Regardless, the home office becomes an economic necessity.
Of course, some businesses require outside space from the outset. It’s hard to run a manufacturing business in a spare bedroom. But for a service, professional, or information business, that spare room just might be the perfect fit.
It’s important, though, to go into the home office adventure with a healthy dose of reality.
It’s relatively easy to find how-to books about the types of businesses you can run from home, and while there are many websites and blogs that offer advice about certain aspects of working at home, it’s hard to find comprehensive information—in a single place—about what it takes to create a working environment that is conducive to productivity and creativity without negatively impacting your personal life and the people (and pets) who share your space. And not just the logistical aspects, but also the legal, financial, and managerial aspects of running a home-based office.
Managing work is always easier when the work is someplace else. When work is done where you live, however, it can be a bit like worlds colliding and thus requires a different strategy. It becomes even more complicated if you have to set up a home office quickly—or perhaps not 100% willingly—such as after a downsizing or if your company has abruptly turned you into a telecommuter. Regardless of how it is made, the decision to integrate your work space into your living space and your family life is best made with time, care, and a healthy dose of realism. As with most new undertakings, success generally proceeds in one-step-forward, two- (or more) steps-back fashion. This blog—and our book—is designed to minimize the stumbling right from the start, no matter what kind of business you choose to pursue.