Monthly Archives: March 2015

Location Scouts Revisited, Part 2: The Den

Locating your workspace in a separate room, like Mike Brady’s den office in The Brady Bunch, has certain advantages over a basement office. In some newer model homes, the area that once would have automatically been designated as the dining room is now being outfitted as an office as well. Either option offers some advantages over the basement office. First of all, you don’t have to walk up or down any stairs to get there. Second, you may not have to deal with temperature, humidity, and cell reception issues. Third, assuming that most basements are at least partially below ground level, a den with a window would provide natural light. Depending on the layout of the house, the den can be separated from the flow of traffic, yet be near enough so that amenities (food, coffee, rest room) are within easy reach. The downside is that it may not be separate enough and may be too close to living quarters. So you might be pressed into service to resolve a family crisis or find out who broke Mom’s favorite vase (yes, we are overly preoccupied with 1960s/1970s TV sitcoms). Anyway, a family room, parlor, or sitting room may be easily converted into an office.

Advantages: Potentially separate and quiet, yet close to rest of living quarters. Cell and wireless network reception can be better than in a basement. Availability of natural lighting.

Disadvantages: May not be far enough from loud, distracting living quarters. May be aesthetically unappealing, especially if the rest of the house was decorated with a consistent look or style.

In the next couple of posts, we’ll look at some second-tier options.

Location Scouts Revisited, Part 1: The Basement

In the previous series of posts, we looked at some makeshift options for locating a home office. In the next series of posts, we’ll look at some “best case scenarios,” but which, even though they’re the preferred options, still have some downsides and potential pitfalls.

A room in the basement is the best option for a home office, and ideally it would even be the entire basement. It should not share a space with the children’s playroom, the home gym, or the pool table, and it should have a lockable door.

Advantages: It’s separate from the rest of the house, so it should be reasonably quiet. Everything needed for work can be self-contained within the basement office, and stairs can be a deterrent to lugging too many things to the rest of the house. It is also aesthetically appealing when entertaining guests, as work materials are not in plain sight.

Disadvantages: It’s a basement, so there may be temperature issues if the basement is drafty or inadequately heated in winter. Or it may be dank or buggy. If it’s located close to laundry or playroom areas, you may have noise and intrusion issues. It may also be hard to get cellphone reception in the basement. It may also be difficult to get a robust WiFi signal if the wireless network router is installed elsewhere in the house.

By the way, you could just as easily substitute “attic” for “basement,” and the same considerations apply. Depending on the house, the attic may not be as creepy as the basement, and may be roomy, decluttered, and decobwebbed enough to serve as an office. You may even get better cellphone reception in an attic than a basement. However, make sure your wireless Internet signal is strong enough, if that’s where you decide to set up shop.

In the next post, we come upstairs and investigate the den.

The Postman Always Rings Twice?

One of the biggest problems with a home office is dealing with unplanned interruptions which are often business-related or are otherwise unavoidable. For example, UPS or FedEx is delivering a package, the cable technician arrives to fix your Internet connection, or the mail carrier has a package you need to sign for. Maybe you have even had to call a plumber. If there’s someone else in the house, you can instruct them to deal with it (in the way that your outside office probably had a receptionist or someone to handle these kinds of things), but if you’re alone, you’ll obviously have no option but to deal with the visitor yourself. Nine times out of 10, it won’t be an issue, but what if you are on an important call and UPS knocks? Or the cable company schedules you for that exact moment between nine and five—which is as specific as you can usually get with many cable companies—to come?

In some cases, a little advance planning can help. Try to make appointments for service providers on days when you don’t have any important calls scheduled. As for delivery people, you usually never have any idea when you’ll be getting a package. In those cases, right before getting on a call, tape a note to the front door: “Please leave any packages on front steps or come back after 2:00.” If you sign the note, that can serve as the delivery signature. After the call is over, check to see if anything was delivered or if there is a “we tried to deliver” tag on the door. The worst that will happen is you may have to call and reschedule delivery. This scenario is also an example of why having packages delivered to an address other than your home may be a good idea.

In a worst-case scenario, if you really need to have the plumber over, and he arrives during an important call, you may have no choice but to put the caller(s) on hold or, if you are more of a listening participant, use the Mute button to deal with a visitor without people on the call being any the wiser.

Pod People?

Most of us who start a home office will be situating the office someplace inside our main residence—a spare bedroom, a basement, a den, etc. But if you have a yard, you’re not limited to the interior of the house when locating your office. A backyard shed, a small cabin, or a room above a garage can be converted to an office, as long as you can control temperature and get cell and wireless network reception.

Check out this slide show of “office pods” which you can set up in your yard. Now, some look quite silly, and you may fall afoul of the neighbors or homeowners association (or zoning laws), but some actually are quite stylish. Be sure you know your local laws regarding constructing office space outside the house. And be sure you know your spouse’s opinion. If the response is, “You’re not putting that thing in the yard,” it’s time to look for another solution.

Location Scouts, Part 3: The Apartment

Last week, we looked at places in one’s home to put a home office so as to maximize productivity in spaces that tend to be shared with other family members.

But if you’re single and live alone in a studio or one-bedroom apartment, you might think it doesn’t matter how you structure your work area. After all, you don’t have to worry about sharing space and time with kids, a spouse, and maybe not even a pet. Who’s going to complain, the houseplants? That situation may be unavoidable, and when you’re young and driven, it might be tolerable. But eventually it may get tiresome, and you realize that being able to get away from work is an important aspect of mental health—especially if you have designs on not remaining a single guy or gal.

In all of these examples, the point is, if you are serious about working at home, you need a dedicated office. Depending on your specific situation, that may not be entirely possible (à la a one-bedroom NYC apartment), especially when you’re first starting out. We’ll consider some workarounds in future posts.

Location Scouts, Part 2: The Table

In the last post, we wrote about situating your home office in a space that is shard with other members of your household. One of those spaces can be a table in the living room or dining room.

When working from a home office, there’s a tendency for papers, magazines, office supplies, and even computers to spread throughout the home. Even when one has a dedicated room for the home office, items often “escape.” The situation is a variation on Parkinson’s Law: your workplace will expand to fill the space available for it. And few things can rile a spouse or live-in significant other like having to clear out a space on the table at dinnertime or when company is coming.

Using a kitchen or dining room table as a workspace will ultimately not succeed in the long run. It further blurs the distinction between being at work and not being at work, which can be a psychological disadvantage to working from home. A good workspace should be one that is relatively permanent. Like every other room in the house, the office should be a dedicated room or area intended for a single purpose: work. You generally don’t cook in your bedroom or sleep in the bathroom. Apartment dwellers may have fewer options. And we’ll look at that issue in the next post.

Location Scouts, Part 1: The Shared Space

Think about these three home office scenarios.

  • Your office is a desk in your living room, which is also the playroom for your six-year-old and his friends. You are trying to crunch numbers and field phone calls while the din goes on around you.
  • Your office is essentially your dining room table, but nearly every surface in your home is not so much a piece of furniture as a filing system. Your spouse is not happy with this arrangement.
  • You live in a small, one-bedroom apartment, and your office is a desk in the living room or the bedroom. You’re single and have no kids, so who cares?

How productive would you expect to be in any of these scenarios? What are some of the boundaries that can be drawn, and how can they help? In this and the next two posts, we’ll look at them in turn.

Having your office in a family space such as a living room, a sitting room, or even a spare bedroom that doubles as a guest room, is a recipe for non-productivity. Even assuming the kids are at school nine months out of the year, the afterschool period still needs to be managed. It’s not that you want to avoid the kids entirely; one of the reasons you may want to work at home is to be able to be around your children as they grow up. But you simply can’t let them have the run of your work space if you’re really serious about getting a job done.

Having your office in a dedicated room—one that has a door—is a must in a situation like this. A home office must reflect a professional appearance to the outside world (i.e., your clients, employers/managers, and even neighbors). If you’re making sales calls, having an important strategy or problem-solving call with a client, or participating in a teleconference with your boss, you don’t want to have screaming kids, the TV, or unruly pets in the background. Not only is the noise level a distraction to you and others on the call, but it creates a negative, unprofessional impression. Your client doesn’t want to, and shouldn’t have to, compete against household distractions for your attention.

In some cases, though, others on the call may be colleagues with whom you are fairly close personally and thus are more accepting of the collision of the professional and the domestic. Perhaps an associate is a new parent as well, for example. Still, you do need to be careful about reinforcing all the negative stereotypes that clients and employers have about those who work at home, namely that you do not take your work seriously or that household issues will take precedence over work. Especially when dealing with new clients who are not familiar with you or the quality of your work, you need to instill in them the confidence that they have your undivided attention, that they as your client are your sole concern—at least for the period of time they’re talking to you. For this reason, set time aside during the day when others know they can predictably schedule conference calls or other extended work calls with you.

In the next post: the table.

The Reality of Doors

In the previous post, we wrote about the importance of having an office with a door. Just having a door is one thing, but keeping it closed is another. If your door is always open—literally or figuratively—anyone is free to disrupt you at will. Depending on what you’re doing, that may not be a bad thing. After all, we’re not 100% intent on work for the entire business day. We may just be checking e-mail, opening the physical mail, doing our social media updates, reading news and trade articles related to our business, or other low-level tasks that may not need a great deal of attention. When doing these things, it may be perfectly fine to be interrupted. But at other times, we need to be intently focused on the task at hand, whether it’s working on a huge spreadsheet, writing a report, or even composing an important e-mail.

This is why it’s often important to set office hours. Sure, a lot of people who work from home like to think they’re freewheeling enough to work whenever the mood strikes. In point of fact, though, most of us settle into a regular daily routine. (The freedom comes in deciding what that routine is. We will look at this more closely in a future post.) Once we know what that routine is, we can assign office hours or tell friends, family, neighbors, etc., what time(s) of day are best for interruption and what times they should stay away. Appointments can be scheduled during those office hours. We also use those low-productivity times for other tasks, like running errands, going to the gym, etc.

Sometimes the work hours are dictated by others, such as family members’ school hours, or the times they leave for work at a “real” job and return home. Other times, they can be scheduled around personal preference. If you’re an early riser, you might find that it’s preferable for you to use pre-dawn hours when the house is quiet to answer e-mails and then take a gym break at mid-morning. Night owls may get a later start and end their day at a later hour. There is no right or wrong here, just what is right or wrong for you.

Secrets of a Successful Office at Home Revealed in a New Raleigh SCORE Workshop Series

“Home Office Guru” Dr. Joe Webb Presents Raleigh SCORE Workshops With Practical Advice for Home Businesses and Telecommuters

March 4, 2015 — Wake Forest, N.C. — Do you work from home? Have you ever wanted to? Do you telecommute full- or part-time? Looking for sage advice from a seasoned pro on how to work productively and profitably from home? Raleigh SCORE (https://raleigh.score.org) has recruited Dr. Joe Webb, co-author of The Home Office That Works! to offer a workshop designed for current or prospective home-based business owners and entrepreneurs. The workshop will be offered six times in five convenient locations.

Working from home has many advantages, but also some pitfalls. In these interactive workshops, you’ll learn essential tips, tricks, and strategies for running a business, or telecommuting, from home. You will be able to ask questions about your business, your home office set-up, software, computers, communications, bookkeeping, and more. The sessions will cover time and money management, and how to handle family, neighbors, and even pets while working at home. The dates of the workshops are:

  • Wednesday, May 13, 2015—Cameron Village Regional Library,
    1930 Clark Avenue, Raleigh.
  • Thursday, May 28, 2015—East Regional Library,
    946 Steeple Square Court, Knightdale.
  • Monday, June 15, 2015—North Regional Library, 7009 Harps Mill Road, Raleigh.
  • Thursday, June 25, 2015—West Regional Library, 4000 Louis Stephens Drive, Cary.
  • Monday, July 06, 2015—Cameron Village Regional Library,
    1930 Clark Avenue, Raleigh.
  • Tuesday, July 14, 2015—Eva Perry Regional Library,
    2100 Shepherd’s Vineyard Drive, Apex.

Raleigh SCORE will accept registrations at their website, https://raleigh.score.org, starting in April.

Information presented in these workshops is based on The Home Office that Works! Make Working at Home a Success—A Guide for Entrepreneurs and Telecommuters, written by Dr. Joe Webb and Richard Romano. The 2015 edition is available at Amazon.com.

“Over our combined 40 years of working from home, we’ve made all the mistakes so now you don’t have to,” said Dr. Webb. “Attendees can start working at home a smoother and better process for all involved.”

Get the book!

The Home Office That Works! Make Working at Home a Success—A Guide for Entrepreneurs and Telecommuters is available in paperback at http://amzn.to/17Axu01, or an Amazon Kindle e-book available at http://amzn.to/17AxBss. Visit the authors’ website at homeofficethatworks.com.

About Dr. Joe Webb

Consultant, entrepreneur, and economics commentator Dr. Joe Webb started his business career more than 35 years ago, more than 25 of them working at home. While in college, “Dr. Joe” turned a hobby into a home-operated business. He left the comfort of a corporate cubicle in 1987 and launched his consulting career. He started an Internet-based research business in 1995 with a network of other home-based researchers, writers, and consultants, and sold that business to a multinational publisher in 2000. Since then, his interests are in business economics and technology. He is a doctoral graduate in industrial and corporate education from New York University, holds an MBA in Management Information Systems, with baccalaureate work in managerial sciences and marketing. He resides in Wake Forest. And yes, he still has an office at home.

About Raleigh SCORE

Raleigh SCORE is dedicated to educating entrepreneurs and encouraging the formation, growth and success of small business by providing outstanding, FREE counseling and low cost educational workshops to start-ups and small businesses in the Raleigh metropolitan area including Wake, Durham, Johnston, Franklin, Granville and Vance counties.

Editor’s Note…

Additional information is available for editorial purposes. Please make inquiries directly to the authors at authors@homeofficethat works.com.

Speaking Events and Business Contact:

The authors are available for speaking at events, webinars, and business meetings. The book is an excellent promotional vehicle for retailers and service providers targeting the needs of small and home businesses. The authors can also create custom versions of the book. Dr. Webb and Mr. Romano also offer coaching services for teleworkers/telecommuters, either one-on-one or in small groups; advisement for veteran teleworkers; consulting services for businesses considering hiring teleworkers/telecommuters; and more. For more information about these services, contact the authors at authors@homeofficethatworks.com.

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