3 Problems Facing Those Who Work From Home
Do you run a business from your home office? Are you a freelancer? Consultant? Tutor? Music teacher? Craftsperson? Translator? Baker? Artist? Author?….
The list is almost endless. Given real estate prices in major cities and the costs and time involved in long commutes, more and more people – who have that option – are choosing to work from home, at least part of the time, while many work full time at a huge range of home-based businesses. Entrepreneurs, creative artists, and freelancers all have very different needs and may face different issues but some problems are common to all, whether you’re a best-selling author with a comfortable home office, a struggling musician working out of your parents’ basement, or pretty much anywhere in between.
Working from home is awesome, no? No commuting, working in your pyjamas, working round family commitments, personal appointments, etc.? Sounds great, but this working style also creates its own problems – we take a look at three of them:
1] Establishing efficient work space
While maintaining a work/life balance may be an issue for many people, it becomes far more difficult when the two locations are no longer separate. Operating a business from your home means designating part of your living space to your work. For a hairdresser, this may mean giving up the basement or even one of the major living rooms to use as a salon; for a cake-maker, it could mean major adaptations to the kitchen (and somehow separating business operations from family meal prep!), for an artist, the conversion of a spare bedroom, etc. Even if your business ‘only’ requires a computer, files, books and desk space, it can still mean sacrificing a serious amount of living space. Not only does this require family members to agreeably sacrifice some of ‘their’ space (or doubling up on valuable living space if you live alone), it also raises the problem of keeping family separate from your work space, at least during working hours. Additional issues, depending on the nature of your business, maybe needing storage for work equipment – cameras, painting supplies, musical equipment, you name it…
There are many blog posts and articles suggesting solutions – almost all of them agree on one thing – you must carve out your own space and that space must be inviolate during working hours.
- Agree with other family members exactly what space you will be using for your business – be prepared to make compromises to achieve this if necessary
- Establish from day one that this space is yours alone and cannot be entered/shared/used for occasional overnight guests, or in any other way incorporated, even temporarily, into family life. (Those who live alone may find this part a lot easier but – as those living alone often tend to inhabit smaller spaces anyway – it may mean using a bedroom, or even a dining table, as a work space, far from ideal.) For many homeowners, the basement or a spare bedroom may be the easiest option for their business HQ but it is essential that – however small – this space is never used for any other purpose and is free from interruptions.
2] Avoiding unwarranted, and possibly embarrassing, interruptions and distractions
(Many of us enjoyed this classic video from a couple of years ago when Professor Kelly, while on a video interview with the BBC, was hilariously interupted by not one, but both of his children, with his wife in hot pursuit):
Even if there is no international news organization witnessing such interruptions, there remain issues with phone conversations with clients being potentially interrupted by loud screams from injured (?) frustrated (?) toddlers, frantic dogs barking, or even an inadvertent use by one’s spouse of a loud blender or power tool. So what’s the solution?
- Take all possible steps to avoid interruptions during business-related phone calls or video meetings. A door on the designated work space, preferably one that can be locked, may suffice; if this is not possible, consider finding a quiet space (bathroom, even, as a last resort) for important phone calls. If interruptions are still a concern, consider persuading/bribing your family to absent themselves for an hour or two.
- For those business operators living with others, it’s imperative to have a family meeting explaining your unavailability at certain hours and getting everyone’s agreement – have them imagine you are away from home as if you were working elsewhere and, therefore, not available for anything other than major emergencies. For those who live alone, let friends and family know – in advance – that you will never be answering their calls or responding to texts or emails during certain hours. To sum up – during your pre-designated work hours, barring fire, flood or life-threatening injuries, you are simply not at home!
- It may seem obvious, but – if you frequently do video conferencing – take a good look at what is behind you. You want your work space to look professional so ensure there’s not a guest bed, exercise equipment, untidy kitchen counter, children’s toys, etc., in the background! And keep the visible space clean, tidy and organized.
- Avoid distractions also. One upside of working from home is that you can make a sandwich/coffee/snack whenever you like – similarly you can listen to music while working, if that is your thing. However, these can only too easily also become downsides. It’s too tempting to go for a snack when you hit ‘writer’s block’ or just a task you want to put off for a while. It may work to keep an ‘office-style’ schedule where you stop for snacks and meals at predefined times; ideally you should move to another location (the kitchen, for example) for all food and drink related breaks.
- Be firm about the time you spend responding to non-business emails and/or surfing the net/reading the news/catching up with your favourite sports events – try to maintain “office hours” when such behaviour would be frowned upon.
3] Maintaining a social and family life that is separate from your business
This last applies to almost any self-employed person – and quite a few employed people also. That said, ‘leaving work at the office’ when you walk through the door each evening is a lot more difficult if your ‘door’ is just down the hall or up the stairs!
- Set at least some limitations on your availability for work. Yes, entrepreneurs, freelancers, and other people working with clients online, often in different time zones, may need to be always ‘on’; after all, that phone call that you let go to voicemail because you were eating dinner, or watching the final moments of your favourite sports team’s game, could be the one big client you’ve been hoping to land. Nonetheless, no one expects any business person to be available 24/7/365. Start, perhaps, by using a phone answering service that only operates during ‘normal’ business hours – this means that potential clients getting in touch outside these hours are relegated to email that can then be checked at regular, convenient intervals. Next, you might choose to have a strict policy of not accepting work orders/enquiries on Sundays or public holidays. If possible, line up a colleague/assistant who can hold the fort if you take a short vacation.
- If you’ve followed recommendations above and successfully ‘trained’ friends, partners, and family members to respect your “office hours” (and it’s not actually as easy as it may sound !) then you do owe it to them to be physically and mentally present – in the moment, as it were – outside of these hours. Make time during “office hours” for responding to business emails or even doing schedules, accounting, etc. After all, you generally wouldn’t do those things outside of the office, would you? So – once your sacrosanct hours are over: switch off, leave unfinished tasks till the next day, ignore your phone and prioritize friends and family!