OK, admit it. You’ve fantasized about what a cakewalk it would be to work from home. I mean, just imagine: Your commute time becomes about 30 seconds, you can stop and put in a load of laundry at lunchtime, work from your desk in your gym clothes, maybe even stop for a short nap if the mood strikes. What could be better?
Separating fact from fiction is an important task for anyone considering working from home. No longer the purview of envelope-stuffing moms, home offices and telecommuters are proliferating across the business landscape. According to the last U.S. Census report, about 8 percent of the American working population, or about 11.3 million people, worked primarily from home. In addition, those workers who reported working at home at least once per week accounted for 15 percent of total employment, a number that is significantly on the rise when you consider trends in both remote corporate assignments and the growth of home-based businesses.
While there is no longer a stigma attached to working from home, it’s clearly not for everyone. There are stories galore of home-based ventures that have quickly fizzled out and telecommuters who have slid from hero to slacker in the transition from corporate office to dining room table. Clearly, there are some important steps to take before you decide to mix your business environment with home and hearth. Consider these 10 steps to maximizing the probability of a successful work-at-home experience:
1. Know yourself. You have to have a huge tolerance for solitude to sustain working from home on a regular basis. If you’re primarily a social creature or an extrovert, you could find yourself going stir-crazy or talking to the walls. Think carefully about your personality style and what makes you tick before you take the leap.
2. Establish a conducive working environment. A home office should be just what the term implies — an office. While you might be able to make due with a carved-out corner of your bedroom for a short time, if you’re serious about this, you’ll need some dedicated space that is devoted to business. That includes a chair that’s comfortable enough to sit in at the phone and computer for more than 15 minutes.
3. Stick to a schedule. The most successful telecommuters and home-based free agents are those who discipline themselves to keep regular and reliable hours. This doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice the flexibility element that is part of what attracted you to working from home in the first place. But it does mean that if you kid yourself by only working part time at what needs to be a full-time commitment, it will catch up with you.
4. Eliminate distractions. This is probably one of the biggest challenges about working from home. It’s just too easy to take a break and start dinner or chat with your neighbors or take the dog for a walk. When you set up shop, make sure your friends and family understand that just because you’re at home doesn’t mean you are fair game for a cup of coffee and a leisurely conversation whenever they choose to drop by.
5. Stay connected. Although it’s a good idea to avoid the coffee klatch, it’s important to stay in touch with the professional community. Attend local business meetings that are of interest to you. Schedule lunch with colleagues and clients. In other words, keep your network active and alive. Not only will it keep you marketable, it also will keep you from feeling lonely and out of touch.
6. Use technology wisely. If you work from home, it’s vital that you have reliable and professional technology on your side. Have a dedicated phone line that is separate from the one used by your spouse and kids. Invest in a voice mail service so that your messages don’t get lost or garbled. Use a high-quality headset if you spend a lot of time on the phone. Invest in a wireless high-speed Internet connection Make sure your fax machine is in good working order. Choose software and technology services that will make your life easier.
7. Take advantage of services aimed at the small office/home office community. It’s a good idea to use a mail and shipping center vs. standing in line at the post office. And it makes sense to have a mailbox dedicated to your business at one of these facilities so that you can keep your home address private and your mail separate. Buy office supplies online and have them shipped to you. Take advantage of the myriad services provided by copying centers.
8. Rely on professionals when you need professional help. Unless you are in the accounting business, it makes sense to hire a CPA to do your business bookkeeping and tax processing. And when you need a lawyer, have a good one on your side rather than trying to muddle through with do-it-yourself forms. If there is a heavy volume of administrative or clerical work associated with what you do, consider hiring a virtual assistant to provide the support that you need.
9. Establish boundaries. Just as it’s easy to get distracted when you work out of your home, it’s also easy to get consumed. Resist the temptation to hang out in your office at all hours of the day and night. You need a life, too — one that doesn’t have anything to do with your work.
10. Periodically assess how it’s going. The decision to work at home should be one that fits with who you are and enables you to enjoy what you do. If your heart is singing and you look forward to getting started in the morning, great. But if you find yourself dreading having to hole up in that home office one more day and praying for the weekends, something is wrong in this picture. Pay attention to the quality of your experience and be willing to make a change if it’s not working out the way you planned.
Welcome home! Your business is waiting.
Barbara Poole is a Master-Certified Coach and Leadership/Team Development Consultant. She is President of Success Builders, Inc., Partner/Co-founder of Leading Deeply, LLC, and an affiliate of the Pyramid Resource Group, Inc. Barbara can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
First appeared in the Business Review section of The Post and Courier Monday, May 28, 2012.