If you're a freelancer or have a small business, it's very common to work out of your own home. Some bigger companies also offer this as a full or part-time solution for some of their workers. This type of work can be both a blessing and a curse in many ways. Here I've listed some of the most common problems you may run into, and some suggestions to how you can turn these into something you can live with.
Image credit: EHPhoto
When you think about working from home, many positive things come to mind. You can work wearing your pajamas and walk to work in less than a minute - regardless of season and weather. You can also set most of the rules yourself, schedule personal appointments and vacations to fit with your work, listen to music as loud as you want and be in an environment you feel comfortable with. What you should be prepared for though, are the things that aren't as glamorous.
In this article you'll get to know some of them, along with some suggestions on how to make them work for you and not against you.
Cures to Common Problems
You're Too Close to Your Work
This can be something that makes it harder to feel that you can rest and do other things. If you have many ongoing projects and know they're just sitting there in your office waiting for you - it could be very tempting to go work for an hour or two. Working an extra hour occasionally doesn't hurt, but the feeling of being at work can for many be overwhelming.
Image credit: Picture by Royce Hansman
Fixing this problem can be a bit challenging. First of all you have to try sticking to set hours. Close your office door when you're done for the day and don't allow yourself to go back in there. If you feel the need to work extra, allow yourself to do this on one scheduled day of the week – but not too often. Practicing this over time will have you feeling calmer about the whole situation, but especially in the beginning this can be tricky.
You're "always" at Work
The previous point is about what you feel yourself about being in your work-environment during your spare time. This point is about what others feel. You could have people calling you after work hours or dropping by for work-related things, because you're always there. If you have the required discipline to put all these things aside until your next day at work – great! If you don't – you will feel as if you don't have much private space.
By being very specific about working hours from the start, you will gain a lot of more respect from your clients. Let business related calls go to voice-mail, don't check office mails after hours and be clear.
Lower Overall Efficiency
In general, working from home lowers your overall efficiency as there are so many possible distractions. Many of the tips in this list touch that subject. Let it be said though that the lower productivity is rarely a result of bad work effort. From the cases I've seen this is more likely because of all the new distractions and challenges that are added once you step out of the standard office scene. To be aware of how much you get distracted you should take a day of being extra attentive.
Image credit: Picture by Alfonso Romero
This can give you a good pointer to which things you need to be aware of. In my case it has been Twitter and e-mails that kept popping in all the time – for you it could be something else. The important thing is to reveal where those lost work hours are and take it from there.
People Think You're Living Life in the Easy Lane
My own experience is that a lot of friends and family think that working from home is almost like having a vacation. I've been really annoyed by this quite a few times and it has been draining my energy at times. Friends and family thinking they can call all the time, come unexpectedly during work hours and so on. I've also had comments about people thinking I make a billion just by sitting at home watching soap operas. The truth, as we know, is completely different. There can be a few ways to solve this if it starts to become a problem for you.
Having a conversation with the ones involved can be a great place to start, - or maybe have them spend a day at work with you to see what it's like? Most times no one means to hurt you, they just don't understand that it can be a problem.
Family Members Disturb and Interrupt Your Work
If there are other family members at home when you work, or pets for that matter - the noise level can be a bit high at times. Make sure your family knows when you're working, and make agreements with them on how to solve this. If you have your own room you can have rules for when they're allowed in or not. Other options are that they can leave the house for other activities when you are at your busiest - or you can work elsewhere every now and then. This can be solved many ways.
Image credit: Picture by EHPhotos
A simple thing like keeping your radio on or a headset with music (if you work well that way) can help you get that extra distance from what's going on around you.
The Lack of a Dedicated Workspace
To keep your productivity at the desired level along with keeping distractions away, you could do with a dedicated workspace. Ideally you want your own room for this purpose only, with a door that can be closed. Then you can form your office space to fit what you need and be sure that no one makes a big mess for you. If you lack a space that is yours to work from, you have to make it. If you can't have your own room, at least have your own desk. Be creative about finding somewhere to set up the desk; the guest room, kitchen corner, the garage and so on. Use what you have but try to stay away from your own bedroom and the most noisy areas of the house.
No Space for Meetings
Not many of us are lucky enough to have a room that can be used for meetings with contacts and clients if we work out of our own home. This can be challenging as you'd ideally in some cases want that option, especially on larger projects with local clients. One solution to this can be to put a table and some extra chairs into your current office (if you have one).
Image credit: Picture by Abdulhamid Al Fadhly
If you have meetings at home, make sure to schedule them to times of the day when you are alone in the home. This also could leave room for using other rooms that could fit. An alternative way could be to have your client meetings over the phone or on Skype. The third option, which is my personal favorite, would be to go have the meeting at a library, rent a conference room or a coffee shop. Which fits best for you is something you'd have to decide, just remember that there are always options.
Not Having Everything You Need Available
A challenge can be to make sure everything is where you need it to be at all times. It could be a notebook, pens, the phone and so on. I always start my day making sure I have everything I need within close range - including making coffee and having all my papers where they're supposed to be. The problem is if you have to get up and walk around the house to find something. Then the distractions can be many - from kids wanting to play to a pile of laundry. So start the day by making sure you have what you need in your office to minimize the need for running around the house when you're supposed to be working.
Home-Related Tasks Get In the Way
Image credit: Picture by Fussy Onion
As earlier mentioned there are many things that can get in your way. The dog needs to go out, the laundry is piling up or maybe you feel the need to help someone with what they're doing. The only way to solve this is to keep a good discipline. Stick to your schedules and offer to help after your work hours if it's needed. You do need to get your breaks at times and if there are smaller tasks then, like taking the dog outside or getting the mail - you can do this during those small breaks. But anything that takes more than 5-10 minutes should have to wait until you're done working.
You Don't Get Out Much
When you work from home you have less, if any, social contact with others. This can be very hard for many people, but there are solutions. If you spend most of your day alone working, you could look for social activities and hobbies to take up in your spare time. Make sure to stay in touch with friends and family when you can, to get those doses of human contact. This can both help you relax better and get your mind off work. Social contact can do wonders to both your creativity and productivity.
A "Professional" Environment is Missing
When you work out of your home this gives other standards than having an office in a commercial building. Just imagine you calling up a client and a kid answering the phone or a dog barking in the background. This doesn't show much professionalism and can give you a less professional view of that client. You don't want to give that impression to your clients. To solve this you have to look at your options. Having your own phone line for business-related calls is a must. Some sort of space for meetings has to be solved somehow. Coming across as professional can many times make or break a deal. Keep this in mind.
Image credit: Picture by North of Brussels
Someone else using the room and computer? Having a dedicated office space is one thing, but what happens there after your work-hours? Using part of your bedroom is usually a bad idea, as is other rooms that are being used regularly. Make sure to have a walk through the house and think of solutions before choosing a place to set up your workspace. Maybe some smaller enhancements to a room can make it work for you. Sometimes it can pay off in the long run to spend that extra money in doing changes to a room that is off limits to others both day and night. Waking up to a stack of documents soaked in milk or eaten by dogs can be a very expensive affair.
Having a Not so Professional Address
For that professional look and to avoid personal and business related bills to mix up, you should consider getting a serviced mail address and/or mailbox for business purposes only. Use this address on your business cards, pick up this mail and look through it during work hours. Personal mail should be left until you're done at work. One less distraction and a more professional look. Remember your e-mail too, don't mix personal and business e-mail.
Image credit: Picture by Gary Scott
You Need Equipment or Furniture
If you work for someone else in a proper office you rarely have any costs related to equipment, furniture and so on. When you work from home these costs are yours completely. This has to be considered when making budgets. One solution can be to use your personal computer and personal furniture. You could look for good deals on used equipment or leasing. These costs can't be avoided. It's all about being open to different solutions and planning ahead.
Image credit: Picture by Bill Rose
Safety & Insurance
Make sure you have an insurance that fits your business. Don't expect your work equipment to be covered by your personal insurance. Get advice from your insurance agent on how this can be solved in the best way. Have quality backup-solutions in case equipment is ruined or stolen. Do all you can to be on the safe side in case anything goes wrong.
Personal and Business Finances get Mixed Up Easily
A challenge financially can be how to divide the costs between personal and business. Make sure to read up on tax policies, book-keeping and so on. Keep all receipts and set routines for writing down how much you use the car. By having an office phone the bills for this one can easily be kept away from your personal phone. Go through your day and write down everything you use during a day. Get help in making estimates from a professional bookkeeper if needed. All these smaller things can add up to a decent amount of money, and possibly tax reductions. Make sure you know all these things before you start.
Image credit: Picture by Sigurd Decroos
Working From Home
These were my tips for some of the common challenges you will meet when working from home. It's hard to cover all aspects with one article as many of these can be more individual. I hope I've managed to cover enough things to give you a good idea of how you can try to think and plan to get the best possible environment to succeed.
If you have any tips of your own or other comments we would love to hear them.