Working from home

By at home

No commuting, no hold ups, no interruptions – working from home sounds perfect. If you are to enjoy the benefits, however, you will need to be highly self-disciplined and motivated.

IT IS everyone’s dream. Working from home. A computer in a quiet corner of the house, no worry about catching trains and buses, just the occasional trip to the kettle for another well deserved coffee. Easy. I’ll take that.

And as for the creative atmosphere of the office, the exchange of ideas, the face-to-face moments, well, I can always go in once or twice a week, that should do it.

That’s the dream, and there’s plenty out there having that dream. But the reality can be different, and painfully, and expensively so for many who have not set themselves up properly, in mind, in body and technically.

On the other hand, good preparation and the right mental toughness and discipline can make home working a dream come true.

Let’s take the easy bit first. A computer in the corner won’t do at all. Best of all is to dedicate a whole room to the computer, might even want to call it "the office", though that might remind you of the place you’re trying to get away from. Now, do you know anything about computers? In the office there was always the spotty guy who you wouldn’t dream to have a drink with. But he knew how to sort your email and your powerpoint, and defragged your disk, whatever that meant.

At home alone, who are you going to call when the machine plays dumb and you have deadlines to meet? You can’t just say, "my computer has let me down, is it all right if I send my work in tomorrow?" That won’t do at all. And who can you trust? A trip to your local computer store may not be so rewarding as all you get is a lot of talk about 24 hour call outs which you know in your heart of hearts will never materialise.

Word of mouth is good here. Ask friends, professional associations and relatives. Like a good plumber, a friendly and efficient IT problem solver is essential for the smooth running of your home business. There are plenty about so this is something that you should be able to put in your "ticked" box early on in your home work plan.

Time management is another area that is essential to tackle head on. In an office environment this is relatively easy. There is a starting time and a finishing time. Your out of bed time is governed by this, as well as by bus and train times. At home it’s different.

There are a lot of temptations. You might just lie in a little longer. After all, you’ll still be starting earlier than when you had to catch trains and buses and tubes or drive, very slowly, along congested roads.

Then there is the newspaper. Just a quick scan with your cereals. And the garden could do with a little watering. And I really should do that tax disc, a quick walk to the post office will set me in the right mood to work. Actually, it’s such a beautiful morning, why don’t I just go for a quick run, then I can settle down and work the rest of the day.

You get the drift. Very easy to do all of these things, and more, and throughout the day. You’ll discover a whole other world of people who don’t go to an office every day, don’t commute. It’s another life rhythm and it’s easy to get lost in it.

If you’re not careful, there will be many days that you won’t turn your computer on, or your brain, much before 10am. And when that happens, it’s only two hours to lunch, and then the day vanishes.

The secret is to replicate the office work ethic at home. Start at an appointed time and give yourself a finite number of hours to work. If it is important to you that you should be available for the morning school run, or the mid-afternoon pick-up, structure your working day around that. This is one of the great advantages of working from home. The time is yours to manage. This is a great step forward, but it really is up to you, and no one else, to manage this bonus in your life. Otherwise it will become a burden.

So arrange your diary in a way that you still get six, eight or more hours of work in each day. Don’t drift, be hard on yourself. Write a master time plan. Then adapt it weekly, daily. And go back to the main plan every three or four months; keep yourself honest. Remember the time is yours to manage. Not time wasting, but time to work and improve yourself, as well as quality time with your family and friends. The more of it you waste, the less productive you’ll be and the less time you will have for your loved one.

And on the subject of loved ones, you need to establish clear demarcation lines, in terms of time and space. Your family has to adapt too. They are not used to you being at home when they’re back from school, for example. They want to play, interact. And your partner might want you to help with some household chores. This is all very well if you have included this in your time master plan. But if you haven’t, don’t play and don’t help. You are working. You need to explain all this before any misunderstanding lead to family difficulties – as they will.

A visit to your accountant will also help you to understand how to structure yourself as a home worker. One of the many advantages is that you claim a proportion of the home’s outgoings as legitimate business expenses. You can also claim a whole range of other expenses, such as travel and various items of equipment, which you couldn’t before.

But to reap these benefits, it is essential that you are super-efficient in your handling of receipts, noting down what you have done on a given day. Thus it is very important to keep a clear and up to date diary and establish a good system to note and keep receipts. Also the Revenue requires you to keep records for a long time, so the earlier you get into a method for doing all this, the better for you.

In summary the efficient home worker is most likely to be happy and successful, while the inefficient one is very likely to be returning to an office faster than they might have imagined when they had their dream of independence.

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