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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Working at Home

In this section, you will learn how to manage the business end of telecommuting or independent contracting.

Suiting Up Your Home Office

It would seem sometimes that the ideal profession would let you work from the home. You never have to travel through rush hour, you can grab a cup of real home-brewed coffee, and you can dress the way you like.

But if you are not disciplined and organized, working from home can be paradise lost.

Plain English

Telecommute To work at home by hooking up to the main office by electronic means.

To work from home successfully, you'll need to refine some self-management skills:

  • Experience. Be realistic about the jobs that you can do from home.

  • Project management. Be results-oriented by setting goals for yourself each day. See "Easy Organizing Basics," on page 156, for more on organizing basics.

  • Time management. Plan ahead, prioritize, and stick with your to-do list.

    TIP

    Don't forget to take breaks. With fewer office interruptions, you can accomplish a lot. But don't overdo the workload.

  • Self-discipline. Create a home schedule so that you can begin and end your day at fairly regular times. Post it for family to see.

    CAUTION

    If you're a remote worker, always attend staff meetings when possible. Also encourage progress meetings with your supervisors.

Setting Up Your Home Office

Outfitting a home office requires some extra features:

  • Arrange for a separate telephone line for business.

  • A cell phone can double as a work line, as well as a portable phone to bring to office headquarters, if you can afford the fees.

  • Have an answering machine installed with your office phone.

  • Create a separate office space from the rest of the home, even if resources and space are limited.

Plain English

DSL Digital subscriber line. Consider installing a cable modem or DSL for faster computer access.

TIP

New Internet companies provide fax and voicemail at no charge to you. The faxes and voicemail are forwarded to you via your e-mail software.

Keeping in Touch

The independent contractor working from home doesn't have a brick-and-mortar environment to inspire or direct his or her attention to stay in touch with the outside world.

Plain English

Network A group of computers and associated devices that are connected by communications facilities for the purpose of exchanging services or information among groups, individuals, or associations.

You can be forgotten. Here are some ways to stay in the mainstream:

  • Network through chambers of commerce and other business organizations.

  • If clients are local, make a habit of occasionally visiting them onsite, but don't show up unannounced.

  • Sponsor community events and programs to get your company's name in the public eye.

  • Make use of your e-mail to communicate with past and present clients. Communicate the desire to know how they are doing, and let them know that you are available if they need any further assistance.

CAUTION

Don't use e-mail to conduct a hard-sell of new products or services. Don't be associated with unwanted e-mail known as spam.

The home office employee, or teleworker, should also establish certain routines:

  • Make an effort to visit the office at least once a week. Stay in the know about the unavoidable office politics.

  • Communicate with specific employees who are always "in the know" about any upcoming programs and events. You don't want to be performing unnecessary tasks.

  • E-mail is a fast and easy way to communicate with the office, but don't avoid the telephone. You can learn more in a phone conversation, sometimes unexpectedly.

  • If you're uncertain about any element of a task to be performed, call your immediate supervisor for clarification. To do something wrong and waste time and money can give your employer second thoughts about the value of letting you work from home.

TIP

Like it or not, office politics affect all of us. Even remote or teleworkers need to keep an ear open for changes in the work environment.

Pitfalls

Both authors have worked for years as independent contractors working out of the home, and they have experienced the joys and pitfalls that working from a home office can bring. We'd like to share a few tips with you:

  • Don't give in to the temptation to wake up later in the morning and quit earlier in the afternoon.

  • Lounging around in your pajamas may be a leisurely feeling, but it tends to suppress the urge to work.

  • Don't get glued to the TV. Avoid the urge to go to the family or living room, lounge on the sofa, and watch the tube. It's easy to get wrapped up in distractions.

  • Avoid the temptation to make up for work you didn't get done during the day by working at night. How do you feel the next day after not having enough sleep? This can be counterproductive.

  • Resist computer games. It's easy to switch over to a favorite game of Solitaire or Hearts when frustrated or stymied by the report that's due tomorrow.

  • Stay professional on the phone. If a client, vendor, or fellow employee calls, it doesn't reflect well on you for a family member to pick up the phone and say "Hi."

  • Minimize interruptions from others. If you're using the family room, you don't want people coming in while you conduct your business affairs. They shouldn't turn on the TV while you are talking on the telephone.

  • Your spouse and children can innocently come into the office and ask you questions in the midst of an extremely important phone call or thought process.

  • Stay in touch with the office. You don't want to find out that your recommendations to management, which initially were enthusiastically received, suddenly are rejected. Did you miss out on some event at the office that resulted in this change of heart?

We don't want to discourage anyone from working from home. However, there are pitfalls, and you must be prepared to overcome them.

Some Solutions

Setting up an office in the home requires self-discipline, as well as support and cooperation from others living with you:

  • Keep a schedule. Arrange to speak with a staff member or fellow manager at the start and the end of the work day to help you get up early and put in a full day of work. Likewise, arrange for reports to be transmitted via e-mail early or late in the workday.

  • Dress for work. At the very minimum, dress in casual wear, but leave the pajamas in the bedroom.

  • Avoid distractions. Keep television as far away as possible from the home office. If someone else is home watching TV, shut your office door. Also, unless you are self-disciplined, take the game software off your computer. It can be too much of a distraction.

  • Be disciplined. Don't put off today's work for tonight. Prioritize!

  • Get organized. Internet companies can provide fax and voicemail at no charge to you. You can have the faxes and voicemail forwarded to you via your e-mail software.

  • Keep separate phones. Do not allow anyone other than you to answer the business phone. Otherwise, let the answering machine do its job. Likewise, keep all personal phone lines and answering machines out of your office area.

  • Learn to balance business and personal time. If you have a family, let them know the limits of work and personal time. Don't take advantage of the home office to get ahead of the workload, either—you risk alienating your family. Besides, if you didn't have that home office, the report would have likely waited until the next morning to be completed.

  • Don't be a stranger. For those who split time between the company and the home office, it is wise to visit the company facilities one to three times a week, depending on the nature of your work. You cannot possibly know everything happening at the office unless you are there or are having someone fill you in on those activities on a regular basis. In that case, you may spend more time "talking shop" than working.

Some of us are limited in resources and space for a home office, so here are some tips:

  • If the room is available, designate it exclusively for business use, and renovate it to simulate an office environment and to accommodate office needs. Take the kids' boom box back to their room. Make room for your filing cabinet, desk, chairs, computer workstation, shelving, and other office equipment. Move the daybed somewhere else in the house.

  • If you must share space with some home function, such as a family room, set up some form of perimeter, like a free-standing room divider, to mark the distinct boundary between your office and the family room.

  • Enforce the law that no one is to use your office space and its content for personal reasons. Imagine a family member using a note pad to write a phone number and message from a friend; then you come home to find that your notes from the last staff meeting have disappeared.

Working from a home office can be a rewarding, but challenging, experience. Without the structured surroundings of a formal corporate office, it's especially important to remain organized. Remember to respect your work, and yourself for the work you do.

The 30-Second Recap

  • Working from the home requires self-discipline and self-management.
  • Setting up a home office requires, at minimum, a computer, an extra phone line, and an answering machine.
  • Networking can help independent contractors stay in touch.
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