Working from home - do's and don'ts

After spending a decade rebuilding our dream home in the country, saving the money to build a decent office and getting everything near perfect, we're moving (shameless plug, currently up for sale). We've found a new place that's ideal for the business and us, so we'll be starting again.

This means creating a new office space (I try to avoid working in the house). While I'm thinking about rebooting the home office, I thought it'd be good to write up what's worked and where I've had issues working from home over the years. Please bear in mind that this is my experience, I'm not saying everyone else should or does handle it the way I have.

There used to be a bakery where this office is, it wasn't pretty. The Office, if you had x-ray zoom eyes, you'd see me in there

The short version

  • Educate your family and friends to leave you alone during working hours.
  • Don't answer the door or if you do, practice a polite way of getting rid of persistent callers quickly such as 'Sorry, I work from home and I can't stop'. If politeness does not work, go for blunt.
  • Find out what scares you about not getting your work done and use it to focus.
  • Set working hours.
  • Look in to government grants and tax offsets for using your home as an office.
  • Get out once in a while to appreciate what you've got.
  • Dedicate a space as your office and try to keep others out of it. If possible, away from the house itself.

Focus

If you are employed and working from home you need to prove somehow that you're not taking it easy to your boss. Similarly if you are working for yourself you still need to provide the finished product. Either way you need to focus and that's a difficult thing to get right.

If you're working for yourself then you'll need to do a lot more than just the actual work you are paid for. You end up doing a lot of yak shaving because there is no-one else to do it for you (marketing, support, office supplies, answering the door) and that's the downside.

You don't have to shave this particular yak, get your own.

My point is, you'll have to get the work done or ultimately the mortgage does not get paid. This is something I call MDD (Mortgage Driven Development). I'm driven by the need to cover the bills each month and sometimes it stresses me, but the sooner you find your motivational pressure point, the better. It doesn't matter whether I 'feel in the mood' to work, I have to or the stress gets unbearable.

I didn't use to be so focused but then I didn't have a HUGE mortgage before moving here.

Working hours

Find hours that suit you and stick with them. I start at 10 each morning after walking the dog, take an hour for lunch and again a quick break about 6. Because of the workload I have I'll often work in to the evening. I imagine if you were structured enough you could fit all of your work in to 6 hours a day, but it's not easy because of the...

Interruptions

Your family and friends need educating that because you are home doesn't mean you are not working. I've never succeeded in this, I get a lot of interruptions but it would be a lot worse if I worked in the house rather than in a separate building (I can pretend I'm not in when they knock the door). Add that to the 'Could do better' list.

Taking it all for granted

Like most privileged people I do like a good grumble and it's easy to forget how good a life I have. So once in a while I try to get out and visit clients. I used to commute to London, crammed in to a train that was running late and slow and paying a lot of money for the 'service'. The transport network has not changed since then and because of this and the distance I'll often spend 12 - 18 hours out on these visits. After this I'm topped up for a month or two of appreciating my work environment.

Getting out

It's easy to ignore the world, there are a lot of idiots out there who need ignoring. But what if you could pick your own set of people who you'd like to spend time with, interested in the same things as you? I love technology but there wasn't a user group in our area. Richard Wilde and I created one, we've been going since 2007 (I think) and once a month I get to listen to a guest speaker on an interesting subject with people whom I respect.

Working with other developers

I'm currently working with six other people and some of them come round regularly to work on projects. If you don't have the space then find a co-working event like Jelly, you'll also make good contacts.

Take advantage of business grants

When we first moved here broadband didn't exist outside the towns and cities. Considering I needed full on internet access, we installed satellite broadband which was a bit laggy but worked. A year later BT got round to enabling our exchange for ADSL. In just ten years the village has gone from dial-up to an impending fibre rollout.

I've only just woken up to this fact but there are grants to help you grow your home based businesses. For example, when fibre broadband hits this area it will be fibre to the cabinet (the last bit being the same copper pair as ADSL). If you can demonstrate a business need (a high bandwidth business employing local people) then you might be able to get help with fibre to the premises meaning instead of a 10mb connection you'll possibly have up to 100mb.

There is also a grant for taking on graduates if you can deal with the paperwork and insurance requirements. Check j4bgrants (for the UK) and have a search for 'grant sourcing' in your area.

The workspace

I started out in the kitchen (not ideal, the washing machine made such a racket when I was on the 'phone that a customer guessed I was in the kitchen, which didn't look great). I then moved to the cellar (much better, but still in the house) and after years of saving had an office built without a landline telephone (on purpose, the network goes back to the house and out from there).

If you intend to do this long term (and I thoroughly recommend it) then after a few years you really should create a separate space away from the house for working. As I've picked up more work it's helped because I can bring people in to a real office and there is space for co-working. Your own space has the potential to be expensive but I consider my work and hobby to be the same so I don't really spend on anything else.

In summary

Working from home is a lifestyle choice and has a lot of benefits, but if you can't stay focused and put the hours in when needed, you'll probably fare better in a more structured work environment.

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Ryan O'Neill

Mostly about tech, working for myself and my thoughts.

Ludlow, Shropshire, UK