People often ask me what it's like to work from home, if you've never done it you are probably looking through the rose tinted glasses thinking it's all pretty amazing. But I always reply "there are pros and cons". And when I really started thinking about it they usually come under the same categories - for example... yes it's great I can be flexible and work in the evenings, on the other hand I find myself working most evenings because I can and find switching off hard to do.
As I was writing the post I thought it would be interesting to see how others found working from home and the same pros and cons came up a lot, and they often go hand in hand - what's often an advantage can also be a disadvantage.
So I thought I would share some experiences of working from home and tricks to use to maximise your day and productivity.
1. Time management & motivation
To work from home you have to be a pretty motivated person, especially if you work for yourself. If there's no one on your back to get you out of bed and meet that deadline you have to set yourself some ground rules. And figure out how you work best. For me, I'm much more proactive in the mornings so I set myself goals to get things done by a certain time. Late afternoons I usually leave for working on personal projects or social networking (that's social networking for work... well mostly!)
I don't see Facebook as a time waster - I've had quite a few jobs come off the back of Facebook and twitter. The trick is limiting your time on it - don't get caught up in a long discussion about something trivial - save that for evenings or lunchtime. I've found myself losing an hour after a friend starting chatting to me on Facebook chat - I forgot to turn it off and then felt like I had to reply as Facebook kindly tells people when your message has been 'read!' If you are a social media addict restrict your time and don't open it up until those set times.
So back to work, I try to employ a technique I learnt from Jennifer Lee's Right Brainers in Business summit and that is to focus on a job for 2 hours and then take a break, I sometimes stretch this to 3 hours if I'm on a roll. If you tend to lose focus after 30 minutes, try taking a 5 minute break and then come back to the project.
What came up from other people is that clients know you work from home so they think you are available 24/7. I used to do a lot of work for a company in the USA - I'm in the UK and often found myself uploading files at 2am... not ideal. The odd occasion you can probably let go but if a client starts expecting too much you have to be upfront with them and set boundaries.
2. Social interaction and lack of it
The thing I miss most about working in a studio is the interaction with people, friends and colleagues. I was very lucky to work in a great creative studio, we all bounced ideas off each other, gave sound advice and had a laugh. I don't get that anymore and I'd say it is the biggest CON to working from home, especially if you are creative and / or a people person. This is what most people commented on also. We need to find other ways to interact - whether online or networking events. Meet people, have a chat over lunch - ask people for their opinion on your work... don't get trapped in your own little bubble. The flip side to this is we miss out on annoying office politics and we can control our desired level of...
3. Noise!!!! or peace and quiet
I am the master of my universe!! It's up to me what music I listen to, what volume it's at, whether I sing or dance along... or I can just turn everything off and listen to birds tweeting and enjoy the peace and quiet. In my old studio we went through a period of all music being banned as it would never please everyone, it soon became a different place - 30 people all sat in their little bubbles with headphones on. Personally I have an eclectic music taste so would much prefer us all chatting with some kind of background music on. This is one of the biggest advantages to working from home, controlling your own noise levels... except if you have children around who might not always adhere to your needs! Which brings us nicely on to...
4. Working around your family
Many people decide that working from home is the best option when children come along. And if you do have that option then brilliant but consider a few things first... children require attention! I find it almost impossible to work around my toddler so I generally don't, a few things during his nap get done and a couple of emails answered on my phone but nothing huge. It has to wait until evenings or on my set work days (his nursery days). The plus side to this is I no longer have a 1.5 hour commute into London (each way!) so if my son is ill I can be there within 5 minutes.
As your children get older they might be able to entertain themselves but bare in mind they will still make noise and they will probably still want your attention.
One friend has a studio/shed at the bottom of his garden. I think this would be my ideal as then your place of work is slightly separate although it doesn't stop his kids coming to see what their Daddy is doing through-out the school holidays!
Advice - try to separate family time and work time, both generally require undivided attention!
5. Multi-tasking job roles
Along with the day job you might also be technical support, the accountant, the PA, the sales guy, the cover and the boss! (and the cleaner - see later!)
I was spoilt at my last job, we had technical support and there was enough people in my department that if I was ill someone could take over. If you work from home for a company you will probably still have this kind of back up but when you work for yourself it's all down to you. I am not that techy despite what my friends not in the business might think! My husband can fix most issues I have but when he doesn't get home until the evening that's not always a option.
On the odd occasion our toddler is ill on nursery days and I can't get anyone to babysit my work schedule suddenly goes to pot.
So what do I do? When planning my jobs I try to allow extra time for anything unexpected. I'm also very honest with my clients who know I work part time around my son. Most of them have children so understand if my child is ill. But otherwise it's a late night... the odd late one is to be expected, if you are doing it every night that's when you need to step back and think why?
If you find yourself spending too much time on your accounts, is it time to hire an accountant? how much time would that free up for you to do what you love? If you keep having technical issues is it time to buy a new computer or go on a course yourself? Do you need to recruit someone to do your marketing on an adhoc basis? have you got a friend in a similar field who you can pass work onto if it gets too much?
6. Doing your own accounts
Talking of accounts, working for yourself it's of utmost importance to keep on top of your incoming and outgoing monies... not just for the benefit on the tax man! You need to be accountable, are you making money? are you spending too much on advertising but not seeing the benefits? Try to set aside one day a month to fill out your expenses sheets and keep check of your receipts, invoices and payments. I've employed an accountant in the past to help me with the tax return but I still have to keep up to date with everything - the accountant still needs to know if you spent £20 on stationery, or over £1000 on a new computer... I generally see the accounts as a CON but having said that, it's lovely to know that for all your hard work you see the benefit, not your boss or a company director you never see.
7. Personal appearance
Working from home allows you to pretty much wear whatever you want! Luckily for me the days I work I have to drop off my son at nursery, so turning up in PJ's isn't an option... throwing on a pair of jeans and t-shirt is the norm for me. However, it can be quite easy to sit in your dressing gown all day. Some people would see this as a PRO, I'd say otherwise. My advice would be get up, have a shower, clean your teeth and get clothes on - you don't have to dress exactly like you might to 'go to work' but getting out of the PJ's is important to switch the mind into work mode and out of bed mode.
I'm a firm believer that keeping fit keeps you healthy and vibrant. If you work from home try to incorporate an exercise routine in your day - whether that's a walk, a bike ride, yoga, gym or swimming. When I worked at a studio, I had a 15 minute up hill walk every morning before I got my train... once off my train I had a 30 minutes walk to work instead of taking the tube. I'd usually go to the gym 2-3 times a week. That all changed when I started working from home (and had a child!). I would feel guilty for taking time out to exercise and not work! I still have to tell myself this is ridiculous... exercise gives you more energy to work. Try to structure exercise into your working day - I'd usually advice first thing in the morning to get your blood pumping or lunch time to avoid an afternoon lull.
9. Domestic distractions
Nearly everyone mentioned this when I asked about their experiences of working from home. Some saw it as a PRO, that they could do the washing on a work day. Most saw it as a CON. Here's why - nine times out of ten everyone assumes that because you 'are at home all day' you can do ALL the housework, get the weekly shop, welcome visitors and generally do anything else that needs doing apart from your actual work.
For me, this is without doubt my biggest CON to working from home. I like the fact that I can keep on top of the washing but that's where it ends for me. The amount of conversations my husband and I have about this is unbelievable - and when you only officially work 2 days a week, there's often a lot to get done in those 2 days. So do I have any advice? I would allow yourselves only a set time everyday... if you work from home 5 days a week 20 minutes a day adds up, and you can get quite a lot done in that time. I keep meaning to employ the tips and tricks in this blog post on Apartment Therapy - How to clean your house 20 minutes a day in 30 days.
Failing that, if you have the money, hire a cleaner! I say this flippantly but equate how long you spend doing housework with how much money you could make if you worked in that time... maybe it's worth hiring a cleaner?
There are absolutely no CONS to this... I usually work in my little office / spare bedroom. The dream is obviously a barn conversion with a separate annex - gallery down the bottom with a mezzanine studio area?!?! yeah right! But for now it's usually my office... however, it can also be the living room, the garden, my parents house, a weekend cottage, a coffee shop! I love the freedom this gives me and wouldn't change it for the world.
Despite the CONS, I love working from home and would be hard pushed to give it up and go back to full time employment for someone else. The odd week freelancing at a different studio is perfect but on the whole, I'm now officially a home gal. If you are thinking about taking the next step to working from home then just be aware it's not all rosy, there are a few downsides. As long as you manage them well the positives outweigh the negatives. For me, personally, the trick is structure...
Take 30 minutes out to think about how you like to work, what time of the day and where, it can be a loose structure but try to structure your day as best you can around work and life - allow time for unforeseen circumstances so you don't freak out if something doesn't go to plan. Tell loved ones that work time is for work, not ironing or mowing the lawn. Get out the house for fresh air, social interaction and exercise. Most importantly you need to be motivated!
Please share your experiences below and feel free to add any tips you've picked up along the way.