The number of people working from home is on the rise - and no surprise. What’s not to love about being your own boss? The most recent survey by the Office of National Statistics, showed a record number of home workers - nearly 14% of the workforce were based at home (and that was in 2014).
When you’re pressed into someone else’s sweaty armpit on the daily commute or having to listen to yet more diet/wedding/boyfriend/home refurb woes from your desk mate, working from home can seem like the key to a perfect work life balance.
But if you want to be productive and still enjoy a great quality of life, these rules are worth following.
1. DO create a work area you enjoy being in
There’s nothing worse than spending your working day in an alcove under the stairs, staring at a damp patch on the wall, while your back throbs on an uncomfortable kitchen chair.
“Even if it’s a small corner of your flat, you deserve a desk you love with plants or flowers, beautiful inspiring images, good stationery and a decent computer,” says freelance PR and copywriter Helen Campbell. Agreed! Add to that a comfortable office chair, a large monitor at eye level height (NOT a laptop to scrunch over), an ambient temperature and a view (even if you have to swivel to see it).
2. DO find a support network
Working from home can be isolating, so for support, solace and laughs find an online group of fellow professionals or a real network of people who ‘get’ what you do. You’ll also be surprised how much work help you can get.
3. DO wear what you like, but...
Yes, it can be fabulous spending your day in comfy sweatpants rather than constrictive ‘office wear’, not to mention a lot cheaper. But don’t be a slob. Keep at least one outfit for those times you’ve got a meeting, so you’re not traumatised trying to find something that gives a professional impression, fits and doesn’t have mystery stains on.
“I’ve always had a rule that I had to be showered, dressed and at my desk for 10am ( my previous ‘office life’ start time). It just never feels right being on the phone to a client in your jammies at lunchtime,” says Alison McNicol, MD of a publishing company.
4. DON’T switch on the TV if you’re working
Radio burbling that you can tune in and out of between bouts of concentration and background mood music are both one of the joys of home working. If you work best to Beyonce, no one’s going to complain. BUT if you’re watching Homes under the Hammer, Cash in the Attic or A Place in the Country you’re really not working at all, admit it.
5. DO make sure family and friends understand you’re working, even if you’re at home
Just because you’re at home, doesn’t mean they have carte blanche to drop in/phone for long chats/expect you to drop everything to collect their dry cleaning. You have a job and a career, it just happens to be based at home.
That said, if you want to have phone chats, coffee breaks and collect dry cleaning, it’s your call. The joy of working from home is you’re your own boss. Be a kind boss.
6. DON’T get obsessed by domestic drudgery
When you’re at home, it’s easy to get into the habit of thinking you can’t possibly start work until you’ve cleaned the kitchen and hoovered. You might call it being house proud, but really it’s just procrastination dressed up, plus you can end up feeling overwhelmed. Sadly, you don’t get paid for clean counter tops. Train yourself to ignore a bit of mess, or do the domestic stuff like hanging out the washing in work breaks. That said, one of the huge benefits of working from home when you have a family is being able to keep on top of home life while still earning.
7. DON’T have biscuits in the house
Try and keep healthy snacks in your home like carrots, a handful of nuts and fruit, instead of turning to fat food. Steer clear of easy, but dull toast and fattening toppings for lunch and make extra portions of healthier food you can heat up quickly instead.
8. DON’T stay home all day and take time to exercise
By working from home, you’ve already given yourself two or more hours a day that would have been spent on an office commute, so use that time for exercise. Get a dog (for company and daily walks), join a gym or local exercise class and enjoy the luxury of going outside the early morning and evening crowded times.
Make sure you take care of your body with regular desk breaks and stretches. Make these desk exercises part of your daily routine.
If you feel you’re getting bogged down in home and local life, mix it up by taking time off to do something entirely new like jumping on a bus to explore a new area. You’re not going to miss getting work, thanks to your always-on mobile.
When you take holidays, try to go away. A stay-cation may be a cheap and relaxing break for someone who’s out at work all day, but for a home worker it’s not a rest, just an exercise in trying not to gravitate back to your desk to check emails.
9. DO set some money aside (easier said, than done!)
If you’re self-employed (as opposed to working from home, but employed by one company as a staff member), your main bugbear is going to be finances - chasing late payments, trying to second guess clients’ accounts schedules, paying your mortgage and bills when you know you’re owed money but are in the red.
When you have a boom month, try to put aside money to cover times you’re waiting for payments, as well as potential sick days and holidays. It sounds obvious but when you don’t work, you don’t get paid, which is one of the big negatives of being self-employed.
You’ll also need to pay into a pension (or think of an alternative what-to-do-when-you’re old financial plan), set up national insurance monthly debits and set aside money for your tax bill. Details of going self employed (also known as becoming a sole trader) are on the government’s website.
10. DO work to your best time
One of the joys of working from home is that you can pick your own hours, as long as you get the work done. If you work best in the morning, you can get cracking at the crack of dawn and if you’re a night person, you can knock off at 2am.
“Figure out what works best for you,” advises freelance writer Jai Breitnauer. “Routine is important but you’ve left the restrictions of the office behind. I often get up at 5am, work until the kids get up at 7am, then get back to it at 8.30 when they are off to school and go through until 2pm with a short lunch break. That leaves the afternoon free to hang with the kids without feeling like I’ve had a ‘short day’.”
Office work involves a lot of working to other people’s timetables and time wastage with meetings, so it can be liberating discovering just how much you can achieve in less time.