Working from home has been a growing trend over the past five years.
Now, with people taking redundancy payments and turning their backs on corporate life, it’s set to become even bigger. But before you take the plunge, consider the pros and cons in order to avoid the pitfalls.
People may be well-versed on the benefits of working flexibly or setting up a business from home – being your own boss, avoiding the daily commute, getting more work done and achieving a better work/life balance – but less is said of the pitfalls.
In fact, rather than working shorter hours and doing less work, home workers increasingly find themselves at the other end of the scale – working long days, without breaks, often feeling guilty and unable to shut down each night.
Mellon has a legitimate reason for sleeping in, if only she’d allow herself. With a business that spans the UK and US, she begins her days early, servicing her UK clients, and then ends them late, working with her American ones.
“If I’ve worked until 1am the previous night and I feel like sleeping a little later the next morning, I feel guilty,” she admits. “I think ‘its 9am, most people are at their desks, I should be working too’.”
Mellon is not alone in her thinking. The home business sector grew by 16 per cent between November 2007 and 2008, with 2.5 million home-based companies turning over a combined £364 billion. Now, with many more people taking redundancy payments and turning their backs on corporate life, figures for home working are set to grow further.
If you too are considering it, think carefully about the following points before taking the plunge.
What kind of person are you?
Working from home suits certain types of personalities – usually people who are self-disciplined and structured, able to motivate themselves and spend large amounts of time alone. Kat Trimble, a writer who works from home in West Sussex, confirmed this: “You have to decide what hours you work and know when to switch off and step away from the laptop. You realise that, in order to take yourself seriously, you have to get washed and dressed in reasonably presentable clothing. It helps. Honestly.”
What kind of boss are you?
You may be disciplined and structured, which makes a great employee, but you are also your own boss. That means treating yourself with respect; taking a lunch break, being realistic about what you can achieve and ‘going home’ at a reasonable time.
Mellon struggles with this. “I’m an extremely tough boss on myself. If I don’t cover what I expect to get done during the day, then I get frustrated. Sometimes I’ll struggle not to go back later that night and finish it off, which my partner finds frustrating.”
What will you need to set up?
Technology is essential. Equipment including a laptop (enabling you to be mobile), broadband connection, a printer, phone and fax are crucial. “A view from where you’re working is also nice, as you spend so much time there,” adds Mellon. “And a positive outlook is important. If things are going well, it feels very good. If they’re not, or you’re feeling a little isolated, it can really bring you down.”
What kind of space will you have?
To achieve a balance between work and home, it helps to have a separate ‘work area’. Freelance travel journalist Jane Hayward found this, especially as both she and her musician partner work from home. “We
started off by working ‘shifts’ in our office, me doing daytime and him evenings.
But when one had deadlines, we tended to push the boundaries and it could be frustrating for the other.
So, we’ve just rearranged the office into two separate areas. His side is strung with bodhrans and congas and mine has a big map of the world and a vast bookcase of travel guides and magazines.” Need help with organisation? Rachel Ross of Purely Peppermint is a home and office organising expert based in the UK.
What interaction will you need?
Social activity that gets you out of the house at least once a week is good for your concentration and your sanity. Otherwise, as Sathnam Sanghera puts it in the Times: “The loneliness eventually drives you to hang on to the words of supermarket cashiers as if they were uttered by Friedrich Nietzsche himself.” If Hayward’s partner didn’t also work from home, she admits: “I’d miss the social life that goes with working in an office.” But she doesn’t rely on him solely for this, and is out every morning, walking her dog for exercise and for interaction with the local community of dog-walkers, insisting: “It clears my head and otherwise I’d be at the computer for 12 hours some days.”
What if you’re just not cut out for it?
If you think you may struggle with the above, consider the alternatives:
- Rent office space near your home so that there’s a clear definition between your work and home life, just without the commute. Co-working is also becoming popular in the UK after launching in the US. It’s where like-minded people, who normally work at home, club together and get an office.
- Visit Starbucks or your local coffee shop, somewhere there is free WIFI and social interaction. A power cable or back-up laptop batteries will come in handy to prolong your working time.
- Drop into a business lounge – an alternative to the coffee shop, with all the facilities and quiet of an office that you can rent daily. Visit www.regus.co.uk/businessworld for more information.
- Join a private members club. These range from Shoreditch House, which has rooms for meetings, to clubs such as One Alfred Place which ‘combine the best of a private members club with your own London office’.
*Name has been changed.
By Barbara Walshe