Looking for the ultimate in work flexibility? Many would agree it’s the ability to work at home. There’s nothing better than a 2-minute commute to your desk without the hassle of trains, planes or automobiles.
As great as a home office seems, though, it’s not for everyone. Some people just need the structure of an employer’s office environment to be fully productive. Others thrive on face-to-face interaction with co-workers. And many are too easily distracted by the long list of nearby household chores.
SO HERE’S THE BOTTOM LINE: IS A HOME OFFICE RIGHT FOR YOU? IF YOU’RE STARTING YOUR OWN BUSINESS OR CONSIDERING A CAREER AS A “TELECOMMUTER”, HERE ARE A DOZEN THINGS THAT WOMEN NEED FOR HOME OFFICE SUCCESS:
- NO PASSION FOR PAJAMAS. Serious at-home entrepreneurs and telecommuters rise early in the morning, get dressed, put their make-up on and “go to work” on time. It’s hard to keep a professional energy level and mindset in slippers and loungewear.
- INDEPENDENCE AND A LOVE OF SOLITUDE. When you work at home you have to motivate yourself. And you have to be comfortable with “me, myself and I”. Usually there are not other adults around to chat with about your weekend, and you don’t have the time to fill any lonely lapses with calls to friends.
- A DESIGNATED WORKSPACE WITH A DOOR THAT CLOSES. Working in a high-traffic area—like the kitchen—is a productivity buzzkill. You will need a tightly closed door to deafen the sound of barking dogs, crying children, lawn mowers, and general household mayhem.
- BACK-UP BABYSITTERS. Even the best multi-taskers with eyes on the back of their heads can’t tend to children and employers at the same time—or confine work neatly to school hours. It’s likely you will need at least a part-time babysitter.
- A COMPUTER THAT IS YOURS AND YOURS ALONE. For at-home workers, the family computer is a disaster waiting to happen. Multiple users—especially those with little hands–can erase your presentation draft, use up your memory or visit crazy web sites that invite computer maladies of the worst kind.
- DISCIPLINE, DISCIPLINE AND MORE DISCIPLINE. Even the most successful professional women can’t help but keep a running mental checklist of the hundreds of non-work things that vie for their time. When you work at home, it’s too easy to “just take a minute” here and there to fill out school forms, get a head start on dinner or throw in a load of laundry. All those minutes add up—so you’ll have to tone down your Type A “nothing can wait” personality, develop laser concentration and keep both eyes on work.
- BIG CHUNKS OF SCHEDULED WORK TIME. Working at home often means you can set your own schedule—especially if you’re the boss or your employer has an “as long as the work gets done” attitude. But you’ll never maximize your intellectual mojo if you’re constantly dipping in and out of work to shuttle children, exercise and go to appointments of every kind. High-quality work requires long stretches of uninterrupted time.
- RESPECT FROM YOUR CHILDREN. Children will need to know that your workspace is out of bounds during work hours (unless the house is on fire). Communicate your schedule and set boundaries or you’ll endure endless requests of “Mom, can I do this?” or “Mom, can I have that?”.
- RESPECT FROM YOUR SPOUSE. Just because you will work at home doesn’t mean you’ll be able to drop everything in the middle of the day and run to the dry cleaner, oversee the house painter’s every brushstroke or plan a dinner party for your husband’s boss. Like everyone else, people who work at home need to do non-work tasks during non-working hours.
- A NETWORK OF FELLOW WORK-AT-HOME WOMEN. Working at home can be a tightrope endeavor–and women, especially, benefit from sharing professional “best practices”–and even dinner recipes to make on the fly. Make sure you can tap into a support group—even including women who might be viewed as competitors. The more you get out of your myopic workspace and bounce ideas off of other women, the more productive you’ll be at home.
- THE ABILITY TO DRAW THE LINE BETWEEN WORK AND HOME. When you work at home, your business becomes an 800 pound gorilla tormenting you 24/7 for “one more thing”. Instead of taking the kids to the park on Saturday, you could prepare for that presentation next week. Instead of going for a run on Sunday afternoon, you could get a jump on an important project. Think about whether you’ll be able to stand up to that gorilla: you’ll need a mental “do not enter” sign on your office door to preserve your sanity, your health and valuable family time.
- A SENSE OF HUMOR. Working at home is not for the tightly wound or easily stressed. The dog will start barking when you’re on the phone with an important client. Your child will get sick on the day you have to finish the proposal. And roofs will leak, babysitters will cancel and the car won’t start whether you have a deadline or not. When you work at home, you need to roll with many punches and know that your work day may not end until you’re burning the midnight oil. —KAS
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