My company has really embraced the cost-effectiveness of telecommuting, and I love now being able to work virtually in my jeans. My problem is that I’m easily distracted by things I need to do around the house, and my husband and kids really don’t understand that even though I’m at home, I’m still working. I feel like I used to be productive both at my corporate office and at home, but now some days I feel like I can barely manage either. Wasn’t this supposed to make my life easier? How can I separate my home office from my home life?
The last part of your question speaks to its answer. Because the professional and personal lines blur so easily on the home front, you do need to make a conscious effort to separate the two.
Home offices are springing up all over, whether in the name of entrepreneurship or simply cutting corporate overhead through telecommuting. The benefits of working from home are obvious, but many people jump in before considering the hurdles inherent in the process.
Home officers like you have a unique set of challenges and opportunities that can be surprisingly difficult to balance, but many think that they’re alone in the struggle. That they’re the only ones who feel like half a parent, half a businessperson, half a spouse and half a self by the end of the day…that they haven’t done any one thing 100%, but still feel worn out by trying to manage their often conflicting roles as Professional Business Person and Loving Parent & Spouse.
But they’re not alone. While working at home seems like the perfect solution initially, there are common pitfalls that entrepreneurs and telecommuters never see coming. But never fear. I have, as always, an acronym to combat it.
How do you spell home office success? H-O-M-E-O-F-F-I-C-E.
H is for “have a home office.” While that may seem pretty straightforward, many people are hesitant to carve out space for their home offices, and convince themselves that a laptop on a TV tray will do the job. Perhaps they think since they only telecommute part-time, it’s not worth taking up space in the home. Or, maybe they fear their entrepreneurial endeavor won’t work out, so until it does, the business hasn’t earned the space.
A key component to effective home officing is to have an effective home office setup. Respect the business you do in the world as a meaningful, worthwhile endeavor. Meaningful, worthwhile endeavors require organized, dedicated space, which may be found in the guest bedroom, the rec room or even on the dining room table. Try to carve this out as far away from where most daily activity happens in your home. Wherever that space is, find it, claim it, and set it up as a center of operation.
O is for Outsource. Because of the location of your business, you can do everything from emailing documents to waxing floors, but that doesn’t mean you should. Leverage your time carefully and consider what you can outsource. Visit a meal preparation place and knock out a month’s worth of meals in two hours. Have a cleaning service come in once every other week for hygiene purposes. Let a virtual assistant manage the business details that don’t require your personal attention.
While these may at first feel like luxuries, remember that every hour you save not having to prepare meals or mow the lawn is a potential billable hour. If you bill more per hour than you’re paying out, you’re profiting already. Outsourcing saves me no less than 60 hours…and those are billable hours…per month.
M is for Make Time for Marketing. Busy home officers think they’ll market for new business when things slow down, but whether you’re an entrepreneur or a telecommuter, you need to be marketing your business at least three months ahead of the time you’ll need new clients. “Dig the well before you’re thirsty” as the saying goes, and make a daily or weekly appointment with yourself that’s dedicated specifically to marketing and PR for your business.
If the nature of your telecommuting job doesn’t require that you drum up new clients, still get out there and market yourself. Connecting with people at events and through social networking combats the isolation that can sneak up on you in a home office setting, and also keeps you in front of different people and new opportunities.
E is for “Embrace your multiple roles.” We all play about 5 roles in our lives under which all activities fall. Begin by defining the top five characters you play on the stage that is your life. I am, for example, a busy actress playing the roles of:
Everything I do falls under one of those headings. If I spend time volunteering, that falls under Friend. If I play fetch with our dog Mitch, that falls under Mother. If I read a book for my book club, that falls under self.
Although we don’t necessarily recall auditioning for the parts, we all play a cast of characters to over-eager audiences everyday. These roles can be difficult to sort out, much less manage. But to balance your time effectively and attain the success you seek, you must first identify the parts you play.
O is for Organize. Just because your office is not on Main Street doesn’t mean that sound office and business administration go out the window. From data backup to overall office flow to time management, start out with effective systems before you abandon the daily commute or hang out your shingle.
F is for Find Your Groove. Maybe getting up at 5 am and knocking out your projects for the day is how you perform best. Or, perhaps you do your greatest work late into the night and prefer to ease into the morning. Figure out under what circumstances you work best in the home office environment, and adjust your schedule accordingly.
F is for Find Help. Effective home officing begins with the understanding that you can’t do it all by yourself and still live outside of an institution. Check your superman or woman complex at the front door, and accept this truth. Delegate, outsource and don’t be afraid to ask for the help you need.
I is for Inspiration. The most successful home officers will have days when they feel like they’re failing themselves, their families and the global economy. It’s important to stay inspired, and to keep things in front of you that maintain your inspiration. From your favorite CDs to scented candles, create a space you want to be in.
C is for Communication Responsibility. With the convenience of a home office comes the responsibility of it, because the onus of working from home is on you. Telling your boss that you can’t get your presentation to him because your Internet connection is down is just not going to cut it.
E is for Enforce your Boundaries. There is no point in setting up boundaries with your family, your boss or your clients that you’re unwilling to enforce. Effective balance is achieved when you’re committed to the process, even if you have to put a client on a waiting list or say no to box seats at the big game. Being the boundary enforcer is rarely fun because you’re inevitably disappointing someone. This is particularly difficult to do when it’s a client who wants to pay you money, or it’s a close friend or family member who pouts and fusses at you to change your mind. Stand firm. Remember that if you respect your business, other people will too.