Separating Home from the Office?
When I was running my ad agency in the 1990s I needed my expansive office with vaulted ceiling, the underground parking downtown and the expensive décor otherwise I wouldn’t have attracted the clientele I wanted. There was the expectation that a business was required to be having the look of a successful and professional environment that was meant to impress. I’m glad those days are behind us!
I’ve been running into friends who are wishing the old days were back - What? They have followed the relaxed trends and moved home. They’ve dumped their fancy offices, downsized and moved into the spare room in the basement. Just like everything else today, it’s about the content rather than the sizzle. The small business owners I know that need an office tend to rent out of a co-work space rather than getting into a lease, some will just use a rented boardroom for the occasional meeting.
So, why do so many of my friends want to move back into an office? Many of us dream of staying at home, answering emails in our pajamas, getting to spend more time with our families, and now it’s a reality – or is it?
Entrepreneurship has changed tremendously in the last 15 years. It used to be about face time and the hours you put in, but now it’s about productivity and project completion.
How do you separate the home office from the traditional office, so you have the perfect home/work balance? I like to work the same hours as my wife, 7am to 3pm. So we can have more time together. A close friend has two small children at home, and he ends up working at Starbucks when he needs ‘peace and quiet’ which indicates how tough it is to work at his place.
According to data from Statistics Canada, the proportion of people working at home declined from 1996 to 2016, but employed people with no fixed workplace location grew from 3.9 per cent to 11.5 per cent in 2017. Of course, Covid changed everything! Those who never would have considered working from home are now embracing it, with many working a hybrid system of days at their home office and days at the business.
If you have been in business for any length of time, you know there are unexpected
interruptions like the doorbell, the neighbor, the telemarketer, or your kids wanting you to fix the leak in the wading pool. Although you can never eliminate these distractions completely, you can have a successful home business.
One of my old clients had a separate office in the house all to herself, with the name of her company on the door. She set specific hours with break and lunch periods and told her mother to stop calling during the day to chat. It took a while, but everyone got the idea. I’m not sure everyone can be as disciplined as that, but the more control you have over your workspace, the better.
Below are some handy tips to remember whether you are just starting out, or if you have been in business for a while.
1. Try to establish your office in a part of the house with a door (if a door is not an
option, place it as far away from the "living space" as possible). My wife says I have the best room in the house for my office. It overlooks the backyard and fifteen acres of forest in an urban environment. The French doors invite me to ‘work’ on my deck, and it’s all very relaxing –ahhh! I picked it because often I will work at night when everyone is in bed. I chose that room, so I wouldn’t disturb them. My wife says I got the best deal. One of my current clients lives in an idyllic space on an island off the coast of Vancouver. His place is secluded and is meant for living the good life. He has an office, but is a small self-contained cabin overlooking the ocean fifty feet from the main house. It’s a very inspiring setup.
2. Make a sign for your family, or at least define your space, so they know when you are not to be bothered. I’m not sure that it is a necessary since my family respects my space, but when I escape my office to work on my deck, I am fair game for interruptions. I don’t think anyone in my household would ever think my room is anything more than my private office, except when they want to get into my wine fridge. The one overriding rule is if you have little children, make sure they are not afraid to approach you if they have a problem.
3. When you are working - WORK! Don’t mix personal activities with your work time. The last thing you do each day should be plan for the following day. Make a specific schedule of when you'll be working and when you will be doing personal things. Try to keep all of your work items together to maintain the "work frame of mind". This will help you become more productive without feeling overwhelmed and neglectful of your personal duties. Sometimes my wife will ask me why I didn’t sweep the floor or take the garbage out - hmmm; there is another time for that.
I used to have friends call me to go for lunch because they knew I was ‘just working from home’ until I told them I had regular work hours at my home office. One ‘former’ friend used to call me at 4pm, asking me to join him at the pub for a beer. When he started calling me at 11am and telling me the bar had just opened, I put an end to our relationship.
4. Don’t overload yourself. Those of us with home businesses tend to feel we can’t say no to more work. There is also a real tendency to suffer burnout because the undisciplined entrepreneur may not see the hours here and the minutes there that they spend ‘working’ at home. If you sign a large contract that you know will require more of your time, discuss it with your family. I fall down on this one and realize I should tell my wife when I have deadlines or need more time to finish a project.
5. You can say no. If your workday is already full, don’t accept a new job that will put you on overtime. You have probably made several contacts that are in a similar line of work. I’ve created a "referral arrangement" where I can suggest services of other providers when I can't accept a job. This will benefit you in the reverse situation because I choose competent suppliers who overlap my expertise.
6. Make time for yourself. Don’t spend your whole day sitting at your desk. You need to be somewhat active for your health. Go out for a walk, go shopping, read a book, but do something away from the office. It is important that you not lose yourself just because you are an entrepreneur. Reward your own hard work by stepping out for an ice cream, taking the kids to the park, or anything else that will make you happy.
7. Most of all, set your goals and follow them!
A final thought on this working from home thing. Some of us need the social interaction we get from going to a workplace. I suggested to my friend with the two small children that perhaps Starbucks was not the answer to his dilemma. I found a nice co-work space that fits his budget near his home, so he can go to the ‘office’ every day. He really needs the camaraderie of like-minded entrepreneurs to give him juice to keep him going.
Whatever you do, take pains to make sure it works for you. I’ve never been more relaxed now that I don’t have to commute to downtown Vancouver, and I get much more work done in a relaxed space I call home. I’ve got the perfect work/life balance.
Oh, and those deadlines that may get stretched a little? I tell my clients that ‘life got in the way’ and they will have my work as soon as I can.
Gary is a Global Influencer on social media and start-ups and wrote the book, “How to Start a Successful Business – the First Time” on Amazon. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org