Plenty of people work from home on occasion. According to the American Time Use Survey, 38% of those with a college education or more did some work from home on the days they worked. If working from home is a remotely regular thing for you, then you probably have a home office. But if you have a home office, you can have things go wrong there that don’t go wrong in the “real” office. Here are several common snafus and how to avoid them.
Most parents who work from home get that they need childcare. An 18-month-old can’t fend for herself while you’re on a conference call. But pet owners don’t necessarily think the same way. One woman wrote to me of her cat crawling over her computer keyboard during inopportune moments. A barking dog can undermine an entire presentation. “Plan ahead for times when you need to be on the phone, and have something to keep your dog occupied, whether a new bone, some quality time in the backyard, or a trip to the doggie daycare center for the day,” says Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs, a job board devoted to flexible and telecommuting jobs. If you live in an apartment, make friends with neighbors who might take your dog for a doggie playdate in a pinch (you can offer the same during a time you’re not as busy).
If you get a lot of packages, put a note on the door telling the delivery guy to leave them. If you have a landline and a cell, you might turn the ringer off on the one you’re not using if you’re giving a presentation. Carrie Rocha, who runs the coupons and deals website Pocket Your Dollars out of her house, says that “Inevitably, my mom will call my cell phone when I’m on a business call so I don’t answer. Then she turns around and calls my landline to try and catch me there. At least, with the ringer off, the person on the other end of the phone doesn’t know I’m being summonsed.” If you’re working at home to meet the plumber, understand that, inevitably, he will show up right as your boss calls, so plan for it.
At the office, your company probably pays for a real chair and desk. At home, the temptation might be to make do, but if you’ll be sitting there for 10 hours a day, you need your rear end to be comfortable, and you need a desk that’s the right height for you. Camille Noe Pagán, author of the novel The Art of Forgetting, says that “Because I’m on the short side, I had mine cut down a few inches, and I also use a slide-out tray for my keyboard, which has made a huge difference in minimizing my back and wrist problems. I have an elliptical in my office, and I often hop on it for 10 minutes when I’m stumped or feeling sluggish. It does the trick every time.”
People aren’t just looking at you. They’re looking at what’s behind you, too. If your laptop camera is facing your bed with dirty laundry on it, you may be creating a different impression than the one you want. Even if you live in an NYC apartment and your bedroom is the only spot available for an office, you can angle the camera to take in a less bedroom-y piece of furniture, like a wardrobe, or perhaps a potted plant.
If you do a lot of video calls, you’re not going to be able to work in sweatpants. Deal with it. “Make sure you’re dressed appropriately so that, in case you do have to stand during the video conference, you’re not caught with your PJ bottoms on,” says Fell. You don’t want to pull a Costanza and broadcast to the world that you’ve given up.
One of the biggest problems people cite with a home office is the lack of boundaries between work and one’s personal life. Amanda Altman and her husband used to run their company, A3 Design, out of their Charlotte home. “If you’re in the dining room, and constantly walking through the office, you are never going to be able to get away from it, really,” she says. “You’re constantly being drawn and nagged back there.” Indeed, Altman and her husband had even more problems with boundaries because they had employees for a bit, and “our entire house was our office. Our bedroom was our place we slept in our office.” If you’ve got employees working out of your home, and someone needs to stay late to finish something, you really won’t be able to shut down for the day.
So if you think your home-based work will expand to that point? Start thinking about additional or separate space. The Altmans bought a property in Upstate New York with a barn that is becoming their studio. Perhaps it’s not working from home per se, but it’s only a 90-second commute. “You need to be able to close the door on your business,” she says.
Good call, we might add.