If you own your own business, you may need or want to work from home. This can be a great way to save yourself money and cut commuting time, but there are also potential pitfalls!
I’ve used a home office for my writing and editing business since 2010, so I’m here to help with some tips about working from home and maintaining your sanity.
Finding a space to work
The first thing you need to decide is where in your home you want to work. This can be tricky when space is tight. My first home office was in my downtown apartment. I only had one bedroom, so I couldn’t convert it to office space. I did have a large living room, so I set up my desk and office equipment on one side of it.
Ensure your spot isn’t too enticing to encroach on. For example, if you have to work in your living room, setting up your desk near the front door might not work out. Your workspace could become a tempting spot to dump your coat, mail or keys when you walk in the door. Try to avoid creating your workspace in a high-traffic area, lest it become a repository for personal junk.
You also need to consider lighting for your workspace. This is especially important if you’re a creative type and are doing painting, sewing, etc., in your home. Look for a spot near a window for natural sunlight. It also feels good to be able to look up and see the world while you’re hard at work.
Noise will be another factor when choosing where to work. Some of you may love background noise, such as the radio or other people talking and moving about. I hate it and don’t work well with noise, so I always look for a quiet spot.
Finally, try to make your space enticing to you. In my current home, we have a second bedroom for my office—but I mostly use it for business storage. I prefer working in my open kitchen at my big wooden table. I like being able to see a lot of things when I look up. If I’m at my desk in my office, I see wall. I learned too late that I should have turned my desk facing into the room instead of putting it against the wall, flanked by two big bookcases, as I don’t like feeling hemmed in while working. The moral of the story is to ensure your workspace makes you happy before you nail a desk to the wall.
Having adequate storage for your business items can also be tough in a small space. You might need a big desk, filing cabinets or somewhere to keep your materials and paint. Having worked in many tight spaces, I love Ikea for their storage items because they are particularly skilled at offering goods meant for small spaces. You might have luck finding a smaller desk or storage items that can double as something else.
I’ve always liked footstools that double as storage boxes. I can keep items hidden away and still have space to rest my weary feet at the end of the day. Shelving that hangs on walls is also helpful. It saves floor space and can provide a nice visual piece in your home if you load it up properly. Look for anywhere you can store things in or under to maximize your use of space.
Ask yourself if you can store more items electronically, rather than needing filing cabinets for everything. You might also have items you use infrequently and can store offsite or in harder to reach places in your home. I’m prone to towering piles of papers and books, so I need to take more of my own advice.
This is the un-fun stuff, but you still need to pay attention. If you work for yourself from home, you can use part of your home expenses, such as rent and hydro, as business write-offs. There is a caveat though: CRA says the space must be used exclusively for your business. If it doubles as personal use, no dice. When I was in my apartment, I couldn’t write off part of my rent because my office was smack in the middle of my living room, which I also used for personal reasons. If you only have one bedroom, you might be in this same bind. Talk to your accountant to see what you can do about making your space eligible for home office deductions.
The whole work-life balance thing
The other problem to watch out for is the temptation to be working, or thinking about working, all the time. When your home and office are the same place, it can be difficult to pull yourself out of work mode. You can be sitting on your couch watching your favourite show, and something on your desk will catch your eye and try to lure you back to work. This is another reason picking the right work spot is critical. You don’t always want your work to be staring you in the face!
You might need to set specific boundaries for work hours to keep you from working day and night. For example, you could choose not to work or answer the phone on weekends or past 6 pm. As you spend more time working at home, you will realize what your trouble spots are, so you can create a plan to overcome them.
You could also face the opposite problem. When you should be working, your TV or the book you left lying out last night might try to lure you back to leisure. You might need to set specific hours and boundaries for play time and naps that don’t keep you from earning a living. (Reading is great, but starvation is bad!)
If you’re an introvert like me, you might feel tempted to never leave your home because everything you need is right there. Don’t get sucked into this vortex. We all need to go out sometimes, even if it’s just for a walk by ourselves. Try to plan regular outings. Join a professional organization related to your work, a Toastmasters club, a book club or anything else that will get you out of the house and socializing on occasion. Being a complete hermit is never a good idea.
Working from home can be great. I love being able to sleep late and have a commute that’s about 10 steps long. I don’t have to get gussied up to go anywhere and I can decide what I want for lunch at lunch time. The dog and I can take a break and go for a stroll midday. I even have someone to talk to in person when my husband gets home from work. But that doesn’t mean working from home is a perfect solution.
To set yourself up for success, create a good workspace and plan specific work and leisure times. Talking to others who work from home is also a great way to learn new tips and coping mechanisms, so try to cultivate relationships with other self-employed people. With a little careful planning, you can have a successful work-from-home life that brings you satisfaction!
Do you work from home? Share what you’ve learned about making it work in the comments!