Sole practitioners: Working from home or living at work?
Separating your home life from your work can be especially tough for sole practitioners, so professional accountants’ coach Carol McLachlan is on hand with advice for making the most of your flexible working arrangements.
Does working from home offer an end to the work/life balance conundrum? On the one hand, it means no more manic morning rushes into commuterdom and perhaps more time spent with the family, but there's also the potential for day upon day of seeing no one except the cat, and fighting for work space among the toys, dirty dishes and ironing.
So what’s the truth? In reality it’s a bit of both. Suffice to say that when working from home, every plus has a dark side and vice versa.
On the community side, it’s not just the lack of social chitchat at the water cooler that you’ll miss – it’s the peer vacuum when you need to bounce an idea off someone or share a technical problem, the struggle to stay motivated when there’s no one to provoke guilt that you’re still reading the paper.
Conversely, the flexibility of home working takes some beating. There’s no more panic when school rings to evacuate a sick child and school plays, sports days and trips to the dentist hold no more fear – they all slide neatly into the flexi-schedule with just a little catching up to be done on the business side over a glass of wine once the kids are in bed.
The downside of this is what I like to call ‘domestic seepage’. It’s a formidable, flexible working foe. Have you ever tried to work with the breakfast uncleared, last nights’ saucepans hanging around and a brimming laundry pile staring at you? Surely it must only take a couple of minutes to put on the washing machine? Before you know it, it’s lunch time. Then there’s the parting family plea: ‘While you’re at home today, can you just…?’ Working parents should also beware of dispensing with childcare – trying to get work done when there are arguments over homework happening in the background is not easy! With all these demands on your time, it’s easy for time to slip away from you.
Working from home is no doddle and there are many challenges to face, from being your own IT support, to needing lots of self discipline day in, day out, and holding on to those support systems you had when you worked in a ‘proper’ office. Of course it can work; it just requires masses more preparation and effort than you might think. Read on for my top tips to ensure you really are working from home, rather than living at work.
Create a structure
- Get dressed and groomed even if you’re not seeing any clients. For some, it works well to actually don official office garb.
- Set yourself regular hours but don’t be constrained by the traditional 9 - 5 configuration.
- Capitalise on your most productive work pattern; if you’re a night owl, build a regular late slot into your schedule. If this is when you truly work best, then use this time for your more challenging tasks.
- Don’t squander the benefits of flexible working; if you want to take time off in the daytime, do it – but make it up later. If you find it appropriate to work beyond your daily allocated hours, log it, and take some time off in lieu of overtime - timesheets are our friends!
Look after yourself
- Get yourself a decent chair, work station, key board and telephone head set. Set your own health and safety regulations.
- Feed yourself: You are entitled to a lunch break. Use the time to prepare and eat something sensible or take a break to go outside of the house and forage!
- Get some exercise: Most houses are smaller than offices, which is all the more reason to use some of that lunch break to stretch your legs, get some air and top up your vitamin D levels.
- Separate your work space from your home space. Ideally appoint a separate room for this, but at the very least create a defined work area. ‘Out of sight is out of mind’, so if you can’t shut your office door, at least put away your work gear or otherwise conceal it when you’re not working.
- Protect your space and time: When you’re working, close the door, educate the family that this is your work time and learn to say ‘no’. It’s also important to assign yourself some uninterrupted chunks of time – put your phones on message setting, turn off email instant notification and don’t be afraid to ignore the door bell!
Motivational expert Zig Ziglar once said: “People often tell me that motivation doesn’t last and I tell them that bathing doesn’t either. That’s why I recommend it daily”. Working from home requires daily self motivation, but when managed properly it can work very well.
Carol McLachlan FCA helps accountants solve problems, at home and at work. From work/life balance and time management, to assertiveness, communication skills and career planning, she draws on her long career in practice and training as a coach and NLP pracitioner.