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Sole practitioners: Working from home or living at work?

18th Nov 2009
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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.

Establish boundaries

  • 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!

Self motivation
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.


Replies (4)

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By weaversmiths
18th Nov 2009 14:35

Working from Home

My husband works from home as well as I - in a completely different sphere.  We can separate work from home as we have an office each in our roofspace but the main problem is family (his) dropping by with relatives who are visiting from out of the area.  I think they now have the message but I feel rather an ogre and I am sure I am seen as one, too.  It is especially difficult if clients call.  Luckily we have two reception rooms and can separate callers/clients but it must be difficult for those without the benefit of the separate reception   rooms we have.  Being able to say no to relatives and not to answer telephones outside of office hours is extremely important to keep your sanity. Total self organisation is the key.


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By Gina Dyer
18th Nov 2009 15:59


It sounds like you've got it sorted but I have heard this lots from sole practitioners especially. Not everyone understands that despite your office being at home, when you're at work, you're working!

I am attempting to work from home this afternoon but technology keeps getting in my way! (Rubbish wireless connection, trouble with remote desktops, etc.) Does anyone else have this problem? If so, how do you get around it?

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Pillow May Ltd
By pillowmay
19th Nov 2009 09:43

IT problems and working from home

I've been working from home ever since I qualified as an accountant.  I love it as I found the office working environment rather stressful (especially internal office politics!).

However, you do need fantastic IT support which can nowadays be provided remotely, to stop you throwing the PC out of the window when it goes wrong!  My IT support guys are on the end of the phone all day long and are just so patient!  They normally have me up and running again very quickly.  I wouldn't consider running my business without them.

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By cverrier
19th Nov 2009 12:46

All good stuff..
I would add only a few other points..

Get a seperate work phone line - This can be pretty simple (and cheap) now, as you can get an Internet-phone with a 'normal' number. BT Internet will give you an Internet-phone service as part of some of their bundles - with a handset.

With small children in the house - you MUST find a way of working that doesn't involve them wandering in asking to be read a story every five minutes (sigh). If your office is upstairs - put the stair gates back up!

I am seriously considering one of those 'garden office' things (fancy garden sheds with proper insulation, heating, wiring, flooring, etc). They don't need planning permission, and the physical process of leaving the house to 'go to work' helps you to switch your work head on. Prices from £6K from lots of specialist suppliers.

I have been advised, by the way, that the setup costs of garden offices cannot be claimed by the business. You just have to treat it as an extra room for the house, and use the normal calculations.

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