Working from home is becoming more common, a reality reflected in the Home-Based Workers in the United States: 2010 report published by the U.S. Census Bureau. According to this report, between 1999 and 2010, the number of people who spend at least one day every week working from home increased from 9.5 million to 13.4 million, with the biggest increase coming between 2005 and 2010. Forbes says the number increased to 30 million by early 2013, with more increases expected. With so many people working from home, it's essential to consider the factors that lead to success in a home-based work environment.
Ten Necessities for Home-Based Work Success
1. Dedicated Work Area
An important key to home-based work success is having a work area devoted specifically to your business activities. Staples.com emphasizes the importance of setting up your home work space with productivity in mind, being sure it is located in an area where you will actually use it and supports your work needs and preferences.
Depending on your living arrangements, your work area can be in a spare bedroom, basement, bonus room, large closet, or even a corner of a common area as long as you can keep the space free from distractions. At a minimum, you will need:
- A desk or other work surface
- A comfortable office chair
- Space to store work-related items
- Adequate Lighting
- Sufficient access to electrical outlets
You will also need one or more surge suppressors and possibly extension cords.
Specific technology needs will vary based on the type of work you do. At a minimum, you'll likely need high-speed Internet access along with a computer and printer before you can even get started. You may also need a scanner, fax machine, or copier so consider selecting an all-in-one printer that includes these types of features in addition to printing capabilities.
Unless you want to be tethered to your desk as you work, you will also want to invest in a wireless router. You will also need a backup system, including an uninterruptible power supply (UPS), external hard drives, and off-site data storage. A real-time backup service such as Carbonite is a good idea.
3. Telephone Service
Telephone service is also an important consideration for those who work at home. If you are not self-employed, your employer may have specific telephone requirements that you must meet at your own expense - especially if you are working for one of the companies that hires home-based call center workers such as West at Home or Sykes Home. Even if this is not the case, you may find it beneficial to get a dedicated phone line to avoid sharing phone service with others in your household or if you don't want to advertise your home or personal cell phone number to business contacts.
4. Office Supplies
When you work from home, you won't be able to depend on having a supply closet stocked with the items you need to do your work unless you are proactive in purchasing and organizing those items yourself. You will likely need a variety of general desk supplies, such as a stapler, hole puncher, scissors binders, file folders, and more. Also consider consumable supplies such as paper, pens and printer ink or toner.
Set up an office supply checklist with the items you will need to keep on hand and do a regular inventory to make shopping as simple and streamlined as possible.
5. Time Tracking Application
When you work from home, you'll need a way to keep track of the time you work, including how much time you spend on different projects or activities. If you are an employee, you company will likely have a specific software application or paper tracking form that you are required to use. If not - or if you are self-employed, there are a number of free time tracking programs and apps you can use.
6. Bookkeeping System
You will need one or more tools to keep track of your finances. If you are self-employed, it's critical that you have bookkeeping or accounting application that can help you keep track of all aspects of your finances, from bank accounts to billables and receivables, as well as provide financial reporting capabilities.
Quickbooks and Freshbooks are popular options with small business owners, though Forbes contributor Gene Mark indicates that Xero is an up-and-coming bookkeeping program that also effectively meets the needs of very small businesses.
7. Expense Tracking Application
Whether you are an employee or an entrepreneur, you'll also need to keep up with tax-deductible business expenses, as well as expenses that may be reimbursable from clients or your employer. Examples of the types of things you may need to track include, but are not limited to:
- Office supplies
- Equipment purchases
- Business meals
You'll also want to maintain accurate records of home-office tax deductions. One program recommended by ComputerWorld is Expensify, which is available for Android, iPhone, BlackBerry and Windows Phone.
When you work at home, it can be hard to separate working from personal or family life, so setting boundaries is between the two is a key to success. It's important to avoid letting work take over your every waking hour, something that can easily happen when you work from home. As Today.com reports, when work is always 'there', it can be hard to walk away.
As CareerRealism.com points out, "When you first begin telecommuting, friends and family may not understand the demands this requires of you." You'll need to set an appropriate tune, making sure they know that the fact that you are at home does not necessarily mean you are not busy.
In a Forbes magazine article, staff writer Jacquelyn Smith (who sometimes works at home) discusses the importance of "being specific about when you're available and setting limits as much as possible" to overcome these concerns. Do your best to keep your work activities in specific areas of your home set aside for that purpose, and follow a schedule or stick to a set number of days or hours as much as it is possible for you to do so.
On his blog, Trainer and Life Coach Andy T. Hansen, states "self-motivation when working from home will probably be one of the most important factors in determining if your home based business or employment will become a success." According to Hansen, the lack of human interaction can pose a particular challenge to those new to working from home. You won't have other team members nearby to urge you along, nor will you have a supervisor looking over your shoulder to make sure that you are staying on task. However, you are still responsible for getting your work done, so you'll have to motivate yourself to make progress toward your goals.
According to the Grasshopper blog, you can improve self-motivation by developing an "in-the-office attitude" in which you "treat your work at home business the same as you would an office job." Grasshopper further recommends pursuing work/life balance, using an app like focus booster (to learn how to improve focus), avoiding isolating yourself too much and periodically reminding yourself of why you wanted to work out of your home to start with.
10. Organizational Skills
Hansen stresses the importance of having - and using - strong organizational skills to working from home successfully. According to OrganizingWithYou.com, getting organized includes learning how to diminish clutter, which may involve organizing mail, desk drawers and establishing a filing and storage system. Doing so can improve time management, boost productivity and reduce anxiety and stress.
It is important not only to organize your work area, but to structure your work in an organized way that is conducive to accomplishing tasks and goals. Hansen advises "breaking down your tasks into separate manageable 'chunks' planning your day with specific times set aside for certain categories of tasks." He also suggests identifying the tasks that you really don't like or want to do, and taking care of those early in the day so that you are free from stress (and de-motivation) related to those items, leaving you free to focus on other things the rest of the day.
Preparing for Success
Working at home can be very rewarding, but people who transition from traditional work environments to this type of setting often find it to be quite challenging - and working from home is not for everyone. Before you decide to transition from an office job to working from your home, take the time to consider if you are truly prepared to succeed in this type of work situation.