here’s a work-from-home revolution going on. People are sick of spending hours of their day stuck in traffic and cooped up in stuffy offices. Professionals and entrepreneurs want greater work-life balance and lower overhead costs. Moms and dads want to be more available for their kids without sacrificing their income.
It can seem like everyone is starting to work from home. More than that, many of these people are earning far more than they ever did at a traditional 9-5 job.
The question you’ve probably asked yourself is… “Could I do that?”
Absolutely you can. That’s the good news.
But, I’m not going to lie to you—you’re going to have to put in the effort if you want to be successful. Setting up a home office and starting a career from home isn’t easy.
The road to self-employment is filled with (avoidable) pitfalls. You need to know where they are—and where you’re trying to go—if you want to make the journey as smooth as possible.
The truth is we know a LOT more about online and home-based businesses and consumer behavior now than we did even a few years ago. Nine times out of 10, the difference between a successful business and an expensive hobby often boils down to preparation and confidence.
That’s why I spent a few days putting together this ultimate guide to working from home.
- Are Home-Based Businesses a Fad?
- More Moms and Dads are Working from Home
- Getting Started Working from Home
- Setting Up Your Home Office
As you can see, we’ve got a lot to cover, from finding the right online and home-based business opportunities to setting up your home office. First, let’s take a quick detour to consider some of the reasons so many people—parents, specifically—are choosing to work from home.
And, feel free to skip around and read this guide in any order. Or, download a copy for your e-reader.
Are Home-Based Businesses Just a Fad?
Setting your own hours and wearing casual clothes to work are perks you just don’t get in the corporate world (at least not in most offices). And, there’s reason to believe the shift to more flexible careers is more than just a trend.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 61% of U.S. families have both parents working. At the same time, more people are looking to foster greater work-life balance and quality of life. According to a post at flexjobs.com, more than 78% of part-time workers do it not because they can’t find full-time work, but because they want to spend time with loved ones, pursue creative passions, or travel.
Work flexibility, including telecommuting, is “one of the biggest drivers of transformation” in the workplace, according to the World Economic Forum.
And, employers are starting to get on board. They’re realizing that workplace flexibility helps the bottom line. A recent post at salary.com suggests that hiring work-at-home employees might be more productive and cheaper for employers. “Employees who have workplace flexibility—and control over their own schedule—are happier employees. When they are allowed to customize their schedule based on their own personal and professional needs, workers exhibit more gratitude and, in turn, become more invested in the company and its bottom line.”
The New York Times reports, “Last year, 43 percent of employed Americans said they spent at least some time working remotely, according to the survey of more than 15,000 adults.”
The flexibility that online business provides has not only increased productivity among current workers—it has opened the door to new pools of talent.
More Parents Are Working from Home
Parenting is a full-time job. Many families rely on two sources of income, though, and all too soon both parents are back in the workplace. Many moms and dads find themselves balancing 40-hour work weeks while raising a child. Naturally, working from home is an option more and more parents are considering.
But, is a work-from-home job right for you? I don’t want you to waste your valuable time reading this guide if home-based business isn’t going to be a good fit for you. You have bigger fish to fry, after all (you may even have a child hanging from your leg right now).
So, before we dive into how-to find work and set up your home office, let’s quickly consider some of the trade-offs between traditional and home-based work, specifically for parents and caretakers.
Do work-from-home moms and dads earn as much as workers who commute to work?
Working from home is no longer synonymous with lower pay. Flexjobs summarizes the shift in mentality and pay-rate nicely.
“Increasingly, the idea that remote jobs always pay less is losing credibility. To be sure, some telecommuters are willing (or are asked) to consider a smaller paycheck in exchange for working from a home office. However, in some professions, the salaries of telecommuters can be commensurate with pay of in-office workers—or even more. Developers who work remotely, for example, can earn as much as 40 percent more than their office-based counterparts, one study found.”
Are parents who work from home happier?
Every parent needs to make his or her own decision regarding what’s best for their health and happiness. There are challenges to going back to work (or starting a home-based career), and it isn’t the right fit for every parent. That said, many moms and dads credit maintaining a career with greater equality in their marriages, personal happiness and fulfilment, and quality time with their kids.
For those parents who want or need to work but don’t want to sacrifice time with their kids, there are few opportunities as flexible and satisfying as working from home.
Are the kids of work from home parents happier?
As a general rule, kids are happier when their parents are happy. When moms and dads have their own work identity, it takes pressure off the kids. And, looking after your own wellbeing is step one in being able to care for your kiddos. If working from home reduces your stress, your kids will benefit, too.
Do kids of work-from-home parents do better in school?
According to a 2012 Time article, researchers from three universities found that “parental involvement — checking homework, attending school meetings and events, discussing school activities at home — has a more powerful influence on students’ academic performance than anything about the school the students attend.”
It makes sense that parents who work from home have more opportunities to be involved with their kids. And, that involvement continues to benefit children even after they start attending school.
The Unique Needs of Work-at-Home Parents
Having one or both parents working from home has worked for many families. But it’s not a slam dunk. More than half of all working parents struggle with the balancing act, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center survey. And, juggling a career and parenting isn’t necessarily any easier just because you work from home.
One work-from-home mom puts it this way:
“So being a working mom and being a stay-at-home mom are both crazy hard. But being a work-at-home mom is hard in a whole different kind of way. It’s not about seeing your kids too much or too little. It’s about ignoring your kid–a lot–and feeling like you’re constantly failing them throughout the day.”
While you’re never actually ignoring your child, staying productive at home will mean setting time aside for your work. And that can be difficult for many parents. In the end, you may end up finding a compromise that allows you to work from home part-time as a freelancer or telecommute a few days a week for your employer.
Let’s summarize a few of the pros and cons of working from home. Then we’re off to the races with how to find the best job opportunities and how you can set up a productive work home office.
Benefits of Working from Home
- More time with kids
- Reduce or eliminate child care costs
- Save on work-related expenses, like work clothes and eating lunch out
- Flexible schedule
- No or very little commuting
- Earn money and help your family
Challenges of Working from Home
- You are your own IT department
- You buy your own office supplies, computers, and furniture
- You need a dedicated place to work
- You are (most likely) responsible for health insurance, self-employment taxes, and retirement contributions
- Splitting time between work and family can be difficult—you may get lost in your work and neglect your family or neglect your work in favor of time with family
- Finding the right work opportunity may take time
- Some businesses take longer to start, others cost more to enter or require specific expertise
- You must motivate yourself
- Work-from-home with children can be the “worst of both worlds”
This guide is intended to help you explore the possibilities so you can make the best choice for you and your family.
First, we’ll look at how to find the right type of work for you and a few tips to help you take advantage of new opportunities and meet new challenges.
Next, we’ll take a deep dive into setting up your home office.
Finally, we’ll look at how you can balance your job, your home office, and your family so you can make the most of your new work-from-home lifestyle.
Getting Started Working from Home
Online marketers tend to have big personalities—they’re charismatic and, in my experience, genuinely good people. But, if you spend a lot of time online (especially searching for business opportunities), the marketing can start to feel gimmicky. You might start to believe that only extroverts can make it online.
Alternately, you might find dozens of competitors in Google and wonder if you have the time or digital marketing know-how to compete in such a crowded space. Content and promotion strategies can seem so complicated, and you might not know if your passion and prior experience will translate to running a successful home-based business.
The truth is that many successful online entrepreneurs didn’t know what they were doing at the start. Thanks to the internet and a changing work culture, lack of professional experience is no longer a barrier to entry.
It will mean you’ll need to work harder at the start in order to find the right opportunity and gain relevant experience, however.
Finding the Right Type of Work for You
Be realistic about your goals, availability, and energy
There are tons of great reasons to work from home—beating the stress of commuting, setting your own schedule, being there for your family, having more control over time and working conditions, having more time for your own interests.
With so many perks—and maybe a friend or two who work from home— it can be easy to assume you’ll love the change. Before you quit your old job or register a new business, take time to consider a few important factors:
- What are your goals?
- How much time do you have to spend working?
- Do you have the energy to balance work with being a mom or dad, domestic engineer, and adult-in-chief?
Be realistic! Life is complicated, and you could be caught by surprise if you don’t consider all the angles.
- How old are your kids—are they toddlers running around the house or will your children spend half the day in school?
- What about your own work habits—can you handle interruptions, or do you need quiet to concentrate?
- Do you prefer work in short bursts or large projects with long stretches of unbroken time?
- What type of work are you qualified for?
Once you know what it is you need to work from home, it’s time to start researching opportunities that work for you. Check the websites of potential employers, companies looking for freelancers, and business opportunities.
Choose a Job You Will Enjoy
Before starting a work-from-home position, ask yourself, “Will I enjoy doing this?” If the answer is “no,” think again. Remember, you are responsible for setting your own hours, so it’s important to find a home-based job that fits your personality and work preferences.
Know Your Skills
Many home-based businesses require a particular set of skills:
- Technical skills. If you have tech skills like coding, SEO, or social media, you’re in a good place to start working from home. These fields also tend to offer a high rate of pay.
- Writing skills. We’re all writers these days. The internet’s appetite for content means if you write quickly and well, you can find work and do it from home.
- Administrative skills. If you handle details and multi-tasking well, the world needs your skills! You can freelance as an online business manager or find admin jobs on the major job boards.
- Creative skills. Graphic design, book design, photography, music, art—they’re all rich sources for online work.
- Professional skills. Online opportunities exist for a variety of professionals, from teachers to nurses to marketers. You may already have the contacts you need. Start by asking your company or former company about remote work opportunities. Do online research for companies that hire or contract for these services.
- Specialized knowledge. If you’re an expert—in car insurance, mortgage loans, organic gardening, or any other of a trillion specialized niches—search for ways to apply that special know-how. You may be able to make your own job.
Keep in mind that you’re more likely to stay motivated and avoid burnout if you’re doing something you can tolerate or enjoy.
Know Your Work Options
There are four basic work options you can consider:
- Employee positions
- Freelance/Independent contractor
- Small business ownership
- Online Business
Many work from home options fit comfortably into more than one work of these categories. So, don’t get too hung up on how I break down the options below. In fact, I recommend skimming all the opportunities so you don’t miss something that might be a perfect fit.
In an employee position, you work for an established company. You get a paycheck. They take out payroll and social security taxes. You may or may not have benefits like sick leave or medical insurance.
Examples of employee positions:
- customer service rep (call centers)
- debt collector
- tech support provider
- search engine evaluator
- data entry worker
- document translator
- online tutor
Pros and cons of employee jobs: Employee-based positions offer stability in the form of a set schedule, reliable pay, and possible benefits. The trade-off is that many home-based employee jobs don’t offer the upward mobility of a traditional, in-person job or the upward mobility of other work from home opportunities.
If you go the online employee route, be sure to get in lots of “passive face time” by connecting with in-office workers often.
As a freelancer or independent contractor, you are not an employee, although you may work exclusively for one company in some cases. Freelancers tend to have more than one client at a time. Independent contractors are more likely to be working for one company for the duration of the contract.
Each situation is different, and the details depend on the particular agreement you make with the company that you’re contracting with.
Examples of freelance/independent contractor positions:
- online instructor
- magazine writer
- freelance blogger
- virtual assistant
- web designer
- web developer
- commission-based online reseller.
As a work-from-home freelancer, a good way to get started is to sign up at a marketplace like Upwork. Author Ashlee Anderson points out on WorkFromHomeHappiness.com, “Once you get your footing as a freelancer, you can step outside of marketplaces and set up shop on your own.” With a business plan and a portfolio of work in place, you can land your own clients.
Pros and cons of freelance/independent contractor jobs: Freelancing offers plenty of flexibility and the freedom to work as much or little as you’d like. On the other hand, you are responsible for your own taxes, insurance, and benefits. As a freelancer, you are essentially running your own business.
Small Business Owner
As a small business owner, you work directly with your clients or customers. You are in charge of all the parts of your business: creating the product or service, marketing, sales, billing, maintaining inventory, taxes, insurance. The whole ball of wax.
Examples of small business owner opportunities:
- online reseller / affiliate marketing
- web development
- digital marketing
- app creation
- buy into a franchise (like some of those found on FranchiseDirect.com)
- join a direct sales business (like 8 Figure Dream Lifestyle)
A job board at TheWorkAtHomeWoman lists home-based direct sales opportunities as well as work-at-home business opportunities in a TON of other areas, from planning cruises and painting parties, to home wine shops and cocoa exchanges, to fitness and nursing.
Pros and cons of being a small business owner: Being a business owner takes a lot of focus, and that may not be easy if you have a few kids running around keeping your time and attention divided. Consider, also, time constraints and up-front investments you may need to make at the start. It’s a lot of work! But, if you’re willing to work hard, you own your success.
Online Business Opportunities
Online business is a more general category, which might overlap the freelancing or small business owner categories. It includes positions like social media manager and content evaluator, data entry, affiliate marketing, and taking surveys, among others.
Find additional work-at-home opportunities:
- Free Work at Home Guide
- 50+ legitimate work from home opportunities (SingleMomsIncome.com)
- Guide To Finding Home Based Positions For Full Time Moms (DreamHomeBasedWork.com)
- The Penny Hoarder
Tips for Working from Home
Work-at-home moms and dads and small business entrepreneurs are generous in sharing tips they’ve learned about how to make working from home work for you, from the physical work space and organizing your day to balancing work and home, staying productive, and taking care of yourself.
I compile some of the top tips and most common suggestions successful entrepreneurs use to build professional success and work-life balance from home.
Take Care of Yourself
We’ll start with the more personal aspects of working from home. Employers sometimes worry that workers who aren’t directly under the boss’s eye will slack off. The opposite is more likely to be true. People who work from home may be tempted to work virtually all the time, neglecting their own needs and increasing risk of emotional and physical burnout.
“Hard work” is part of the job description for busy parents, but it’s important to give yourself time off as well. If you’re in business for yourself and uncertain of the future, you may be tempted to take on more than is reasonable. Don’t let that happen to you.
Taking care of yourself will not only help you be successful in your work, but it reduces stress and allows you to be a better parent to your children.
- Eat meals (real food), away from your work area. Don’t succumb to the temptation of grazing all day. Make healthy snacks.
- Walk, use a standing desk, sit on an exercise ball, and get outside when you can. Use an app or set a timer and take breaks several times a day to keep your body and mind fresh. Make self-care part of your daily experience.
- Take time off when you can. Give yourself holidays. Try not to work weekends. “It’s quite easy for life to become one long Monday morning as a home-worker.”
- Get out of the house whenever you can. Especially if you work at night, take advantage of good weather and natural daylight. Working in a shared space, like a coffee shop or park, also keeps you from spending all your time alone with your computer.
- Treat yourself. You know what they say about all work and no play. Take time to do the things you enjoy, and don’t beat yourself up if you’re having trouble focusing. Sometimes a little break is all you need to feel recharged.
- Connect with others. It’s easy to become isolated working from home. Schedule time with friends, colleagues, mentors, and other adults.
Take Care of Business
- Dress for work. People like to think that at-home workers hang out in their PJs or sweatpants all day. And, some do. But, getting up and getting dressed for work helps put you in the right mindset to be productive. Business casual is fine. Whatever you wear, start each day like you’re going to work.
- Make a schedule. Make a daily schedule to add structure to your day. By beginning your day just 30 minutes earlier than you plan on starting work, you give yourself time to create or review the day’s plan and check personal email and social media.
Allow some flexibility, but keep regular hours. An Inc.com article on tips for telecommuting suggests posting hours of operation on your door, like you would see at a traditional business, and stick to them. Find the time of day you feel most productive, and plan assignments around those hours.
- Close the door at the end of the day. In addition to setting regular hours, Entrepreneur.com advises, “try your best to leave work at the ‘office’ and turn your phone on silent and enjoy the rest of your day. Give yourself some time to recharge so you can be as productive as possible.”
- Limit distractions. Set boundaries. Train your family to give you time and space during working hours. If this means hiring a sitter or trading child-care time with another work-at-homer, so be it.
Unless your work involves social media, try not to use Facebook or Twitter during work hours. The rabbit hole goes deep with these distractions, and you could lose hours of potential work time if you aren’t careful. You can download a Facebook News Feed Eradicator (also available through the Chrome Web Store) or a resource like StayFocusd that limits the time you spend on time-wasting websites.
Just turn on the extension during working hours.
- Do housework outside of work hours. As much as you may want or need to do around the house, keep housework and business work separate. Cleaning the kitchen is often a way of avoiding a work task you may not enjoy.
Develop Good Habits points out the importance of maintaining a good home office space to prevent this blurring. “You should consider how to effectively set up a home office to avoid the temptation to start a quick load of laundry or catch up on that episode you missed last night.”
Of course, these are more like guidelines than rules. If you’re a natural multi-tasker, taking five minutes away from the keyboard to throw in a load of laundry may be just the break you need. Let your own workstyle be your guide.
- Communicate. Keep in touch with colleagues, team members, and connect with other at-home workers. If your work involves a team, be a good collaborator. Let team members know when you are available. Respond to emails and messages promptly, even if just to say you’ll respond to their question later.
When you can, meet with co-workers in person. Not only are you building relationships, but in-person meetings are a great opportunity to get out of the home office.
- Keep motivated. Set realistic goals. Know what you need to accomplish today, this week, and this month, and make a plan to get there. Reward yourself when you meet your goals or when you take steps toward meeting them.
Recap what you’ve done each day so you don’t fall into the trap of thinking you haven’t really done anything. This can also set the bar for your work the next day.
It can also help to put motivational quotes on your wall, screen, or daily calendar.
- Be organized. Use to-do lists, calendars, or an app like Trello to organize your work. Pay your bills and taxes on time. Treat your business like a business, even if you just think of it as a side hustle.
Keep clear records. Separate your business bank account from your personal account. Track your business expenses for tax purposes, and avoid mixing personal expenses with your business expenses.
Money spent on space, equipment, and supplies for your home office may be deductible, depending on your situation. But, be aware that the IRS looks very carefully at home office deductions. TheBalance.com advises, “The more you can prove that the office is a completely separate and dedicated area, the better in terms of meeting IRS definitions of a home office.”
You may want to hire a professional for help managing the numbers. Xero accounting software offers a quick guide on how to hire the right bookkeeper. Alternately, you may wish to track your own income and expenses using a free or paid app.
For a comprehensive business expense and bookkeeping application, look into Intuit’s Quickbooks.
Create a Dedicated Office Space
- Give yourself a dedicated work space, even if it’s just the corner of a room. Make sure your work space is separate from where you relax.
- Give yourself the tools you need. At a minimum, most work at home professionals will need a desk, a comfortable, ergonomic chair, a phone, a reliable laptop, and necessary software to manage your business.
Of course, that’s just a starting point for many online businesses. Office Ninjas suggests several additional items work-at-homers should consider: camera and mic for video meetings, reliable high-speed Wi-Fi, a virtual private network (VPN), external hard drive or access to cloud storage, anti-virus software, and a backup plan for when the power or internet goes out (tethering to your cellphone data, for example).
- You need good lighting. Natural daylight or simulated natural daylight is viewed as the best for daily productivity, though you may want to keep a few softer lights for those days when you’re rising with the sun or burning the midnight oil.
You can also purchase “smart lights” and connect your home or apartment lights to your smartphone for easy-to-adjust personalized lighting you can control from a secure app.
- Keep your work space as clean and uncluttered as your resources and personality allow. Removing clutter reduces distractions and increases efficiency. Remember that this is your space, and use an organization system that you feel comfortable with and can maintain throughout the day and week.
- Make working pleasant. Add plants or paintings around your work space. Give yourself short breaks when you need them. Play music while you work—preferably instrumental music, as lyrics can be distracting.
As you introduce new elements to your home office, pay attention to how each one affects your productivity. Make your work area feel welcoming, but be careful to avoid adding distractions.
Ok. So we know home-based businesses aren’t a fad. In fact, more and more parents and are entering the online business space and finding success.
We then walked through some of the must-have information you’ll need to find the right opportunity for your goals, skills, and availability.
Now, let’s dive into the specifics of setting up a home office. What steps or products have others found necessary or helpful in creating a productive work space? Suit your office to your needs, your budget, and your new work-at-home lifestyle.
Setting Up Your Home Office
Know Your Space
You know you need a dedicated space to work. But beyond that, you may not be sure how to get started. Whether your office is large or small, bare-bones or lavishly equipped, it needs to fit you and your style. Unfortunately, the desire to do things “right” when you still aren’t sure exactly what you need puts many potential entrepreneurs in a state of planning paralysis.
So, before you go shopping for desks and big screen monitors, give some careful, honest thought to how you will be using your office space.
Questions to Ask Yourself:
- How fancy do you want to get? What’s your design style? Do you want a minimalist space or a room that could be featured in Better Homes and Gardens? Will clients or business partners see this space?
- Does color matter to you? Color has been shown to affect mood, and choosing the right one can mean the difference between a calm, productive work space and one that leaves you feeling stressed and boxed in. The home-office pros at HGTV agree: “You need a color that gets your work motor humming.”
- Will you see clients in your home office? If so, you’ll need a place for them to wait. You don’t want them walking through a messy kitchen or the kids’ playroom to get to you.
- What’s your tolerance for noise? Do you need quiet to concentrate? Or do you like to keep an ear out for what’s going on around you?
- Do you need help staying organized? Disorganization not only costs money, but it can have a major impact on productivity and morale. Consider how you’ll store and organize files, forms, client info, product samples, and other things you need to work.
- How any personal items do you want in the space? While a decluttered work space can reduce distractions, personal items may actually increase productivity.
- Consider adding plants and pets to your workspace to lower stress and inspire creativity.
- One person’s clutter is another’s inspiration. It’s your office. Add what you want—plants, art work—and hide what you don’t. If stacks of paperwork are stressful, get a filing cabinet or digitize your records. “Go for function, but don’t forget about style,” says Lisa Kanarek, home office expert.
- Don’t worry if something you want or need in your office space doesn’t show up in expert guides like this one. If you know you’ll work better with a certain type of lamp, light bulb, or music set-up, go for it.
- Finally, what have you got to work with? Can you repurpose furniture and equipment you’ve already got? Don’t reinvent the wheel if you already have everything you need to get rolling.
Make a List of Critical Elements
The goal is to find an efficient, comfortable office design that supports your work flow. The following suggestions can get you started on your own list.
Temperature and Lighting
The Spruce suggests you start with temperature control and lighting before tackling other essentials. Obviously, you need a comfortable place to work. Nobody is efficient if they’re freezing to death or dripping sweat onto their computer.
Good lighting is another major need. Try to install lighting over your reading area and computer so there’s no reflection on the monitor. If there’s a window nearby, get window coverings that let you control the light, reduce glare on screens and save your eyes!
The best working light is natural daylight. According to a study conducted by researchers at Northwestern University, individuals who work in natural lighting during the day report higher quality of sleep and greater vitality.
If natural daylight isn’t available—or if you live in an area that is often overcast and gloomy, try full-spectrum bulbs to brighten your office space and get some of the same benefits you would from natural daylight. Not only can the light keep you healthy and reduce eye strain, but the right lighting can keep you happy and focused on long days when you’re finishing up a project.
You don’t want your five-year-old answering business calls. Instead, get a dedicated phone for your home business. If you use your cell phone, consider creating a special ringtone to identify business calls. Alternately, you might prefer using a VoIP (internet-based) phone for business.
Slow internet is a major cause of work frustration (not to mention a huge waste of time). Google “Internet Service Providers” for your area and spring for the fastest connection you can find. If you need help finding the right service, a good resource is Trent Hamm’s The Ultimate Guide to Choosing an Internet Service Provider.
Besides high-speed internet access, you will need peripherals like a network router, surge protector, printer/scanner, and uninterruptible power supply (UPS). Consider, also, how many outlets and charging stations you’ll need and how you can control cable clutter.
Your work surface, whether it’s a fancy desk or a door stretched across two filing cabinets, is where you’ll spend most of your time. Plan enough room (including height) for your computer, monitor, printer, and space for writing. A slide-out shelf for your keyboard and drawers for necessary files or equipment are great ways to free up desk space while increasing comfort and efficiency.
Once you’ve got your basic desk set-up, give some thought to the best way to arrange it for ease of use and desk ergonomics. Consider a stand-up desk or a convertible computer stand to get you up off your duff, at least part of the time.
Even if you get a stand-up desk, you’ll be sitting a lot, so don’t skimp on a comfortable, ergonomic chair. You need good back, arm, and wrist support (and your feet should be supported as well). Some people like sitting on an exercise ball. Some want the latest adjustable office chair. Investigate proper ergonomics and then go with what feels best for you.
To reduce clutter, use space efficiently and store only what you really need in your work area. If you pick up office supply bargains at your favorite big box outlet, store them somewhere else in the house. Think floating shelves on the walls, vertical file folders on the desk, baskets to tame piles of papers, and ample drawers, shelves, and cube storage.
If clients will be meeting in your home office, keep things professional. A separate entrance is ideal, though it isn’t always an option. If clients will need to wait for an appointment with you, comfortable seating, reading light, and interesting literature are important. Consider, too, the privacy needs of your clients.
Even virtual meetings need a feeling of privacy. Think about who might show up behind you during a Skype call. And, don’t suffer the embarrassment of your meeting being interrupted by a screaming toddler or a barking dog.
Choose a location
“The key to a good home office is to make use of whatever space you have, whether it’s a stair landing, a small closet, a spare room, or an unused corner of the living room. For greatest efficiency, find a space that can be dedicated to a home office area.”
–The Spruce, Get a Budget Home Office Set Up on a Shoestring
Now that you’ve planned some of the items and organization you’ll need in your office, it’s time to choose the right space. Home office expert and founder of WorkingNaked.com Lisa Kanarek warns, “don’t treat your working space as a second-class accommodation—give it the importance it deserves.” Try out work spaces for a month or so before deciding exactly where you should be working.
You may think your unfinished basement is perfect for an office, but be realistic. Can you spend long hours in a cold, windowless underground room?
Placing a desk in a corner of the nursery may work while your baby is still an infant, but what happens when she’s a toddler? Besides, you don’t want to have to move your papers to change a diaper (or realize too late that you forgot to move them)!
Similarly, setting up your office in a corner of your bedroom may sound like a good idea initially, especially if you’re pressed for space. But, bedrooms are associated with rest, sleep, and other stress-relieving endeavors. Will you be able to focus on work there? Or worse, will working there keep you from being able to relax when you need?
Consider, also, the age of your children, their supervision needs, and whether you will have help with the wee ones during business hours. Can you really have a separate office free from distractions? Or, will you need a baby monitor or a space in your office for your child to nap/play (and a comfortable place for you to sit when you’re trying to coo him or her back to sleep)?
How big is big enough? Your work space should be big enough to include everything you need—desk, storage, supplies, computer and other tech components. You may also need play space for young kids, or a chair or sofa to meet with clients (or just to give yourself a break).
Does the space have natural light? How can you add the artificial lighting you need?
Location. Location. Location. Is the space close to the bathroom, coffee/water, and other things you may need? Alternately, will being too close to the kitchen, bathroom, or play room be a distraction? If you can’t handle banging pots and pans, flushing toilets, and kids stomping on the stairs, find a location that minimizes outside noise.
Limited space? A little creativity can go a long way. Removing the clothes and pole from a closet—even a small one—and installing electrical connections can provide a simple but effective office space. Converting a dresser or armoire to hold computer, printer, and papers can save even more space. And, when you’re done working you can close the door to your office and focus on being with your family.
Need more room? If you’ll be spending a lot of time in your office, you may need a little more space to feel comfortable. A spare bedroom can be the perfect solution. At first, you might worry that you’re claiming too much space. Remember to give your work space the attention it deserves. Not only will you be spending a lot of time in the room, but the right set-up can increase productivity and give you more time with your kids (and more money in your bank account).
Filling Your Office with the Right Furniture and Technology
Once you’ve found the best place to put your home office and made the necessary compromises you need accommodate your various roles as an at-home worker, the next step is finding the right furniture and equipment to turn your office into a productive work space.
Keeping in mind the need for comfort, good ergonomics, and a productive work space, here are a few great resources to help furnish and stock your home office.
The Wirecutter is a buyer’s guide to the best technology. Their article on The Best Tech and Apps for Your Home Office is perfect for home-based entrepreneurs. A team of experienced remote workers spent more than 150 hours researching and testing gear and apps to find the best and most office friendly options.
- storage and backup
- mice and keyboards
- charging and cables
- laptop and phone docks
- headphones and speakers
- router and modem
- printers and scanners
- web meeting and call recording gear
- productivity and finance apps
Furniture & Supplies
The Wirecutter does more than just technology, and they apply their same thorough testing and attention to detail to furniture and supplies for your home office.
- standing desks and mats
- traditional desks
- office chairs
- filing cabinets
- trash cans
- desk lamps
- LED bulbs
- monitor arms
- laptop stands
- surge protectors
- cable management
- mailing supplies (packing tape, security envelopes, packing material, mailing labels, postal scales)
- writing supplies (pens and mechanical pencils, sticky notes, whiteboards and dry erase markers, notebooks, highlighters)
One-Stop Shop for Furniture & Technology
In their article on Things to make your home office legit, Techcrunch.com condenses several home-office equipment guides to offer online entrepreneurs a complete solution, from furniture to technology and even productivity apps.
- office chairs
- laptop stands
- desktop and portable hard drives
- networking and communication solutions
- cable management
- audio extras
- productivity apps
It’s up to you to find a system and setup that works for your unique style. Digital or hard copy? Wires or WiFi? Hard or soft lighting? The choice is yours.
Of course, there are always pitfalls and detours on the road to success. Fortunately, we can learn from other people’s mistakes and take action to avoid repeating them ourselves.
Common Mistakes When Setting Up a Home Office
- Making things too comfortable. Comfortable surroundings are fine, but don’t overdo it. Interior architecture and design expert Jo Heinz puts it this way: “While comfort is essential in any office, an office that is too casual may seriously impede the ability to get things done.”
- Not separating business from your personal life. Maintaining a healthy work-life balance when working from home is easier when you have the right processes in place. Keep a separate business bank account to avoid mixing business and personal expenses. Set regular work hours and let your family know when you’re working. And, close the door to your office at the end of the work day so you can focus on relaxing and being with your family.
- Poor record keeping. There’s nothing worse than completing a job and realizing you can’t bill for it or deduct expenses because you didn’t keep the receipts.
- Not observing office hours. Staying focused and productive during work hours means fewer all-nighters or missed deadlines. Having a set time to end work each day can also reduce stress and help maintain work-life balance. People need to know when they can get hold of you. If you don’t have a clear cut-off for when you start and stop work, you may find yourself taking client calls during dinner, bedtime, or on the weekends.
- Not dressing for work. Sure, you can work naked, as Lisa Kanarek’s delightful Workingnaked.com blog implies (she even sponsors a working naked day). But, putting on “work” clothes can actually make you more productive.
- Not setting boundaries. You need ground rules for yourself, your family, and your clients. Establish clear expectations for when you’re available for a client call and when it’s OK for kids to interrupt you.
It all boils down to what you hope to accomplish working from home. Is this a hobby that sometimes earns a little extra cash? Or is it a career you and your family rely on? Decide what your work-from-home life means to you and set the rules and pace you need to manage projects and stay motivated.
With a little planning it’s possible to avoid many of the pitfalls that have derailed other online entrepreneurs. Of course, the biggest challenge many work-at-home parents struggle with is feeling confident they made the right choice for their child.
Consider Your Child’s Age and Needs
When your children are young and need supervision
Find the right job. WAHM.com, an online magazine for work-at-home moms, recommends that your first order of business with very young children is to choose work to fit your child’s age and situation. Find a company or position that allows flex time. Determine how many hours a day you will be able to work and the time of day that’s best for you.
You need a job that makes room for your level of distraction. A position that keeps you on call 24/7 is a no-go with small children at home. But, working for an investment company or starting a small business may give you the required flexibility.
Work while your children sleep. If your infant or toddler naps as part of his or her daily routine, put that nap time to good use! Schedule non-urgent tasks you can complete in the short windows when your tot is asleep. Work-at-home mom Allison Martin explains how she did it: “When my youngest was an infant, my schedule was all over the place. However, I had a specific ‘nap time’ list chock full of tasks that needed to be completed at some point. I didn’t include anything too urgent on the list in case he decided to skip a nap on a given day, which was not uncommon.”
Work the graveyard shift. This won’t be an appealing option for everyone, and try not to make a habit of it, but many freelance jobs can be done during the wee hours of the night when everyone else is asleep (and the house is quiet). If you do work late, try to take time off the following day to recoup. Sleep deprivation leads to lost productivity.
Be an early riser. That hour or two before the kids wake up can be the perfect time to play a little catch-up with your too-long to-do list. You can enjoy a cup of coffee and get organized while things are quiet. Or, you can use the time to do chores around the house and clean your work space.
Add a kid’s activity center or play zone to your home office. Keeping toys and games your child can easily access and play with in your office—like a miniature desk, phone, and typewriter—can keep him or her close but occupied. If your kids like art, add construction paper, glue sticks, crayons, scissors, and washable markers. Martin adds, “to make it more fun, I submit requests for particular artwork to hang in the ‘office gallery’ they have created.”
When your children are older and need less supervision
Set clear expectations. Tell your children what you expect and teach them how to act when you’re working to reduce interruptions. The more consistent you are, the easier it will be for your children to cooperate.
Martin uses drills to help her kids practice what to do when mom’s working and something comes up. For example:
- “If the phone rings and mommy quietly steps into the office, do you run after her screaming or quietly have a seat and wait for her to finish the call?
- If (for some strange reason) I leave the door unlocked and you decide to enter and notice mommy on the phone, how do you react?
- If mommy is staring at the computer screen with “that look on her face” when you enter, do you scream your demands or politely request mommy’s attention?”
It’s important to let your kids know when it is OK to interrupt, as well. If there’s an emergency, you don’t want your child waiting for you to finish a call.
Create after school activities. Keep a folder or box of fun things your kids can do when they come home from school. This doesn’t have to be a toy or game. Instead, Martin suggests assigning kids simple tasks, like organizing papers on your desk, or asking them to join you at your desk to read a favorite book or do their homework. A few simple activities can buy an extra 30 minutes of time to wrap up your work for the day.
- play dates
- art projects
- books (picture books work well for kids younger than 8)
- audio books
- educational computer games
- cycling their toys (putting some of their toys away to produce later so they remain fresh)
- acting or writing a story
- playing with pets
- listening to or playing music
- playing outside
Hire a nanny. Of course, one of the main reasons you work from home is so you can spend more time with your kids. Nevertheless, there are times when you need a little help keeping up with active children and active clients. Consider hiring a nanny for a few hours a day to keep the kids busy and give you the time you need to meet deadlines.
Work on a weekend. This should be a seldom-used, last-resort option, especially if you began working from home to feel more in control of your hours. That said, it may be worth sacrificing one day of your weekend to get caught up so you don’t start the next week overdue and overwhelmed. If you do work over the weekend, treat yourself to a reward. And remember, don’t make it a habit.
Regardless of your child’s age and supervisory needs
Set a work routine. Begin a work routine as soon as possible, even if you don’t have a job yet and the kids are still babies. Children accept what they’re used to, and you’ll have fewer interruptions if they understand your expectations and routine early. Keep work periods short at first, and lengthen them as kids get older. Schedule child-centered activities right after work periods as a special treat for both you and your child.
Know your phone protocol. Let calls go to voice mail when you’re with the kids. Return calls when the house is quiet, or communicate by text or email. If an interruption happens while you’re on a work call, ask if they’ll excuse you for just a moment and put the call on mute while you deal with the problem.
Allow interruptions. Find work and establish a routine that allows for short interruptions. Take short breaks to help your child dress a doll, give him or her a hug, or help start a new game or activity.
Encourage supervised independence. With the right set-up and a little encouragement, kids can learn to do many things for themselves. Shuffle items in your home so your child can get their own drinks and snacks or help with chores. They learn good habits and develop a sense of accomplishment while you get extra time to focus on work.
Involve your kids in the business. Celebrate your successes with your children. Let them see your happiness and join in on the fun. You’re doing this for them, after all.
Here’s to Your Success Working from Home
Working from home while raising children can be the best of both worlds. You get to be close to your kids and watch them grow, all while setting your own schedule.
It isn’t all sunshine and roses, though. Keeping work life and family life separated can be a challenge, and some professionals struggle to stay motivated and meet deadlines when working from home.
Opportunities for interesting, fulfilling work that pays well and can be done from home are out there. Finding work that fits your skills and experience—and schedule—can be well worth the effort. And, with the right set-up for your home office, you can achieve greater success at home than many people do with traditional 9-5 careers.