When you work at home, you are your own office manager. Computer malfunctions, working with utility repairers, and keeping your printer paper stocked is entirely your responsibility.
If you work from home, it is essential that you protect your workspace and your business by developing an office management plan. Whether it’s sourcing ergonomically correct home office furniture or developing a backup plan in case of computer and Internet malfunctions, good home office management will establish your professionalism and increase your profits.
Home Office Management Tips
1. Establish a Separate Workspace
It’s wise to create a sense of separateness in your home office, even if your workspace is a part of another room or in a corner of your basement. While actually using a separate room isn’t always possible, try your best to identify a spot in your home that will be your “office area.” If you don’t have walls or partitions for your office area, you can create mental boundaries by confining your work activities (including phone conversations and answering email) to this location.
There are a number of reasons why specifically cordoning off an area in your house as work-only is important:
- A clearly defined home office space establishes boundaries for both you and household members. Children, roommates, spouses, and partners will learn to respect your need to concentrate on your work if they can easily identify when you are working and not available for dealing with personal or family issues.
- It reduces the risk of work-related paperwork and equipment getting lost in the rest of your home.
- It helps you establish a professional presence when meeting with clients.
- If you plan to take the home office tax deduction, it is easier to defend against an audit if you can show that your work takes place in an area of your home used exclusively for work.
2. Go Pro With Your Office Supplies and Furniture
Your grandmother’s antique desk and chair set may look beautiful, but it’s probably an ergonomic and organizational nightmare. Make sure you have a comfortable office chair and a well-designed computer desk in your home office to help protect yourself against body strain and reduce clutter.
You don’t need to buy these pieces new – check out Craigslist to find individuals and businesses selling old office furniture. Another option is to find if any office furniture stores near you that deal in used furniture – some might even deliver. Keep your eyes peeled for any going-out-of-business sales, as these stores often sell off their fixtures, office furniture, and even office machines (such as computers and printers) while trying to liquidate their inventory.
3. Establish Separate Email and Telephone Accounts
When it comes to communications, it is best to avoid mixing business with pleasure. You don’t want your kids answering a client’s phone call and you don’t want to risk including a client on a mass email containing the latest lolcats meme. It’s also easy to overlook or miss emails and messages from clients if they come into your personal mailboxes and accounts.
If you don’t want to bother with a separate phone line, you can still get a dedicated number that connects to a voice mailbox, allowing you to receive messages from clients and prospects so that you can call them back at your leisure.
4. Make Use of Home Office Services
Check out the office/business services offered by local copy shops, as well as corporate chains, such as FedEx Office or the UPS Store in your area. Many of these places target their services to small and home-based business owners who don’t have a mail room or can’t afford to hire support staff.
Services vary by location, but in addition to offering copy services, private mailboxes, and package shipping, these shops may also accept packages on your behalf (which is important if you get a lot of deliveries) and may even provide customers with free and low-cost computer access.
5. Make Backup Plans
Nobody wants to think about events that could derail their business, but if you are a small business owner it’s important that you do so. If you don’t identify threats to your business, you’ll have to scramble when things don’t go as planned.
From natural disasters to long-term illness, a change in circumstances can bring an end to your business if you aren’t able to continue working. Even a short-term problem, such as a power failure or computer malfunction, can damage your business if you aren’t able to meet a client’s deadline or process orders efficiently.
Planning for Major Events
Natural disasters, terrorism, civil unrest, or disease outbreaks can have a devastating effect on large and small businesses alike, and even the best laid plans may make it difficult for individual business owners to get their businesses going again on their own. The U.S. Small Business Administration offers extensive information about business disaster planning on its website, along with information about government programs that can help business owners reestablish operations after a major event causes disruption in a community.
Planning for the Unexpected
Things that can disrupt your ability to get work done include power and utility failures, equipment failures, illness, injury, and family emergencies. While some of these circumstances are unavoidable, you risk losing clients and customers if you are unable to meet deadlines, ship products in a timely manner, or simply provide your normal level of service.
Here are some ideas for managing common scenarios:
- Identify Places to Get Online. Check out your neighborhood for places that offer WiFi and allow customers to use the service for long periods of time. Cafes, copy shops, shipping stores, and public libraries are all potential places to find WiFi. The homes of friends and family may also be good places to get online – just be sure to call and ask before dropping by! Identify several work-friendly hotspots in your area and make a note of their hours of operation so you don’t waste time going from place to place when your Internet goes down.
- Look Into Pay-As-You-Go Broadband. With a USB modem and pay-as-you-go broadband, you’ll be able to stay at home in case your regular Internet service shuts down.
- Backup Technology. While it is a good idea to keep backups of your files and projects, you should also have some backup technology available in case your computer goes on the fritz. The easiest way to do this is to purchase an inexpensive laptop or netbook that you can use if your primary computer goes down. While you can keep an older desktop model on hand instead, it isn’t portable or chargeable, which makes it useless if you suffer a power outage simultaneous to a computer malfunction. You can also look into backup services like Backblaze and Mozy.
- Buy an Uninterrupted Power Source (UPS). A UPS can protect your machine against power surges and give you enough time to power down your desktop system – as well as send a quick email to clients to let them know that you will be without power for awhile. You can find uninterrupted power sources on Amazon for as low as $50.
- Keep a Hard Copy of Important Information. It’s a good idea to have a hard copy of your client’s contact information so that you can keep in touch with them even if you can’t access the Internet or your computer files.
6. Know When It’s Time to Move Into a New Space
While many people are able to operate a home business successfully, you may eventually come to a point where it’s no longer practical to work from home, at least on a full-time basis. Perhaps you need to regularly meet face-to-face with clients, store a lot of inventory, or work in an environment with fewer distractions.
Consider co-working spaces that allow you to rent a desk in a shared office space if you can’t afford or won’t need a full office. Many co-working spaces allow you to rent space according to your needs, so you won’t have to commit to a full-time contract if all you need is a place to meet clients a couple of times each month. Another option is office sharing, which lets you partner with another office renter or owner to share office costs.
The challenges of working from home and the rewards can stay in balance when you establish a home office that functions well. Keep in mind that no office runs itself. Making good decisions and exercising self-discipline will help keep your business running smoothly for the long haul.
What are some of your best tips for keeping your home office or workspace running efficiently?