In 1997, I wrote The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Starting a Home-Based Business, which subsequently went through 3 editions. By the time I wrote the book, I’d already been working from home for a number of years. This took place before the internet, before fax machines, and before working from home was a concept embraced by the business world. Now, 2 years into COVID-19 and the widespread use of remote work arrangements, I thought it would be fun to share some of my experiences with working from home. They may prove to be valuable lessons to owners and employees now working from their homes.
Lessons learned from years of working from home
When I started working from home, it was a business arrangement out of the ordinary. Many customers and clients assumed you worked in an office because you tried hard to create this impression. Fortunately, I was able to add onto my home to create a professional office with a separate entrance. The space was dedicated to work and the arrangement helped to create a professional façade.
Back then, for many who also worked from home, it was believed that you needed a commercial mailing address, which you could obtain from Mailboxes Etc., Inc., This company was acquired by the UPS Store, which still offers mailboxes bearing a commercial address. For that professional front, you didn’t want family noise from children, pets, and personal deliveries to be heard when you were on the telephone (only landlines were an option then).
Today, with Zoom meetings and other online activities conducted for work from home, it’s still essential to maintain professionalism. This means keeping up appearances to the extent necessary. Commercial mailboxes and having a receptionist screen calls may not be necessary, but being punctual to online meetings, blocking background noise, and fulfilling deadlines are examples of maintaining professionalism when working from home.
Focus on business
It’s obvious that there are many distractions when working from home. This may be children, pets, chores, or other obligations that seem to call out to you for attention. There also can be other endeavors that may grab your attention…exercising, watching a favored program, gardening, or reading. But when you’re working from home, you need to work. You may have flexibility to arrange your time and accommodate your other obligations and pleasurable activities. After all, you save time by not having to commute and you can use this extra time for yourself.
When I started working from home, I was afraid that distractions would keep me from work. I decided to set a fixed 9-5 schedule and dress the same as I would if I were going to an office with a skirt, stockings, and heels. This structure only lasted a day. I was able to accomplish what I needed to do with a flexible time schedule wearing jeans and slippers. Each person needs to find the solution that enables them to focus on business in a home environment.
Beware of potential liability
Being a homeowner or renter means you carry insurance for your residence. But is that insurance sufficient for potential business risks? If you have equipment or store inventory at home, your homeowner’s/renter’s policy likely won’t cover in whole or in part any property losses from damage, destruction, or theft to business assets. And if you have business visitors to your home office and they experience any physical injury, again your policy may not cover or fully cover liability to this third party. You likely need to obtain a separate business owner’s policy (BOP) or get a rider on your existing homeowner’s/renter’s policy to cover your exposure.
When I had my law practice, which I mentioned was conducted in an office built onto my home, a client fell and had an open wound to her forehead. I drove her to the hospital for stitches. Fortunately for me, her health insurance policy covered the medical costs and she didn’t sue for any negligence. However, in subsequently checking on my homeowner’s policy, I learned I would not have been covered for this occurrence. The fix was easy: putting a rider on my homeowner’s policy to protect against liability claims from occasional “business visitors.” Such visitors include clients, IT techs, and delivery people.
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg said: “People are more productive working at home than people would have expected. Some people thought that everything was just going to fall apart, and it hasn’t.”
Just be sure to make any necessary accommodations so that this work arrangement is optimized for you.