Article: Working from Home
This article looks at some of the issues to consider if you want to start working from home.
The workplace in your home
Working from home can seem to offer the perfect lifestyle. No bus or train to catch, no traffic jams, no bad weather to contend with. Get up when you want to, work when it suits you, and take time off whenever you like. Sounds too good to be true?
For some people, working at home is the perfect solution. For example, it can help people to combine a career with family commitments. Others find that they miss the company of work colleagues.
However, even if you have the space at home to create a work area, and even if you find the right business idea - there's still a lot to consider.
Where to put your work area
The lounge, a spare bedroom, the garden shed, or the kitchen table - homeworkers establish their work areas wherever they can. Wherever you decide to locate yourself, you will need to think about how it will affect other family members.
If you need peace and quiet, for example, it's probably not a good idea to site your work area where the rest of the family is constantly passing through.
You might also need to consider where the power points are in the room, if you will need an extra telephone point or line, or if you need a store-room - which could be your garage. Depending on the type of business you're running, you might need to make major alterations to your home.
You will also need to consider health and safety issues, such as making sure the seating and lighting are right for you. You might also have to consider making your work area secure.
Neighbours and permissions
In summary, working from home could involve:
- building society/landlord permissions
- local authority permissions
- paying business rates on part of your property
- food hygiene licences
- fire certificates
- a health and safety risk assessment
- an insurance review.
People who can help
If all this seems daunting, remember that there are people who can help with advice and information - some of which is free. Contact your local:
- bank manager
- VAT office
- HM Revenue and Customs department
- Health and Safety Executive office.
Other professionals such as accountants, solicitors, financial advisers and business consultants can also be useful if you're prepared to pay for their services.
You can also get advice on starting a business and becoming self-employed from the government website GOV.UK - see 'Businesses and Self-Employed' under Further Information.
Dealing with interruptions
A common complaint of homeworkers is that just when they are trying to concentrate, someone calls - often friends or family. It's wise at the outset to remind people tactfully that you are actually working at home.
You could try to establish certain times on certain days when you can be available for a chat over a cup of tea. As long as you can keep some control over when you're available, keeping in touch with people is a good thing.
Working by yourself
We are naturally social creatures, so working alone for long periods doesn't agree with everyone. Some home-based work can, by its very nature, be quite solitary. Even if you are in touch with people by email or phone, you could find the lack of personal contact difficult to cope with.
However, there are strategies that can help:
- Encourage short visits at pre-arranged times by family and friends. Keep these to sensible times, for example, at lunch-time when you will probably stop work for a break anyway.
- Arrange to meet a colleague or a friend away from the house at an agreed time once or twice a week.
- If you belong to a professional association, attend meetings at your local branch.
Planning your working day
As there is no boss to tell you to get on with it, you will need the ability to motivate yourself. If you have never worked alone, this is something you're going to need to learn. To work from home successfully, you will need to be:
- well motivated
- able to organise your time effectively
- able to prioritise your work.
What you lose and what you gain
You could work from home and remain an employee of a company - in which case you may have the best of both worlds.
The company will still be responsible for paying you, and for your training. It will usually have to assess your health and safety and contribute to the cost of your equipment and running costs. You will also be able to call on support services such as IT help.
However, if you decide to work from home as a self-employed individual, your situation will change.
In return for your independence, you may give up certain benefits which, as an employed person, you may have taken for granted. For example:
- You will be responsible for your own sickness pay and holiday pay.
- You may not be able to guarantee a regular flow of work, or regular income.
- You will probably need to arrange your own pension provision.
Costs of working from home
To begin with, you might have to invest quite large sums of money, or borrow money to pay for equipment and services. It can't be stressed too strongly that it is vital to seek impartial, professional advice before investing any money in a business.
The amount of investment will, of course, depend on the type of work you do. Many home-based work activities can be set up at relatively low cost.
However, all businesses have running costs - as a minimum, these are likely to include increased electricity, gas, telephone and broadband bills, and possibly insurance premiums. Make sure you budget carefully for the cost of start-up equipment as well as running costs.
Note: never send any money in advance to a company advertising for homeworkers. There are many false schemes advertised where you could lose your money.
What type of work?
There are many ways to work from home. Here are some ideas you might want to consider.
Working for yourself
You might decide to become self-employed in your existing trade or profession. If your job can be done at home, you might decide to work independently. Perhaps you feel you can make more money, be more efficient or more cost-effective than your employer's operation, or perhaps you just want to change your lifestyle.
Your knowledge, experience and existing contacts might get you off to a good start. However, you will need to be reasonably sure that you can sustain the flow of work. You should also check your current employment contract. This could contain a clause preventing you from operating in the same business as your employer in a certain area or for a certain length of time.
You could consider turning your hobby into a business. This could be your chance to earn a living from what you like doing most.
Some people turn their home into a business. You could consider running a bed & breakfast or, if you have the space, a tea/coffee shop or art/craft gallery, for example. If your garden is big enough, it might be possible to grow and sell your own produce.
Working for someone else
You might be able to keep your existing job, but work from home. This will, of course, depend on the type of work you do. Clerical or administrative work in particular lends itself to home-based working. Jobs in selling often allow work from home.
It's possible to link your home computer with your employer's network. A range of roles, from computer programming and database management to stock control and book-keeping can be covered in this way.
Alternatively, if your job is not one that lends itself to homeworking, you could consider retraining in skills more suitable for home-based work.
Some homeworkers assemble goods, pack products or make clothes. You may be able to gain a regular supply of work from one or more businesses. Make sure you will be working for a reasonable hourly rate and get a contract. Never send any money in advance to a company advertising for homeworkers.
Consider a suitable home-based franchise business. Franchise operations allow you to buy into an already established business. Franchisees normally have an exclusive area in which to trade, and may receive equipment, advice, training and marketing support from the franchiser.
In addition to your initial investment, you pay the franchiser a percentage of your profits. As with any other business investment, it is vital to seek professional, impartial advice on the terms of any franchise operation you might consider.
The British Franchise Association has a list of member franchisers, and also runs seminars for people thinking of becoming franchisees.
Health and Safety Executive (HSE)
Businesses and Self-Employed
UK government services and information
Address: Enterprise House, 18 Parsons Court, Welbury Way, Aycliffe Business Park, Durham DL5 6ZE
Tel: 0845 2245928
British Franchise Association
Address: 85f Milton Park, Abingdon OX14 4RY
Tel: 01235 820470
Address: c/o Knowledge Computing Ltd, PO Box 208, Sandbach CW11 5DL
Address: 61 Charterhouse Road, Orpington, Kent BR6 9EN
Tel: 0800 616800