home icon

Working From Home: The Good, the Bad and the Bottom Line

Smart advice from a home-office expert

By Matthew Solan | July 16, 2012
Contributor Photo

Matthew Solan is a health and fitness writer based in St. Petersburg, Fla. His website is www.matthewsolan.com.

Most mornings are like this: I grab the first T-shirt from my clothes basket, slip on the same khaki shorts I’ve worn for two days, skip the Barbasol and go to work. My commute is 20 steps, from a French press coffee pot to the home office, which was once my front porch. 
 
This is my place of business. I have been fortunate to work at home for seven years now, and if I have it my way this will be my last desk job.  
 
Working from home used to be the stuff of infomercials, but nowadays it has become business as usual. It is estimated that 20 million to 30 million people work from home at least one day a week, and that there are 10 million to 15 million home-based businesses, according to statistics from Global Workplace Analytics. The latest figures for the number of Americans who work from home or remotely at least one day a month increased from about 12.4 million in 2006 to 17.2 million in 2008 — that's a 39 percent increase in two years. 

(More: 6 Steps to a Workable Home Office)
 
Older adults are prime candidates. There are an estimated 30 million small businesses in the United States and roughly half of them are home based, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. Entrepreneurial activity is at its highest level in almost 15 years, with 55- to 64-year-olds representing the second most active age group. And 25 percent of employers plan to offer telecommuting to boomers who have retired but still want to keep doing some work. 

While working from home has its perks — stay in your PJs all day! — it also has its pitfalls. To be productive and successful, you need to approach your home office as if it were the corporate world. Here are some suggestions:
 
Create the right environment. Set aside a place to work, even if it's not a traditional office. Home-office expert Lisa Kanarek, founder of WorkingNaked.com, says your space should be equipped with these must-have basics:
 
  • A computer and software to fit your business needs.
  • An all-in-one printer-scanner-copier, which saves space and money.
  • A desk with plenty of drawer space for supplies and files. “I prefer an L-shaped desk that provides an extra work surface,” Kanarek says.
  • Good lighting.
  • An ergonomic chair instead of one borrowed from your dining room set. Don’t go cheap here. Like your bed, you’ll spend one-third of your life on it, so invest in quality and comfort.
Set up a schedule. It's essential to maintain balance between your business life and your personal life, Kanarek says. The key is to keep strict business hours. Yes, working from home means you have the flexibility to arrange your workday around personal business (shopping, doctor appointments, etc.), but it’s too easy for eight-hour days to turn into 12-plus marathons. Create daily work hours — and stick to them. At the end of your work day, turn everything off, shut the door and close up shop.
 
Reassign commuter time. Sure, you're no longer commuting, but that doesn’t mean you should spend that time working. “Use that morning time for valuable and healthy me-time: Work out, take a walk with a friend, savor that cup of coffee while reading the headlines,” Kanarek says.
 
Take regular breaks. If you're like me, you can easily get in the habit of sitting at the computer for eight hours straight. My solution: Set a timer on your computer for every two hours. When it goes off, stop what you're doing and get away from your desk. Go for a walk, meditate, stretch your back or just quiet your mind for 10 minutes. 

Block Internet surfing. It’s too tempting to constantly check out Facebook, ESPN, and hey, did someone re-pin from my Pinterest board? You need the Web for business, but if the Internet becomes too distracting block it out for certain periods. Freedom software (for Mac or Windows) can disable Internet connections for up to eight hours.  
 
Dress for success. The beauty of working from home is that you can dump the business uniform and make every day Casual Friday. Still, some people are more productive when they dress the part. Even if you're not putting on slacks and a blazer, get out of your pajamas, shower and get groomed. 
 
Get out of the house. Working at home is not easy for everyone. The transition can be overwhelming if you're used to a corporate setting that buzzes with co-workers and conversation. So get out once a week: Bring your laptop to a coffee shop or library. “You don't have to talk with anyone, but being around others can fight loneliness and motivate you to be productive,” Kanarek says.
 
Find a support group Anyone who works from home still needs to network. “Whether you join a trade association or a networking group,” Kanarek says, "you should surround yourself with others who also have left the corporate world.” You can find people in your area who work from their residences at home meet-up sites. 
 
In the end, a home office can be the ideal setting for your next life adventure. And you don’t need much space to feel like a CEO with a skyline vista. My office looks out at the bamboo in the front yard, and to me it’s as cool as Don Draper’s view.

(More: Operate a Virtual Office to Save Actual Money)

Financial Advantages of a Home Office
 
Your home-based business is first and foremost a business, so you should be aware of certain financial aspects and necessities.
 
Insurance. Ask your insurance agent to review your homeowners’ policy. Most plans cover basic office equipment, but the coverage often is limited to a few thousand dollars. You might consider a separate business insurance policy that provides liability (in case an employee or customer gets hurt on site) and loss-of-income protection if your home office is damaged by a fire or flood.
 
Taxes. The upside: You can deduct many household expenses related to your home office, such as a portion of mortgage interest, utility bills and home repairs. The downside: You must pay corporate taxes as well as a self-employment tax if you're the sole proprietor. If you're set up as a corporation, however, different tax rules apply. Check with your accountant or the U.S. Small Business Association.  

Working From Home = Happy, More Productive Workers
 
What if you want to keep your current job but work at home? Ask your boss for a transfer — it will make you a better worker.
 
A 2010 study in the Journal of Family Psychology examined more than 24,000 IBM employees and found that those who worked flexible hours from home at least once a week experienced less burnout than the 8-to-5 staffers. Office workers reached burnout after 38 hours, while telecommuters could go almost 57 hours.
 
And a 2012 study from Stanford University found that call center employees from China who worked from home for nine months increased performance by 12 percent and reported high work satisfaction. Job attrition rates also fell by 50 percent.

Those are the kinds of stats that can make everyone feel right at home.
Newsletter
Next Avenue in your Inbox

Each week we'll send you stories, perspective and advice.