5 Things to Expect When You Start Working from Home

watercooler-talkI’ve been tagged again – twice. This time, by my friends Carolyn and Griffin. I guess that makes me either one of the slowest kids on the playground, or just popular. I’m going with popular ;).

So rather than subject you to more off-topic stuff about me, I thought I’d bring the meme back to my topic and do 5 things, home-based business style. So without further ado, here are 5 things you can expect when you start working from home…

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The Thrill of Productivity, and the Agony of Deceit

pondering-guyThere’s nothing quite like looking back on the day as it comes to a close and seeing results – knowing that you’ve actually accomplished something. My mood in the evenings when I’ve had a productive day is entirely different from days when I’m not getting stuff done. I can be exhausted from working my butt off, but the thrill of accomplishment makes the exhaustion worthwhile.

Compare that with the feeling when you’ve been wasting time and blowing off work. Oh, you’ve done a great job of kidding yourself. You’ve been busting hump all day – just look at how much time you’ve spent at the computer. But inside, you’re well aware of the deceit – the lack of any real work getting done.

Who Are You Fooling?

Working in constant panic and fire drill mode, especially for a work at home parent, is a disaster. Things fall through the cracks and you start ending the day ticked at yourself for wasting a whole day. Then during that important evening family time, you waste it by thinking about what you didn’t get done. Maybe you even get a little snippy and moody. Being productive makes for a much smoother home-business and can make for a more peaceful home.

Stop kidding yourself. If you are just treading water, eventually you’re going to drown. That is unless you reach for a life preserver – start by making a productivity plan.

Focusing on Productivity

Do you have a productivity plan? Are you a member of the GTD set, or perhaps a Mac-n-Merlin enthusiast? I lean toward grid-paper, mixed with some DYI Planner, my own flow template, and a little
Printable CEO
thrown in. No mater what you use, it’s better than keeping it in your head. Just the act of making a list can help thrust you into a cycle of productive work.

Make a plan, no matter how simple, and follow it. Things will constantly come up, so make sure it’s flexible. By giving yourself a map to follow, you are much better equipped to have a productive day.

The thrill of productivity can have a huge impact on your business and your home life – but unfortunately so can the agony of deceit.

Meetings in Your Skivvies – Tools for the Work at Home Professional

Of all the perks that come with working from home, one of the most common favorites is the end of senseless meetings. Think of all the time wasted talking about doing stuff, that could actually be used to get stuff done.

meeting-guyMeetings still have a place though, and as a home-based professional, you have a variety of tools available to make them much less painful. I use important criteria when planning a meeting, such as:

  • Do I have to shave?
  • Can I wear a hat, or do I have to comb my hair?
  • Are lounge pants acceptable attire?
  • Will the dog have to leave the room?

These are vital questions to consider when planning out your meetings. With all the options at our disposal these days, you can have a very productive meeting that may not require a dress shirt – or even pants.

Video Conferencing

Video conferencing is the next best thing to being there. Chances are you don’t have the funds or the need for Cisco’s Telepresence (a real bargain starting at just $79,000), or even the less expensive Microsoft RoundTable.

A simple, inexpensive Webcam, something in the $100 range, should suit you fine. If you want a real-world review round-up, check out Cowboy Frank.

As for software, if you’re using Windows you may already have NetMeeting. I’ve used it for years, and it is “good enough” for most uses. But if you want something really nice, SiteSpeed can’t be beat for the price and features. If you know what a codec is, than you’ll be impressed with theirs. If not, just know that it makes the video a lot less choppy than others.

If you’re on a Mac, there’s no need to look further than iChat. Again, it’s perfect for most home-based business purposes. If you’re on Linux, you aren’t going to want me telling you what to use, you know what you’re doing.

Web-based Meetings

There are lots of options when it comes to Web-based conferencing. Sharing your desktop, making presentations, video, and whiteboards are the most common features. I’ve used WebEx most often, mainly because that’s what my larger clients use. DimDim is a newcomer and is getting some good press and Vyew offers many of the features of WebEx for free.

If you’re looking for just a way to do online presentations, maybe coupled with a phone call, check out SlideShare or Teamslide.

For full project collaboration type options, take a look at Basecamp, activeCollab, or Zoho Projects.

Teleconferencing

When you do a search for teleconferencing, you get so many results, it’s completely overwhelming. I can’t offer much in the way or options here, because I’ve used 2 services in the past 5 years – AccuConference and Skype. There are others that I’m sure are great, but with these 2, I’ve never had the need to try anything else. I’ve found AccuConference to work well for my needs, the pricing competitive, and service reliable. As for Skype, well that deserves its own entry…

Skype

Yes, I’ll admit it. I’m one of those Skype evangelists. There are alternatives, but Skype has become such a great tool, that I use it every day. I make all my long distance calls using Skype, use it for chat, and have even done some videoconferencing. My business line long distance bill is now non-existent, and I find that my first instinct is to use Skype for all my calls.

I have the IPEVO Free-1 (in Ultimate Black) Skype Phone which suits my needs fine. There are more expensive and more feature rich options available, but for 35 bucks, it can’t be beat.

Text Chat

It’s becoming more and more common to conduct meetings, brainstorming sessions, and discussions over text chat. I have business partners and colleagues I’ve never met in person, and probably only talked to on the phone once or twice. Text chat is immediate and not encumbering. It lets you get to the point faster and get your ideas down quick.

Chances are you will have to deal with a few different types – AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), Yahoo! Messenger, GTalk, MSN, Jabber – so I prefer a text chat tool that can handle them all. I have logins for all of the major players, so I want to be able to accommodate the person I’m talking to. I use Gaim as my main chat client (along with Skype as a more all-around tool). It’s open source, free, and handles most of the major login types. If you prefer a commercial client – Trillian Pro is a feature-rich program. Then there’s Meebo, a Web-based version that works with AIM, Yahoo! Messenger, Jabber or GTalk, and MSN.

You might want to try out a few to see which best meets your needs.

Down With Meetings, Long Live Meetings…

There will always be meetings. That’s something that we can be sure of. But by utilizing the many tools available, you can save you and your clients time, money, and some sanity by making meetings more efficient and useful. So forget about shaving, stay in your comfy pants, and remember why you work from home – to do business on your terms. With or without pants.

WAHOO Getaway – Your Home Office Away From Home

wahoo-getawayWorking from home, to me, is the only way to work. The freedom, the family time, and the environment are just few of the perks. There’s nothing quite like working away in your lounge pants, favorite t-shirt, and worn-out hat. But there are times when cabin fever sets in, or the noise and distractions get to be a little too much. It’s at these times when I escape to what I began calling my WAHOO getaway – my Work-At-Home Offsite Office.

Choosing a WAHOO

If you work from home, you would probably benefit from a WAHOO. It’ll help you keep your sanity when you need to get out, but still need to work. Your offsite office can be a local café, a favorite park, a pizza place, the library, a shared office space, anywhere that you can go on a regular basis to get out of the house, but still be productive.

Every person will have their own needs when choosing an offsite office. I tend to gravitate towards cafés and restaurants. I know lots of folks who prefer outdoor places, like parks. Whatever the place, the key is to make sure it has what you need to get some work done. Things I usually look for are…

Good Coffee

I make pretty good coffee at home, so if I’m going to plunk down 2 bucks for a cup, it better be good. I know, you’re thinking – two bucks? Yeah, I get the regular drip stuff, preferably an organic, shade grown, dark roast. No dessert drinks for me. I prefer good flavor on a cheap budget.

Free WiFi

Most of the time, I need an internet connection if I’m working. I’ll be writing and need to research stuff or to IM. But on many occasions I’ll turn off email and IM when at a café to avoid distractions.

Tables and Space

Many places cater to those who need to work, so the tables, chairs and space available is ideal for the mobile worker. Some prefer a corner table. Others may like the big plush chair. Being able to get comfortable and settle in is important.

Power Outlets

This may seem trivial, but many places only have one or two outlets to plug in to when your battery is low. I’ve seen guys who bring their own power strip so they could share the one outlet available.

Atmosphere

This is more a personal taste thing, but I like comfortable spots that tend to be quiet and soothing. Some places are more conducive to groups of workers, and I can only take so much of a corporate offsite that thinks their company’s plans should be heard by all. “Wow, I’m sure your PowerPoint with the 10 paragraphs of 6 point type is swell and all, but I try to avoid the stuff you’re yapping about like a pox.”

Having a place to go not only gets you out of the house, but gives you the opportunity to interact with other people – and often the best way to work through a creative block is to change the scenery.

Think about what would make the ideal offsite office for you – and plan your own WAHOO getaway.


Footnote – I’d be remiss it I didn’t mention how good the other kind of Wahoo can be. Tasty… ;)

The Myth of the Sleeping Baby and Other Fallacies for the Work at Home Parent


Myth of the Sleeping BabyOne of the great joys of working from home is being able to be there for your kids. Visions of blissful workdays filled with productivity, dotted by small sojourns of playtime, fill the mind of those dreaming of making the leap into a home-based business. What a perfect setup!

But for anyone who has worked for longer than 1.3 seconds at home knows, the myths of the idyllic home-workday are quickly shattered. Here I will attempt to provide some workarounds (because like with buggy software, there are no real fixes) to some of the most commonly held misconceptions of those making the transition to the Professional Nest Life.

I. Sleeping Baby Myth

“I’ll work while the baby sleeps.” Even after 14 years of working from home (9 of those with kids) and 3 babies, I still find myself believing this one. So it’s hard for me not to buy into it when others say it. The truth is you will NOT work while the baby sleeps. Because scheduling work time during baby’s naptime, is a guarantee that she won’t sleep. At all.

Despite what the experts say, I’ve come to realize that babies only need about 45 minutes of sleep a day. This is done in 3 15-minutes increments – while running errands. Since it’s next to impossible to get work done while running errands, the “work while baby is sleeping” plan quickly falls apart.

In addition, babies have never read David Allen’s Getting Thing Done book. They do not understand the concept of Next Actions or @Waiting. So trying to schedule around them becomes problematic.

Workaround

This may seem obvious to some, but you’d be surprised by how many don’t get it – be flexible. The great thing about working from home is the flexibility it can offer. Instead of scheduling critical things like conference calls during a specific time when you think the baby will be sleeping, try to offer a time range. Say something like, “I really have a crazy schedule today. Would it be okay to call sometime between 10 and noon?”

The other thing is to work with what’s going on. If the baby tends to sleep better and longer while you’re rocking him, take the time to do some “mind work.” There’s something cathartic and meditative about rocking a baby, so use it to your advantage. I’ve come up with some of my best ideas, articles, designs, and plans while rocking the baby. If you aren’t good at keeping stuff in your head, keep a small notebook nearby.

II. The Closed Door Myth

For years, I was under the false assumption that a closed door offers some measure of privacy and protection from interruption. Then I had kids.

Though I’ve worked from home their entire lives, they still act as though this is new to them. The rule is that if the door is closed, it means daddy is on the phone or working hard (possible organizing my iPod playlists). The excuse for barging in or pounding and yelling (knocking softly is never considered) is that they didn’t hear anything, so the figured it was okay. They don’t seem to understand that one of the marks of a great professional is to do more listening than talking. It never occurs to them that I could be LISTENING on the phone.

Workaround

To be fair, all they want is my attention. Which is great, because when they’re teenagers, they won’t want it. I love getting visits from the kids during the day. The key is to create boundaries that work.

Many folks have offered tips about hanging a Do Not Disturb sign on the door, so that the kids know that you may be on the phone, for instance. The problem with this is that it gets to be ignored as often as the closed door.

Working off the fact that they just want my attention, I created a sign that uses cartoons to give a message – “Daddy is on the phone. Instead of knocking or coming in, please slide a picture or note under the door for me to see when I get off.” The note under the door approach has worked great (though it has unfortunately expanded to other closed doors, such as the bathroom). They know that they will get my attention, and it’s cool to find the stuff they send under. If I’m working on a critical call or project, I may even add a picture of ice cream, pizza, or the park to let them know what we can do when I’m finished.

III. The Boss Myth

Being your own boss. That’s a big allure for the work-from-home set. The problem is that though you may be the CEO, you have a Board of Directors. A Board that has power.

The Chairperson is the youngest in your household (see Myth #1), and the Vice-Chair is held by your spouse. The Board is rounded out by the rest of your kids, and may or may not include a dog, a cat, or a rodent of some kind.

Workaround

This is more of a “work-with” than a workaround. The point here is to understand that a home-based business is really run by the whole household. Not only are they your Board, they are your investors. They have a huge stake in what you are doing, and it directly affects the lives of your Board.

Make sure you see any issues or complaints clearly as they arise. Take into consideration how your decisions and schedule will affect them. And let them be part of the process. A good Board can help ensure the success of any company.

IV. The Acceptance Myth

Many work-at-home parents that I talk to seem to think that their clients will understand and accept the fact that they have kids at home with them. For some this is true. If you are a family photographer or make children’s toys for example, having your kids with you can be a plus. But it’s interesting when people think that its okay to have kids in the background when dealing with say, a corporate client.

Unfortunately, there are still people who don’t consider a home-based business a “real” business. It’s an old way of thinking for sure, but it’s still pretty pervasive. Though I think it’s adorable that my 18-month old sings “Henry the Octopus” as “Henry the Apple Juice,” I’m not sure my corporate clients would feel the same.

Workaround

The most important thing to remember is to maintain your level of professionalism at all times. Most of my clients are surprised to find that I’m home based. Because of the way I have things set up, I always appear as a competent professional. Which I am. I just happen to be a competent professional who works from home.

Clients will take away from the perceptions you project. If you come across as a professional, most could care less where you do your work. But if you seem like a dabbler who is juggling a crazy household along with the work they are paying you for, you won’t keep clients for very long.

Just like most things, the main goal is balance. When you’re working, you’re the highly skilled professional. When you’re playing, you’re the consummate parent. You can be both – if you find a balance.

V. The Envious Neighbor Myth

This one always is so funny to me. Though not specific to just work from home parents, it actually comes up more often then you’d think. It’s the idea that all your neighbors will be so envious seeing you at home all day, being a great parent, and loving life. It’s surprising how many people consider this when thinking of the pros of working from home.

In actuality, most neighbors will just assume you’re out of work. I tend to get speculative looks when I’m out walking the dog in the middle of the day – unshaven, in a t-shirt, cargo shorts, and a hat. I’m sure they wonder how I can afford to live, since I’ve been out of work for so long and my wife doesn’t work.

Workaround

Unfortunately, aside from bragging, there’s not really a good workaround for this one. The main thing to take away from this is that you have to be comfortable with who you are, and not rely on what others think. You have the pleasure of working from home and being there for your kids. What others think is irrelevant.

So the best workaround for the nosey neighbors is best expressed by Skipper the Penguin at the end of Madagascar:

“Just smile and wave, boys; smile and wave.” (MP3)

I hope that I have made some strides is clearing up these common misconceptions. Though working from home can be difficult, especially for parents, it is also one of the most fulfilling and enriching things you can do for your family. Never missing baby’s first step, a game, a recital, or a play is the bonus to doing what you love and contributing something great to both your family and the world.


This post is part of the Group Writing Project over at Darren Rowse’s ProBlogger site. There’s a big list of some really great reads. Be sure to have a look.