In addition to the characteristic business savvy and entrepreneurial traits typically required to run a business, there are key ingredients that cannot be overlooked in setting up a workable home office that will support ongoing success and longevity. Although there are numerous factors to consider, many fall neatly into 4 main categories – physical space, organization, social interaction and work/life balance; all of which are essential to running a successful business from the comfort of your own home.
We often take these four factors for granted when working outside our homes as they are already set in place for us – an existing team, an office space with a desk and chair, pre-existing information and time management systems, and a build-in physical and chronological separation from our personal life. Inevitably, working away from home buffers us from the frequent interruptions, distractions, downfalls and pitfalls that can impact us in our home environment, i.e., family interactions, household responsibilities, barking dogs, unstructured days, and isolation to name just a few. What can we do to optimize our physical space, organization, social interaction and work/life balance?
1) Physical Space
Our first priority? – setting up a comfortable, distraction-free office space which is not only ergonomically correct and organized, but personally aesthetic – a space where we will want to spend most of our working day. Do you prefer natural lighting and bright space or more subdued lighting? Do you like the everyday sounds of life or do you prefer exceptional quiet?
Having a separate office space away from the family activity will ensure confidentiality and quiet when discussing sensitive matters with clients, will secure confidential client files, and will allow a physical and mental separation – an environment focused solely on professional pursuits and activities without the temptations of household amenities and attractions that can capture our attention or lull us into a restful relaxed mindset – Netflix, cute giggling toddlers, smooching kittens, or talkative partners.
Setting up information, accounting, and customer relationship management systems from the very outset can save us a lot of preventable grief in the not-too-distant future. If not established immediately, detailed client information and financial data, tasks, goals, correspondence, work samples, proposals, quotes, invoices and receipts can accumulate and quickly become overwhelming and unmanageable. Oftentimes, a solopreneur who is actively wearing many hats will almost immediately experience a tsunami of new contacts, clients, strategic partners, software applications, and social media platforms – let alone project documentation, digital media files, sign ins & passwords, or marketing materials. Having systems firmly in place that manage and store accumulating data, documents and files in a logical sequence will keep things at your fingertips and accessible when you most need it, resulting in more streamlined operations, scheduling, administration, marketing and CRM.
3) Social Interaction
For many of us, working alongside a team of like-minded, focused professionals who are all collaborating toward a common goal can be one of the most rewarding and engaging aspects of our work. Being mindful of the drastic changes a home office will bring to our level of social engagement will help us to avoid underestimating the significant isolation that can result from no longer working within a team. If we highly value such camaraderie we can step up our efforts to attend more face-to-face meetings and networking events including conferences, fundraisers and lunch & learns. For extroverts, this increased interaction can be both energizing and sharpening. Introverts, on the other hand whom are more rejuvenated through solitude, can be selective in the number and nature of social activities in which they engage based on their own preferences in order to optimize their own energy levels and performance.
4) Work/ Life Balance
By far, balance can be one of the greatest challenges of running a home business. With increasing mobile applications, social media, and virtual capacity comes a tendency to increasingly blur the lines between our professional and personal lives. This can be a double-edged sword in that our workplaces are increasingly becoming more human-centered and family-friendly, which is beneficial to us all – however, it also often means decreased freedom to fully unplug. This inability to disconnect from our professional responsibilities can prevent us from focusing fully and mindfully on our own personal pursuits and growth, our family, and other rejuvenating passions.
Although this virtual work-space offers increased flexibility, the workday has become also more diffuse over a larger portion of our waking hours which can negatively impact our performance, motivation and productivity when we lack sufficient time for rest & rejuvenation. To keep motivated, while also not over-extending ourselves, as much as possible, we can set our typical hours and a daily schedule with distraction-free time dedicated to priority tasks followed by the less pressing items. Setting SMART goals can also help keep us on track – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound.
Unless there are urgent matters to attend, another key is to adhere to a defined time where we can transition from our professional role back into our personal space; enabling us to give our full attention, once again, to ourselves, our interests, and our families.
In a similar vein, expectations must be set for family and friends who may see your work day as fair game for requesting favours and time during our regular business hours. Whether our workday happens in an external office or at home, by diplomatically explaining that this time is dedicated solely to business, and then consistently adhering to this schedule, we will allow family and friends to more readily adapt. In some cases, dressing up in our professional clothing, going to our office and closing our door with an “At Work” sign will send a clear message and will help instill the right mindset in both ourselves and others. When we stand our ground and decline requests which disrupt our workday, these requests will likely lessen over time.
Work/life balance can also be jeopardized when we stop distinguishing between professional associates, acquaintances or clients, and our personal circle of friends & family on social media platforms. One way to maintain a clear distinction between our personal and professional lives is to prevent crossover by restricting professional connections to LinkedIn and other professional pages, social media accounts, and contact information, i.e., business telephone numbers and email addresses, while reserving our personal contact information, social media accounts, and emails for our own social circles.
While it is certainly important to build authentic relationships with our professional contacts, it is also vital to be able to unplug from our professional role and to protect our privacy, while also maintaining that deeper level of connectivity within our social circle. We may want to freely share a photo of our original Curried Black Bean & Peanut Butter Soup, our political rant, or our penchant for Amarone with our trusted family & friends, however, our more impressionable and less acquainted clients may not be the best audience for these more intimate, private or controversial matters.
Having a brand and reputation that is in harmony with our values and core self does not strip us of our right to downtime or privacy. Being an entrepreneur should support our freedom rather than encroach on it by burdening ourselves with an expectation of 24/7 availability. (You’ll find more on this in my upcoming article Social Media Slavery)
If we keep these 4 aspects in mind – physical space, organization, social interaction & work/life balance – we will keep a better grip on our business and our sanity; as stated so simply by Dolly Parton, Don’t get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life. If done right, working from home can offer the freedom & flexibility to live fully and abundantly right now, allowing us to enjoy the journey instead of waiting for some future destination or milestone such as retirement. If any day could be our last, why wait to be inspired, rewarded and fulfilled?