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Home improvement, or time for renovation?

Is there a point where working from home for too long reduces your effectiveness, and if so, how?

Is there a point where working from home for too long reduces your effectiveness, and if so, how? Photo: Jessica Hromas

A friend recently asked if I liked working from home. “Love it,” I replied. Then he was asked if one learns more working from home, often in isolation, compared to working in a big company. That’s a more complex and difficult question to answer.

Most home-business owners rave about their better work/life balance, more time with the family, less stress without office politics, and being healthier and happier.

Some find it far more lucrative because costs are low and no commuting frees up time for extra productive work.

But I wonder if working from home for too long starts to dull your effectiveness.

Do you learn less, make fewer contacts and develop bad work habits?

What’s your view?

  • Is there a point where working from home for too long reduces your effectiveness, and if so, how?
  • Is there a natural limit for the amount of time you should work from home?
  • How do you remain sharp while working from home for years on end?

I realise some people choose home-based work mostly for lifestyle reasons and are no longer interested in building a bigger career or business. Others run thriving businesses and constantly learn and interact with others. They hardly work in isolation, and when they do feel like mixing with others they work from shared offices and the like.

Many home-based business owners, myself included, work on their own for years. It rarely bothers me. Writing is mostly an individual pursuit anyway, and I’m always interviewing people, lecturing at university or hosting or attending events.

That said, there are downsides to working from home. You don’t learn from colleagues or your boss each day on the job; there is no formal career or skills development or support; and nobody on your back to weed out bad habits that develop.

It can become harder to mix with people professionally when you work from home for long stretches. It sometimes feel like an effort to go into town for a meeting, attend a conference, or have a series of meetings. That is the daily norm in corporate life.

You get less used to leading and managing others, and less concerned about things taken for granted in big companies, such as performance reviews, management training, teamwork and so on.

I’m not saying this is necessarily bad. Working from home for a long period forces you to develop others skills that compensate for those that diminish when you leave corporate life.

My point is, if you work from home for years on end, recognise that certain skills you had in corporate life might start to diminish, so take steps to develop new skills and stay fresh.

That might include taking a part-time university business subject once or twice a year to learn new skills, being challenged in different ways, and meeting new people. It could involve joining networking groups. Perhaps have a routine where half a day each week is spent working with others, meeting like-minded business owners, or organising meetings in town.

Most of all, it requires recognition that a home-based business, for all its benefits, has downsides too, and not just in the human aspects such as dealing with isolation for those who are more extroverted.

You have to plan your professional development and deliver on it, because no one else will.

Your New Financial Year challenge

Here is a challenge for the new financial year: draw up your professional development plan for 2012-13. Start by updating your resume; many small-business owners I know do not have a resume and believe the only one they need is their business.

Having a resume that records your experiences and skills, and updating it yearly, is a great discipline. At a minimum it reminds home-based business owners that they are much more than their business.

Updating your resume is also a handy reminder about how you have progressed professionally that year; if you have nothing to add, something is wrong. And it never hurts to have a current, well-planned and written resume should your business struggle and full-time work is required.

Step two is planning your professional development in 2012-13. Consider how much time your home-business can afford for you to spend on professional development. Maybe it’s half a day each week, a day or month, or a few days each year.

Develop a simple plan to allocate that time against headings such as skills development, both technical and personal, networking, and industry events. Assess the benefits and costs and decide which to pursue.

Finally, show the plan to someone you respect. Get their take on where it might be improved, and on other areas you could consider.

Home-based business people might scoff at such formality, yet all I suggest is having a quick personal development plan each year, to accompany your business plan.

I’ve seen too many small-business owners over the years invest so much in the venture but so little in themselves. And too many home-business owners who have 10 years of terrific general business experience, yet in the eyes of bigger companies look like first-year graduates.



5 comments so far

  • Timely article, I've been home based for the last 10 years and now find that the fire in bthe belly that once burned bright is no longer there. Works gets done, invoices go out and $ come in, but the zest for the busy-ness is there no more.

    The goals I've set for myself some time back have been reached , and now I find myself coasting.

    Time to re read "who moved my Cheese' me thinks!

    In the new financial year I will be considering;
    a. a business coach in order for me more focused
    b. and / or change of business focus.

    The allure of a corporate gig is there for the professional development , camaraderie and the structure of it all, but then again there is a reason why I haven't taken this path in the past, and the reason is still there. (....list all the negative and neutral attributes of office life here...)

    Screen name (required)
    Location (optional)
    Date and time
    June 25, 2012, 3:34PM
    • in a situation where you are doing the producing, then its probably much more difficult to maintain enthusiasm and keep up with knowledge than if you are a middle man or woman onselling products produced by someone else.

      Date and time
      June 25, 2012, 4:23PM
      • I ran an accounting services business from my home in Preston for years together, Given a fast internet connection it was quite easy using free software to operate a clients computer from my home office, It saved me the bother of a hike to and from the clients offices which were in Tullamarine, Port Melbourne, Clayton and Dandenong South. Imagine the amount of time spent in commuting to these destinations, If the client wanted to talk to me face to face they used Skype.

        Perhaps I was lucky that the clients children were tech savvy and understood that the cost of providing the service was half to two thirds cheaper than having some one sitting in their office all day, So I earned more by servicing four clients at half price than I would have earned just working for one clients. Now I run the accounts for two of these clients in Melbourne from my home here in China in pretty much the same way as I did in Melbourne. It really is a matter for the clients and I would say that each of the four clients saved enough money on slalries and super to buy a house over the years i worked for them,

        Kunming Yunan China
        Date and time
        June 25, 2012, 7:31PM
        • Over the last 15 years my wife (and partner) have run our design business together;

          1) In a 3 level warehouse with 3 infants, moved out when the noise became unbearable and moved to

          2) A suburban house with a converted back bedroom.

          3) Then bought a house in the burbs with a home office but also leased a bigger studio in Fitzroy, then

          4. We spent the last two years renting a CBD office, thinking that might generate more work but it didn't. We payed about 30k pa for an office and carpark plus outgoings, utilities etc, we lost an extra 60 min getting into the city, parking and walking to the office, then reverse to get the kids.

          We now lease a shared studio in Collingwood for 10K pa inc parking and work either from there or from home as we feel.

          After 15 years of that I consider myself un-employable for a real job ;-)

          Date and time
          June 26, 2012, 2:11PM
          • My guy just started to work from home, he still interacts daily with people - his clients - he is earning much more money, is way happier and healthier and as for learning from colleagues - you are assuming they were working with people to learn from anyway...
            the job he left had him in traffic for an hour each way, working with people that had no idea what he did, and as such he continued his learning from home via the too numerous to name tutorials that are online...
            if you are motivated you do not need to be in an office to continue to learn.... if you want to learn more you will find a way...
            With my chefing hours we now spend way more time together as he has the flexibility to occasionally take midweek time off and work weekends... He is home when i am in the morning, not up and on the freeway...
            it has been nothing but positive for us..
            But you have to be a self motivated person to ensure you can make the business as successful as possible

            Date and time
            June 26, 2012, 4:24PM

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