With the exception of a 15-month break, I have worked from home for the past 8 years. It may not be the norm in Malta, but actually it’s how many people work worldwide. Whether it’s people fed up with commuting, professionals working for multinationals to minimise office overheads or women juggling working from home with looking after a young family, there are a lot of us out here.
I never quite planned my working life this way – it’s the way things panned out. And, of course, there is a significant difference between running your own business from home, and ‘being employed to work from home’. But the whole experience is not as dysfunctional as it may seem.
There’s the potential to work for whom you want, when you want, in any country in the world. All you need is an internet connection, a computer and a client – or an inspired employer who trusts you.
Most days, you avoid traffic jams. I drive contra-traffic when I drive my son to school in the morning. I drive my son to school and talk – get it? You get to see your child’s face when he rushes in from school. You get to see your child’s face, period.
Most of the time, you can set external meetings after rush hour. It also helps clients – they’ve had time for their morning coffees, briefings, and rants at subordinates.
There are fewer distractions than in an office. You only have to manage yourself.
If you do the kind of work I do, management consultancy – you are also more effective as an informed outsider. You have no hidden agenda, and you’re not climbing some greasy, career ladder.
You get freedom from superiors and company reporting lines. There’s no office politics. Sure, you’re still serving somebody, but the relationship with a client is inevitably different to one with someone who thinks they own your life. There is a chance to work with some dignity.
You don’t have to wait for some prescribed timeframe or adjust to some pay structure in order to be eligible for a pay raise. The quality of your work will determine your income. By working hard and smart, you have unlimited earnings potential. (Note: it’s ‘potential’. Earnings do not just get delivered to you on a plate).
You get to listen to Women’s Hour on BBC Radio 4. Trust me, women are more knowledgeable and articulate than men. Including on what’s wrong with men.
Inevitably you can get lonely and isolated. Silence cannot be filled by chats by the coffee machine. No more conversations with fellow staff round the water-cooler.
You never stop working. Weekends morph into workdays. A day’s work is as long as it takes.
No more club class flights, perks, company pensions and insurance, robbing of the company stationery cupboard, company team bonding or working for the common cause.
No office parties. No status.
No corporate, capitalist, money-making machine to help you. You have to provide value and quality, otherwise you’re toast. You are your own brand. You cannot hide behind somebody else’s badge. You are as good as your last piece of work.
In a trade off between creativity (pleasing yourself) and pleasing your clients, it’s a no-brainer as to what wins. You know which one pays the bills.
There is a way of flourishing, on your own, at home
A routine is essential. Make one. I’m always at my desk by 9am. I try and get to bed by 1am. My Saturday mornings are for my son.
Have a list of things to get done for the day. I use an online tool called ‘Remember the Milk’.
Locate the office in a different part of the house. It has to be your territory, and nobody else’s. It has to be a ‘no-go’ zone for others. Get a decent office chair.
Don’t stay unshaved; do have a shower, have a proper breakfast, and ‘get dressed’ for work.
Walk round the room, and take breaks during the day. I sometimes go to a coffee shop with my laptop for an hour and can still work uninterrupted. Stretch.
Read blogs. Join forums of like-minded people. Reading feeds is “research”. Facebook is “networking”. StumbleUpon is for “inspiration”. Just network.
Switch to herbal tea. Resist the temptation to go down to the Pavoni for another cappuccino. Watch the snacking.
Do the routine stuff when uninspired and the creative stuff on the tide of creativity. I work better at nights. I try and have a meeting with someone on Monday morning.
Occasionally, remember to clear the heaps in the room. If you have a TV in your office, like I do, only switch it on when you want to watch something.
Have an ‘email-free’ couple of hours during the day to get some work done. Go ‘invisible’ on Skype.
Plan your vacations. And take them. Don’t spend or invest more than you can afford.
No matter what your business is, you will still need to sell. Most times, you’re selling yourself. True “selling” means helping people meet their needs. Focus on meeting your clients’ needs and you will sell a lot.
Try it before giving up the day job. The way I work would drive many people up the wall. Ask yourself if you like your own company. How self reliant are you? If a job goes pear shaped, there’s no-one else to turn to.
Live with someone who understands.
Have blind faith in your own capabilities. You will have good times and bad times. The work will come. You are stronger than you think.