By Linda Novey-White
Establishing and maintaining a home office requires a healthy dose of the five P’s (Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performances). Through a telephone conversation, the client won’t know if you are using a desk in your bedroom. But in order to succeed, it is important that you commit yourself to professionalism. Not everyone can work at home; many find it distracting on many levels. One of the first problems I had was with my dog.
The dog barked every time the Federal Express man made a delivery or someone approached the door. Distracting sounds of the dog barking incessantly or the doorbell chiming while talking on the phone with the CEO of a multi-national company will not leave a favorable impression. When the kids began to leave the home, I insisted that they would acclimate faster if they took the dog. I also got a quieter doorbell.
Set up your office professionally, as though you were working in a downtown office. There are enough distractionsâ€”the refrigerator, telemarketers, repairmen, delivery peopleâ€”without having to work in an undesirable environment. I worked out of my unfinished basement once and I found the office was always disorderly. I had converted a bedroom and used bits and pieces of office furniture and equipment. I hated to walk into that mish-mash each day, so I kept finding reasons not to go there. My business suffered.
Finally, I started to look for office furniture packages, which included desks, matching file cabinets and computer stations. The costs were prohibitive. One day a cabinet maker came to repair our entertainment center and I asked him to take a look at my office. After telling him what I needed to accomplish in the office, he and I drew the original design on the back of an envelope. I now have a totally built-in office, with computer desks, mail center, file cabinets, bookcases and ample collating and storage space. I had it built from regular laminates in off-white, though I could have chosen wood tones or various colors. The cupboards hang from the ceiling on three walls over the counters, and under the counter space (except for kneeholes) are drawers and filing cabinets. Some shelves are enclosed and others are not. And, I’m surrounded by my family photos and pictures of exotic places I intend to travel. Total cost: less than $2,500. It was built off-site and installed in one afternoon; it’s a total business cocoon.
Situate your work space according to your work style. Position your most needed files, printers, phones, copiers near your work area. Don’t worry about “normal” order. My “R” files are near my desk, not in their alphabetical order. Why? Because for the past two years, my two largest client’s names began with “R” and I used that drawer most often. The copier was purposely placed farther away, so that I am forced to get up from my chair and move about.
Now about that chair! Don’t be tempted to buy a cheap one! What you save in initial costs you will spend in medication for your backaches. If you are like most business people working from home, you will spend many hours in that chair. Sit in it for more than three or four minutes before buying it and be sure it fits your lower back and doesn’t inhibit your arm movement at the computer.
Some people put different colored carpet in their offices than the rest of their house. Some make the door face a hallway rather than the patio or pool. Some paint the walls a different color. All these things are fine, if they help you concentrate.
You will also find that when you are working from home, your family expects you to accept deliveries, consult with repairmen, etc. Keep this to a minimum. Do only those things that you would do if you worked in an office tower downtown. I don’t go to the grocery store or hairdresser in the middle of the day, even though it may be less crowded . You must think of your time away from the office as time and money lost, otherwise you will become less of a business person and more of an errand runner.
My office has three separate phone lines: one is a dedicated fax/modem line and two are incoming lines, one of which is also a home line that can be answered at my desk. It will not appear professional to callers if you have call-waiting, rather than a dedicated business phone. Clients are frustrated when they are told that they have to wait until you hang up the phone to fax something, because you didn’t invest in the proper phone equipment. I once was speaking with a consultant, who asked me to fax his contract to the local Kwik-Copy location because he didn’t have a fax in his office. I began to worry about his commitment to being in business, since fax machines are now available for less than $200. I never sent the contract.
I recently heard a definition of “consultant” as a person who was gainfully un-employed. If you don’t want to be described as such, make a commitment to setting up your office in a business environment that helps you concentrate solely on your business. This is your best long-term investment.
Linda Novey-White is president of Linda Novey Enterprises, Inc., a consulting firm for service industries. Her firm specializes in customer service and quality management training, motivational and evaluation programs. Her clients have included Ritz-Carlton, Marriott, Omni, Loews, and Hyatt hotel companies. For 16 years, Novey has traveled weekly to cities all over the world comparing standards for service and quality in the service industries. She is a member of the SCORE Board of Directors and a 1997 recipient of the Avon Women of Enterprise honor.