Last year I wrote an article on the ‘Five Essentials for Home-based Business Operators’. Little did I know then about what we are experiencing today. I'm referring of course to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) that is spreading throughout the world. Governments and companies of all stripes are taking drastic action to curtail this ugly and deadly contagion.
As offices and business close down there is a resurgence of ‘working from home.’
Four years ago I moved my consulting and training business from an office located in the centre of our city to my home. That was my choice.
What we are witnessing today is how businesses are responding to this global health crises. From their perspective business must go on and one way to make this happen is to have employees work from home. So, not by personal choice, like mine was, employees are needing to establish home-based offices.
This shift in the ‘way we do business,’ also provides opportunity. It may give employees, who once thought of establishing a business, a chance to test out a home-based business. A business that doesn’t rely on someone else or having to travel to an outside office located within a company or government complex.
To help those who are now having to adjust to their new-found freedom from office politics and such, I’m updating the article of April 2019 to reflect this new reality. Please read on…
Over the years I have assisted over a 100 budding entrepreneurs as they ventured out into the marketplace using their home office as their first base. Those were heady and exciting times, both for me as I learned about their business and for them as they ventured out into the marketplace with their products and services. There were five essentials we discussed as foundational to helping them adjust to their home office. They were important then and they are just as important today as many are now having to work from home.
I encourage you to review your disciplinary practices. Just as there are distractions at an office setting – people interrupting you, office politics, desktop messes, noise, emails, shifting priorities, you get the picture – there are distractions in the home setting – television programs, social media, friendly telephone calls, neighbors dropping by, poor priority setting, and desktop messes to name a few.
I have often said that it takes more discipline to operate a business from home than from an external office. At home there are no supervisors or minders watching over you and urging you on to better perform. At home you are the leader-manager in charge. It is completely up to you. Your performance or lack thereof falls completely on your shoulders. The locus of control moves from outside yourself, to inside yourself.
To perform well you need discipline to:
Keep to your knitting
Avoid facetime, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and others, unless of course they are essential for your business, and if that is the case then set time aside to deal with them appropriately. Don’t let them interrupt your knitting.
You can get lost in your work especially if you feel you are on a roll and ideas are flowing and tasks are getting accomplished. However, a huge mistake that home-office practitioners make is not taking nutrition or energy producing breaks. What I mean by ‘energy producing breaks’ are breaks that take you away from what you are doing at the moment and giving your mind some rest time.
Energy producing breaks include going for a quick walk, tending to a household chore, taking a five-minute meditation break, or fuelling up with an energy bar or a dish of fruit. The point here is the need to break from your office work and focus on something else for short periods of time. This gives your brain rest and up ticks your over all energy.
Research suggests that 90 minutes of concentrated effort and then a ten or fifteen break produces more in the long run and contributes to alleviating burnout.
Separate Office Space
It’s important that you find office space for yourself and your business. This is somewhere in the home or apartment that you can call your office. For some this is initially on the dining table or in a bedroom. The point here is that you need a space to conduct your responsibilities or your business, someplace where you can keep all the important stuff.
For some that means a place for your computer, paper, envelopes, books and whatever else is needed; for those who claim that they are completely mobile - everything they need is on their mobile device – will also need someplace within their home to call their specific office space. I have yet to find a serious businessperson who has everything on their mobile.
A good practice is also to dress as if you are going to the office. If your office culture is one where the dress code is casual, then dress casually; if it is one where more formal attire is the practice, then dress appropriately. When we are transitioning to a home-based office setting our findings suggest that you keep to the same or similar routines until you have built up the resistance to your new-found distractions, or as some people like to call them – temptations.
Working from home can be a lonely and isolating experience. We know that businesses grow based on relationships. In order to build relationships we need to be in contact with people. Simply stated we do this is by getting out of the house or apartment and meeting customers and colleagues in the field. It is important to expand relationship building reach by joining a professional association, a business network association such as Chamber of Commerce, a women or men’s business network, a service association such as Rotary and Kiwanis International, or becoming active in your faith-based community. Getting involved in outside activity helps you build necessary relationships and provides a social outlet that you would not experience by keeping yourself isolated in your home office.
Of course the above applies to those who have or are establishing a home-based business and doesn’t necessarily reflect the temporary nature of home-based operations. However, the importance of getting out of the home still applies. It just means that you need to avoid crowded places and follow the advice of the health professionals. If you have been quarantined because of the virus that is another matter. You will need to find other ways to network such as using the telephone, email, Skype or Facetime
One of the things I heard most often from home-based business owners was their pushback on administrative tasks. This is one area where procrastination was the word of the hour. Administration is often seen as an afterthought, but not paying attention to the detail that administration asks of you, may cause serious difficulties in the long run. Take for example not paying attention to outstanding bills, up-dating client information, attending to customer invoicing, or submitting due taxes. In the long run not doing due diligence on these matters costs you money, affect your cash-flow or impact your customer relations. So before procrastinating on administrative tasks think about the loss of income, customers and cash-flow. Three important ingredients for a successful business.
In the case of a temporary home-based office, you may still be required to keep on top of your administrative tasks. These will most likely be determined by your employer. Whatever they may be, set aside time to get them done.
Yes, these are anxious times primarily because of the ambiguity of what the future holds. We do not know the full extent of the impact of the Coronavirus. It may well turn out to be a very bumpy ride. We already know that it is causing serious disruptions in the way we relate, do commerce and plan for the future.
In some respects the virus may be a blessing as it is forcing us to step back from a world that was spinning out of control causing tremendous anxiety and stress. It may be giving us time to step back and breathe. We need to hold on and keep calm as life teaches us that this too shall pass. It’s worthwhile to keep in mind the words of Steve Maraboli:
"Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you have power over instead of craving control over what you don't."
Thank you for reading
Richard P. Fontanie
Note: Steve Maraboli is a motivational speaker, behavioral scientist and best-selling author.