Friday, October 18, 2013

SOP Friday: Rules for Working at Home

There are two primary times when an MSP will work from home. The first is when you have no other office. This might be because you're just starting out, you have no employees, or your employees/contractors also work at home. The second is when you get larger and choose to work at home in order to increase productivity or work on special projects. Or you might be an employee working from home for the same reasons.

In either case, here are some tips for working at home in order to be as productive as possible.

Have a Good Home Work Environment

The first thing you need to do if you're working at home is to set up an actual office - a place to work. When I first started my business, I was worried about taking the home office deduction. My accountant looked at my office and said I had nothing to worry about. The reason was simple: That room was filled with work things - a long table for building PCs, a desk, shelves full of computer books, and a file cabinet.

It was obviously an office and not a bedroom.

(Side note: Talk to your tax adviser. I am not one. But I believe you cannot take a home office deduction if you have someplace else to work, such as an office space.)

Tax considerations aside, your home office should be designed and organized to be as productive as possible. That means you need a good desk, a good chair, a good PC, a good phone, etc. You need all the office basics so that you don't spend your home office time running to Staples or Kinkos. Good furniture will also allow you to be comfortable, which will improve productivity.

Your home office should also have clear boundaries. Even if you have to set up shop in the family room or kitchen (not recommended), you need to have a place that is "yours" and off limits to the rest of the family. this also helps you set the interruption boundaries discussed below.

Even if you're the "messy desk" type, your home office desk should have a nice clear area to get work done. Again, the goal is to create a productive environment.

Have Good Home Work Habits

There are two sets of work habits related to working at home successfully. The first has to do with the "home" part of the equation. The second are rules you should follow at the office and keep following when you work from home.

Perhaps the most important habit for working at home is to pretend you're at the office. That means you dress for work. Even though we joke about working in your pajamas, don't do it. Put on your uniform - a nice pair of pants and a business casual shirt.

Dressing for work puts you in the right mind set. That's huge for developing the self discipline you need to work from home.

It is also important to set work hours and take them seriously. The flexibility of working from home means that you might start a little later or earlier than normal. But whatever hours you set, stick to them! Pretend you are clocking in and clocking out. In between is work.

When you work, work. No visits to the kitchen. No TV. No chores. No "home" paperwork. These can be big temptations, especially if that desk is the same place you work on home finances.

You need your family to support your home work limits. That means they can't interrupt you at your home office any more than they interrupt you at your other office. You might accomplish this by closing the door, setting out orange cones, or putting up a sign. Whatever works for you is fine.

This can be very difficult, but you need to be diligent enforcing this. It will take time for the family to get used to this, but they will.

Then there are rules you should follow at any office, so don't lose these good habits just because you're working at home:

- No interruptions during working hours! Do not be interrupt-driven. Focus on what you're doing. Do it well, then move to the next task.

- Take breaks. You simply cannot work eight hours straight without a break. If you do, you will find that you are less productive. Take a break or two in the morning and at least two in the afternoon. And of course you should stop for lunch. This is the only time you can violate the "no kitchen" rule.

Be sure to keep the breaks to 5-10 minutes and lunch to an hour. Don't get side tracked with a television show, video game, etc. For my breaks, I stand up and listen to one or two songs on the stereo. That's at least five minutes. It gets my circulation going, and then I return to work refreshed.

- Check out at 5PM and stop working!

- Track your time completely and accurately. That means you need to track what you're doing from 8AM to 5PM (or whatever your hours are). If you have a PSA, use it from home. There's no excuse to stop using your PSA to enter time just because you are at home.

Effectively Working with Employees or Contractors from Home

One final note. If you do have employees or contractors you need to work with, you need to make time to actually meet with them. Totally virtual businesses are hard to maintain. Some human contact is needed.

When I started having employees, I had them come to my house. But that quickly became inconvenient for everyone. So I scheduled meetings at local coffee shops or restaurants. That worked much better. And, of course, when that didn't work anymore it was because we really did need to get an office.

When employees work from home they need to understand that this is a privilege that is granted with the understanding that they will be as productive at home as they are at work. Having a PSA makes this much easier to manage. But no matter how your company is organized, home workers need to produce the same results as they would in the office.

For many companies, allowing employees to work from home builds a stronger team. It shows you trust them, it reduced their commute, and it shows that the company is flexible. It also allows employees to take care of sick kids or other family matters while still getting their work done. That kind work/life balance is good for everyone.

I cannot explain why Yahoo stopped letting employees work from home. Done right it is one of the best things you can do for your company.

Comments welcome.

- - - - -

About this Series

SOP Friday - or Standard Operating System Friday - is a series dedicated to helping small computer consulting firms develop the right processes and procedures to create a successful and profitable consulting business.

Find out more about the series, and view the complete "table of contents" for SOP Friday at

- - - - -

Next week's topic: Financial Goals - The Basics


Now Available: 

Five Killer White Papers - One Great Price
Manuel Palachuk's MSP Success Bundle

Manuel Palachuk is the co-author of The Network Migration Workbook - now in its Second Edition. After leaving us he went off to run another successful MSP business. Now he is a full-time coach. You can visit his web site at

Five White Papers

Now Manuel has released a series of white papers that you can get separately or as a bundle.

Three of the white papers address core elements of building a successful I.T. consulting business. The fourth covers a common task (email cleanup). In addition to providing great advice, the email cleanup white paper serves as a great of example of how to create an excellent process.

The newest paper is How to Document Any Process.

The white papers are:

- The Most Important Documents Every Company Must Have - $29.95
- Working and Tracking Time in Real-Time - $29.95
- The Core Competency Matrix - $29.95
- Cleaning Up Your Email - $9.95
- How to Document any Process - $29.95

Special Bundle: All four white papers for only $69.95

(Note: The Price goes up November 1st)

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:30 PM

    As an IRS registered Tax Preparer, I can tell you there are situations where you can deduct a home office as an employee with a company office- especially as an IT professional. However it does have to be an OFFICE with a desk and a door, no kitchens or rooms are allowed.
    -brielle (RTRP)


Feedback Welcome

Please note, however, that spam will be deleted, as will abusive posts.

Disagreements welcome!