Pandemic Home Office

There is an art to working from home and not everyone can master the craft. Before COVID-19 dominated our lives, working from home was not a government mandate, but a privilege for the traditionally employed and a practical adaptation for Freelancers. The traditionally employed considered the ability to work from home a valuable perk that became a point of negotiation in employment contracts and employee annual reviews.

Those who work from home save time and money associated with commuting. One can avoid at least some aspects of office politics and those impromptu meetings that might ruin one’s work schedule. As long as water, electricity, Wi-Fi and heat or AC are working, you’re good.

The coronavirus pandemic has taken away some of the work from home luster, I’m sorry to say. Working from home still eliminates the time and money associated with commuting but it now also means that you might share your workspace with roommates who are also working from home; roommates who are home but not working; an intimate partner who now works from home, or does not; and children who must be alternately home-schooled, entertained and refereed because school and all after-school activities are cancelled, which effectively means that your kids are at the office with you.

The work from home life has become a radically changed landscape, filled with potential landmines that threaten to upend your carefully cultivated office environment. The internet is slow and Skype is freezing up because too many people are streaming data. The noise level is distracting. Your once de facto private workspace is now crowded and people are barging in and asking where the peanut butter went. Working from home is starting to feel like an out-of-control co-working space and you hate it.

Guy Winch, Ph.D., a New York City psychologist and author of Emotional First Aid (2014) told the New York Times in April 2020 to “…establish office rules and get granular.”

‘What are our work hours?

Where do we go in the house when one of us needs to take a call?

Where will our individual work stations be?

Who keeps an eye on the kids and when?’

At the end of each day during the first week of following a work from home plan that you and household members create, Winch recommends that you all “Check in with each other and say something like, ‘Just in terms of being work colleagues, what worked for us today? What would we like to change? Was it useful for us to take a lunch break at the same time?’ “

Most of all, be mindful of the emotions involved as those at home work, or don’t work, study, or put on a brave face as they wonder what will happen to their job when it’s time to return to work. Below are a few tactics that will keep you in a good work from home groove.

1. Create an office space

If you are able to have a room in your home to use as an office space, you are fortunate. City dwellers might place a small desk or writing table in the corner of their bedroom. Keep your work space clean and organized, as recommended by feng shui experts and also the neatness guru Marie Kondo. Orderly and attractive environments put us in a good mood and that state of mind boosts energy, creativity, confidence and productivity.

2. Establish boundaries

Teach household members to understand that when you step into your office space, you are at work. You cannot referee spats; you cannot chat with your mother-in-law; you cannot drive anyone to the post office. Shut the door and work. Noise canceling headphones may be helpful. Encourage yourself to take regular coffee and lunch breaks. When possible, take your breaks off-site to give yourself a battery-charging change of venue.

3. Dress for success

The popular image of those who work from home is of someone who is in sweats or even a bathrobe all day. Remind yourself and those with whom you live that you are a professional who takes your work seriously. Shower daily, brush your teeth, comb your hair and dress for work, whether in business casual attire or jeans and T-shirt.

4. Keep regular work hours

Go to work every morning, Monday to Friday. You may have the luxury of starting your work day in mid-morning, after a 5 mile run or a bike ride that gives you a burst of energy or ending work in late afternoon to do your workout after close of business.

Of course if you’re tied to an office – based team, you must align your work hours accordingly and that includes the time zone. At least some will be able to allow either their biorhythms or projects on their desk guide the work schedule. Resist the temptation to be either a workaholic or a slacker.

5. Stay connected

Working from home is by its very nature isolating, although some thrive on the independence. Still, maintaining and creating your professional ties is important.

At least every two weeks, schedule a video chat with a colleague so that you’ll stay in the loop with what’s happening at the office if you happen to be a remote team member. Furthermore, participate in your team’s group conference calls that allow you to check in and stay abreast of front burner projects as well as get advance word about what’s on the horizon. Write reports that document your contributions to reaching project milestones and goals achieved.yo

Enhance your professional skills and listen to a (sometimes free!) webinar. Promote your thought leader status, showcase your expertise and expand your network when you present a webinar or become a podcast guest.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Co-working office spaces are available at WeWork in the (adjacent) neighborhoods of Fort Point and the Financial District in Boston, MA.

Stepping Up Your Game: Office Space

Working space matters.  We spend many hours at work and the place where we do our job can impact the quantity and quality of the work produced therein.  Freelancers often brag about our ability to work from home,  or the coffee shop,  library,  vacation house,  or wherever,  but these environments may bring many distractions that have the potential to de-rail concentration or creativity.  Furthermore,  none are a suitable location into which an A-list prospective client can be invited for a serious meeting.

If you find that you need an office outside of your home,  perhaps it’s because you’ve hired others to work with you and a home office is no longer practical and appropriate?  Your office,  regardless of the configuration that you can afford,  is an extension of your brand.  It must represent you well.

If your goal is to attract bigger budget clients,  then you must demonstrate in many ways that your operation is capable of delivering more complex products or services.  You must instill confidence in those who you ask to hire you. That will almost certainly entail contracting for good office space.  At last,  it’s time to move out of the house.

Co-working space

This is often the first place that Freelancers and entrepreneurs consider when it’s time to move from a home to a formal office.  Think of co-working as moving in with roommates.  Lay-outs vary,  but you’ll have dedicated work space that will feature a greater or lesser degree of privacy.

Besides your discrete work area,  all other spaces are common and amenities are shared. You’ll gain the use of resources such as a photocopy machine,  scanner,  conference room with basic audiovisual equipment like LCD for Power Point presentations and a screen.  There will probably be a kitchen,  or at least a coffee and tea maker, microwave and a refrigerator.

Many co-working spaces are exclusive to a particular industry (tech, usually).  They’re designed to encourage networking and referral building,  because they are populated by small operators who tend to outsource functions such as website building,  graphic arts,  accounting,  HR,  or bookkeeping, for example.

But like living with roommates,  privacy can be a challenge because so much is out in the open,  including perhaps the desk space.  Book the conference room for important meetings.  Or maybe confidential meetings could be held in a local coffee shop, ironically,  where anonymity could work in your favor.

Shared prestige

Some co-working spaces are in luxury commercial buildings that have lost a big client and the owners make up the lost revenue by renting out to those who seek the prestige of a great office,  but only for a fixed amount of time each month,  when they need to impress a client or prospect.  An office share is probably a more accurate term.

Typically,  there is a receptionist who calls when an appointment arrives and you come out to the desk and greet your VIP,  pretending that you can afford an elegant office on a full-time basis.  You’ll most likely have the use of a lovely conference room or maybe two.  You will have a proper office with a door that closes,  giving privacy.  You’ll have a great kitchen,  high-end photocopy machine and other standard office amenities,  too.  The receptionist may also answer your office land line and then forward calls to you,  which you can return at your convenience.  If it’s set up correctly,  no one will know that you’re in a share.

Private office

An office suite,  even a small space,  is a big financial commitment; commercial leases are often three years and difficult to break.  You must have a good handle on your projected revenues.

Think carefully about your staffing needs to determine the square feet that you’ll rent.  Do you anticipate hiring an administrative assistant and others to work with you in some capacity? There must be space to accommodate these workers,  even if they are not in-house 52 weeks/year.  Whether or not they are likely to all be in the office simultaneously is another consideration.

The types of work stations that different workers will require is another important consideration (as are the computer software programs they’ll need to do their jobs).  The size of the desks and the type of chairs matters,  as well. Ergonomics count,  as its use decreases the risk of developing back and neck aches and promotes productivity.

Finally,  there is the issue of the floor plan.  Open plans are popular,  but the office cubby gives more privacy.  Will you,  the boss,  have a private office,  or will the open plan work for you as well,  communicating that you are a team player?  Will you need a conference room?  Speaking with an office planning specialist could be money well spent.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

Transition: Employee to Freelancer

Happy New Year! Is your number one New Year’s resolution to establish your own entity and become a business owner or Freelance consultant? Are you planning to abandon the “safety” of a traditional job to directly market and sell your products or services to customers with money and motive to do business with you?

Going out on one’s own is a thrilling and sometimes frightening prospect. Those who take the plunge eventually discover that many resources that are casually taken for granted while working in an office are not readily available to those who step out on their own.  As you weigh your options and prepare to write your business plan,  be aware of a few changes and expenses to expect should you join the self-employed sector:

No paid days off

It is now Winter and there will be days when extreme snow fall could make it impossible to meet with a client or otherwise work.  Further,  regardless of the season,  there will be no more paid sick days,  vacation days or personal days.  In particular for those who own a small B2B or B2C venture where the business model requires you or your employees to visit a customer location (e.g., cleaning services),  or customers to visit your location (e.g., a laundromat),  snow days = no revenue days.

Establish business credit

For tax purposes,  it will be useful to open a separate business bank account and also apply for a business credit card or two.  There will be business expenses to write off and you want to make it easy to monitor spending.  Do yourself a favor and check your personal credit ASAP and correct any errors.

Financial management

Financial management will assume more than one form.  As noted above,  you’ll need to establish credit for the business,  so that you can order inventory and supplies without immediately impacting business cash flow,  for example.  Those are Accounts Payable items.  You will also need to ensure that clients pay on time,  or at all,  and that is an Accounts Receivable function.

Maintaining sufficient cash flow is crucial to the business’ survival and your own ability to keep a roof over your head,  food on the table and your car on the road. You must develop a business budget and plan for the purchase of equipment,  licensing costs (if applicable),  insurance (if applicable),  professional certifications (if applicable),  or space rental (if needed).

In addition,  you may consult with a business attorney or accountant to discuss the legal structure of your venture: Sole Proprietor,  Corporation (chapter S or C),  or Limited Liability Company.  The type of business that you’re in and your exit strategy will play a role in choosing the legal entity.

Paying for office supplies

Free scanning and photocopying will be over.  When you need to staple a few pieces of paper together,  you must buy the stapler and the staples and you’ll buy paper clips,  photocopy paper and envelopes,  too.

There will likewise be no meeting space or audiovisual equipment for you to reserve.  You’ll have to meet at the (prospective) client’s office,  or at a coffee shop or other restaurant.  Privacy might be an issue and arranging a Power Point or other visual presentation can be awkward as well.  A lap top computer or tablet are must-haves.  It will be imperative to possess the tools of your trade and to always appear as a competent and prepared professional as you develop your reputation and build your brand.

Next week,  we’ll look at more unexpected challenges that await those who choose to launch a business venture.

 Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

Work From Home and Be Productive

There is an art to working from home and not everyone is able to master the craft.  Working from home is a luxury that saves much time and money,  but if you are not disciplined,  you will be foiled by constant distractions and nothing will be accomplished.  Working at home is most successfully practiced by independent self-starters who are comfortable working alone. “The level of discipline it takes to work from home and generate solid results is intense and most people fail at  (working from)  home because of this one fact”,  warns business and sales strategy expert Grant Cardone, author of If You’re Not First, You’re Last (2010).

In the 21st century,  working at home does not mean simultaneously juggling business and personal responsibilities while in your pajamas.  Telecommuters and Freelance solopreneurs save commuting time and expense and give themselves more potential working hours in which to maximize productivity.  Control over one’s time is a huge benefit.  There will be no impromptu meetings to destroy one’s schedule or long conversations by the water cooler to talk about last night’s game,  but those who live with others may have to fight to enforce boundaries and eliminate constant interruptions.   Freelance solopreneurs also realize a tremendous cost saving through by-passing office space rent.   Make the most of your home office experience and follow these tips:

I.   Create an office space

If you are able to have a room in your home to use as an office,  so much the better.  City dwellers may have a small desk or writing table in a corner of their bedroom.  Keep your workspace clean and organized,  as suggested by feng shui experts.   A good environment really does boost productivity and make one feel more comfortable.

2.  Establish boundaries

If you live with others,   teach them to respect that when you step into your office space,  you are at work.  You cannot referee spats;  you cannot chat with your husband or your mother;  you cannot drive anyone to the mall.  Shut the door and work.  Do take normal workday coffee and lunch breaks.

3.   Keep regular work hours

Go to work every day.   You have the luxury of working longer or shorter hours,  mornings or late nights,  according to your biorhythms and the projects on your desk.   Resist the temptation to be either a workaholic or a slacker.

4.   Dress for success

The popular image of those who work from home is of someone who’s in a bathrobe all day,  or sweats.  Remind yourself and those with whom you live that you are a professional who takes your work seriously.  Take a daily shower,  brush your teeth,  comb your hair and dress for work,  whether in business casual attire or jeans and T-shirt.

5.   Stay connected

Working at home is isolating and it is important to maintain professional contacts.  If you telecommute,  set up and participate in conference call meetings that keep you in the loop at the office.   Write reports that document your work and contributions to your team.   Meet regularly with clients,  whether you are a telecommuter or Freelance solopreneur.   Join and visit professional networking groups and attend conferences.  Nurture relationships with professional colleagues.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Freelance Lonely

Maybe Marissa Mayer,  CEO of Yahoo who recently nixed telecommuting for Yahoo employees,  is right.  Maybe we are happier and more productive when working in an office,  rather than working at home.  This theory flies in the face of the entrepreneurial,  independence-loving American fantasy,  where we sit at home in scuzzy clothes,  or deposit ourselves at the beach or the local coffee shop,  laptop and cell phone at the ready,  and efficiently run a million dollar enterprise.   That is a popular fantasy but for may people,  the reality is not so idyllic.

In a 2010 Census Bureau survey,  it was discovered that 6.6%  of adults worked exclusively from home.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2009,  15 million adults identified themselves as self-employed.  Add to those numbers telecommuters,  some of whom visit their workplace offices only one or two days a week.  Cutting back or eliminating the cost and time of the commute to the office are important benefits,  but there is a percentage of Freelance consultants and frequent telecommuters who find themselves overtaken with loneliness and feelings of isolation.

They are not as productive as they expect themselves to be.  With disturbing frequency,  they find themselves unable to focus on their work.  They are easily distracted,  prone to doing housework or watching television when they should be  “on the job”.  Conversely,  there are others who find that they are unable to stop  working  (that would be me).  Too often,  they (we) are immersed in work-related activities when we could be relaxing and re-charging our inner resources.  Neither group is able to establish good boundaries between working life and personal life.  Going to the right kind of office space may present the solution.

According to DeskMag, an online magazine that covers the co-working industry  http://deskmag.com ,  there are now nearly 800 commercial collaborative,  i.e. co-working,   facilities in the US,  up from a little more than 300 just two years ago.  I first reported on this phenomenon in my October 25, 2011 post and the trend continues upward.

In addition to offering reasonably priced office space,  co-working offices provide opportunities for interaction  (networking)  with like-minded professionals.  Tenants  (sometimes called members)  share resources like a kitchen,  a photocopier and conference rooms.  Some co-working offices create a party atmosphere and organize after-hours social situations like whiskey tastings,  art shows and Christmas and other holiday parties.  “The need to feel socially connected is a fundamental human need”,  notes Ravi S. Gajendram,  an assistant professor of business at the University of Illinois.

The well-designed co-working office will create spaces that organically bring tenants together:  pleasant seating areas with long tables designed for sharing and conversation nooks with coffee tables and comfortable chairs.  “The design strategy is a typology that looks at accidental encounters as much as organizational clarity”,  says David Rockwell, designer of NeueHouse in New York City,  a high end co-working space that styles itself as a private club.  Rockwell says NeueHouse was designed to sync with the interactive,  serendipitous manner in which creative professionals work today.

Still,  there are those who try it and eventually tire of it.  Po Bronson,  who 19 years ago co-founded the San Francisco Writers Grotto,  says that co-working offices eventually start to feel like the traditional offices that we know and loathe.  There can be collaboration,  but also envy,  competition and gossip.  Yet for those of us who need a degree of structure to help us form necessary boundaries between our work and personal lives,  it will be worthwhile to investigate a co-working space or two.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Taxes: The Home Office Deduction

Are you about to do your taxes,  Freelancer friend?  Read this post first and find out if you are able to deduct expenses for your home office.  The IRS sets a high bar for this deduction,  but if you pass the qualifiers,  it’s all yours.  Tele-commuters and outside sales reps might also deduct home office expenses.

1.   The space must be used exclusively and regularly for business purposes only and not for your personal life.  The space must be used regularly for business  and not just a few times a year.   Those who live in small apartments are at a disadvantage because no room can be consigned to business only.   However  if you use the space regularly for business,   it is not necessary to partition it off to demonstrate that you have established a separate workstation.   A desk in a corner of a room qualifies as a workstation,  along with a  “border”  of a few square feet.  Outside sales reps who must store product samples and marketing collateral at home can also include storage space square footage in the home office deduction.

2.   Does your home office exist primarily for your convenience,  or for the convenience of your employer or clients?  If your employer or clients have provided a location at which you may regularly conduct business,  then you are not allowed to deduct home office expenses.  To take the deduction,  you must have no other work space available  (you and your computer at Starbucks is not a disqualification).  Employees and independent contractors may have to give documentation to the IRS.  A letter from the employer stating that there is no office space provided for you and/or receipts for un-reimbursed business expenses and supplies will suffice.

3.  If you have more than one home-based business,  all businesses must meet the first two tests:  you cannot have any office space made available to you by a client or employer and you must devote that space  exclusively and regularly to business.  If any entity for whom you work provides regular office space for you,  then you are not allowed to claim the home office deduction and it’s an all or nothing proposition.   However,  disqualification from the home office deduction does not mean you cannot deduct other business expenses.  You are still eligible to file Schedule C  (Freelancers/Independent contractors)  or Form 2106  (outside sales reps and other employees)  to deduct other un-reimbursed expenses incurred while doing business.

Are you ready to complete Form 8829 Expenses for Business Use of Your Home?  To get started,  measure the number of square feet used at home exclusively for business purposes  (maybe measuring storage closets and the area of your desk,  plus a  “reasonable”  border,  instead of an entire room)  and divide that number by the total square feet in your home.  If your office is 12′ x 12′,  you have 144 square feet of office space.  Let’s say your apartment has 750 square feet of space.  Divide the area of your office by the area of your apartment: 144/750 equals 0.192,  or 19.2%.

That figure represents the percentage of your home that is devoted to business,  the percentage of the year’s home expenses you may charge off to the business and deduct.  There are direct expenses and indirect expenses to calculate.  The fraction applies to indirect expenses,  i.e. the total year’s utilities,  rent/mortgage,  taxes,  home insurance,  etc.  For example,  if you spent $800.00 on last year’s electricity,  you may deduct 19.2 %  x  $800.00 or $153.60 for that category.  Expenses incurred solely for the benefit of your workstation are the direct expenses.  Office supplies,  postage and office furniture are direct expenses.  Add your direct and indirect expenses.

The final test is,  does your home office deduction exceed the revenue generated/income?  Your home office deduction cannot exceed the money generated.  So if your business earned $1000.00 and your home office deduction adds up to $1200.00,  you may only claim $1000.00 for your home office deduction.  But that extra expense does not get wasted.  You may carry it forward to add to a future home office deduction in a year when revenue exceeds expenses.

The bottom line Form 8829 number is recorded on Schedule C  (Freelancers /Independent contractors)  or Form 2106 and Schedule A  (outside sales reps and other employees).  Employees must itemize deductions  (hence Schedule A),  to which the home office deduction is added to other un-reimbursed business expenses and all other Schedule A deductions.  Those deductions must exceed 2% of your adjusted gross income.  For more detailed information specific to your situation,  speak with an accountant or tax attorney.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Office Space Solutions

Freelancers can work productively anytime,  anywhere.  That flexibility and control is perhaps our greatest advantage.  We are not tethered to a particular place for a specific time.  The many amazing technological advances that have occurred over the past 20 or so years have allowed us to be mobile.

But sometimes,  conducting business from the kitchen table,  coffee shop or library is neither practical nor sufficient.  We may need access to certain technical equipment or we may need appropriate meeting space.  We may need to demonstrate to a certain prospective client that we are not only capable,  but also  “real”   and occupancy in the right office space may be part of the sales pitch.  Temporary shared office space is the solution.   Shared offices give Freelancers access to workspaces that look,  feel and function like traditional office space.

The phenomenon of sharing office space,  called coworking,  reportedly was born 10+ years ago in San Francisco.  Coworking spaces are now available in many locales,  but finding the kind of space you need when you need it may not be easy.  You can always search Craig’s List,  but now there is a website that specializes in connecting Freelancers to the coworking spaces we need and at affordable prices.

Loosecubes http://loosecubes.com calls itself a community marketplace for workspace.  Loosecubes has office spaces available around the globe,  from St. Louis to Sao Paulo to South Africa.  You must join the  (free)  service and then you can browse and sign up for office space that fits your needs.  It’s also possible to offer workspaces for rent on Loosecubes.  Anyone with available space can post a listing on the site.  Interested Freelancers can contact the space owner and negotiate a rental timeframe and payment.

Workspaces can be categorized in any number of ways to reflect the types of businesses they would best serve,  e.g. architects,  photographers,  web designers,  writers,  etc.  Amenities provided is anther way to filter:  printing and scanning,  parking and access to public transit,  Power Point LCD and screen,  coffee and tea.  Loosecubes is linked to social media and members can obtain recommendations for workspaces based on their needs and preferences on Twitter,  Tumblr,  Meetup and Facebook.

To evaluate the service,  I searched Boston and found workspaces listed for $200 – $600/month,  both in the city and near suburbs.  Per diem listings ranged from $0 – $50.  Nearly all listings were accompanied by a photo.

Loosecubes promotes also the intangible benefits of their service.  Through coworking,  Freelancers will meet and interact with peers and have opportunities to build relationships,  expand professional networks,   create referral arrangements and  even team up to work together on projects.

Every once in a while I need a good space to meet a client and a restaurant or coffee shop just won’t do,  much less my home office.  I just may check out  Loosecubes to see what’s available.  It sounds like an excellent resource for us Freelancers  (BTW,  I’m not on their payroll).

Thanks for reading,

Kim