I’ve mentioned this to a few people whilst out and about networking in Bournemouth for my business, Flavourfy Digital: I always thought working from home was easy, until I started my own business!
I’ve worked from home since 1999ish – it was a bold move both by me and my employer at the time, Demon Internet. I was being persuaded by the manager of the Legal team to move from the Network Abuse Team (which I’d set up) and work for her to deal with more legal liability internet issues. At the same time I was seeing the lovely Julia (now my wife) who lived in Dorset and so I was up in London during the week and down in Dorset at the weekend and holidays.
By this point I’d been seeing Julia for about two years and we were talking about the future. A future where I wanted to live with her and her children, Dave and Milly, down in Dorset. So, I took a gamble, I told the Legal team manager “yes, I’ll work for you, but I want to move to Dorset and work from home”. Thankfully, after some consideration, she said OK, but I’d need to be in London two days a week.
So, this is how my ‘working from home’ began – 2 days a week in London, 3 days a week working from home, down in Dorset. Julia and my plan was for this always to be a temporary thing and I’d look for a job more locally, but 15 years later I was still doing the regular commute to London, and whilst I was no longer tied to 2 days a week and only travelling to London only when I needed to, I was up to London probably on average 2 or 3 times a week.
It worked perfectly for me. From the outset I knew that I needed to make this ‘working from home’ work, otherwise I’d be back to working in London 5 days a week, something that I didn’t want to do, certainly not long term. It was this that drove me to make it work – I was often asked if it was hard working from home, what with all the distractions or perhaps the temptation to work longer hours, but to be honest knowing I needed to make it work meant I committed myself to it whole heartedly and I made it work.
I never really found it a problem, certainly not in terms of my ability to do my job (internet content liability and regulatory manager) not least of all because the stakeholders inside and outside the businesses I worked for, were spread around the country. Yes, I had less interaction with colleagues and sometimes it was difficult to feel part of a team (but often the teams I worked in were dispersed across the UK too) but it never stopped me from being able to do my job and do it well.
So, when in June 2014 I started working for myself in Dorset I didn’t think it would be a problem – hey I’ve been doing it for about 15 years anyway.
But actually, working from home for yourself is completely different. Yes, I have a job to do, but your own business takes over your life, so working from home sometimes feels like living in your office, rather than working from your home – but that wasn’t the main challenge.
The biggest difference I’ve found, and still do, is that lack of interaction with others. I never worried about this before because I always had interaction with colleagues when I was an employee or I knew they were there at the end of an email or phone call, or we’d have regular team meetings/calls, and so I assumed it would be the same working for yourself. You obviously hope to have interaction with prospective or existing clients but I’ve found that completely different than knowing there’s a team of people out there, that you’re part of. And, working from home and not going out sometimes day after day, you start going a little stir crazy (‘cabin fever’ Julia calls it).
Being your own boss is amazing and I’m fully committed to my business but I think it’s important for any sole trader or one-man-band to get out there and meet people on a regular basis and not just as part of a business growth strategy.
Actually this is relatively easy for me, as I do a lot of networking to help drive my business and I engage with different groups where I’m beginning to feel I’m part of a team (I’m an Exec Director of Bournemouth Chamber of Commerce for example) or attend regular business support networks (like the excellent Breakfast Board run by Kevin Sheldrake).
So, I’ve come to realise that actually apart from being important for business, it’s important for your own sanity (and therefore for your business) to get out there and talk to people. That’s part of the reason why I network so much, why I get involved with specific organisations and why I meet with people on a regular basis, even if its only for a coffee and a catch up.
And something else that works also – taking a walk at lunchtime. It helps me take a break from the home/office, get some exercise and clear my head for an afternoon of hard work.
So, there you have it – I always thought working from home was easy – that’s until I started working for myself.