By Toby Somerville

3 Golden Rules For Working From Home

By Toby Somerville

One of the great things about working from your own home is freedom. Freedom to start work when you want, wear what you want and work the hours that you want. Right? Well actually, probably not.

In reality working from home doesn’t work like that –- well not in my experience anyway. You usually end up working normal business hours plus a few more to boot (though you may still be in your PJs).



The main problem with working from home is everyone’s expectations.

  • your expectations
  • your family and friends expectations
  • your clients’/ employer’s expectations

All these expectations create their own pressures that lead to longer working hours and a less than perfect work/life balance. To keep your working hours and sanity in order, these expectations need to be managed and managed carefully.

Your Expectations

When you first start working from home you might think life is going to be all rosy — late starts, time to do all those things during the day you would not normally get time to do. Then, reality strikes: if you want to successfully work from home. You are going to have to work. Then, there are insidious extra pressures that come to bear. These are both real pressures and unseen self inflicted pressures:

  • I must be available to answer the phone at all times.
  • What if they think I’m not here and they think I’m off doing something else?
  • I must beat that deadline even though there is no way I can do it in time, (if I work a normal working week). If I don’t, they will think I’m slacking off.
  • I know it is late but I’ll just check my email. You know — just in case.

You will end up adding extra pressure to yourself, working longer hours and never getting away from your work. It is difficult to shut up shop and leave when you live there.

Your friends and family’s expectations
Since you are now working at home; can you just fix that cupboard.,
or can give me a hand with this etc. If you already work from home and live with someone; you will know what I mean.

It is easy for other people to forget that you are actually working and not just mucking around on the computer. This can be confronting to friends and family, especially when you are not overjoyed when they interrupt you.

Your clients’ / employer’s expectations
Whether you work for yourself or another business–they expect to be able to contact you during normal work hours – which can be tricky, especially if they are not on the same continent as you.

The Three Golden Rules:

1. Set your working day hours and stick to them
Of course there will always be times when you will need to work longer hours to meet some deadline or other, but, for all other times – stick to the hours you set. Let your family and friends know that within those hours you would prefer not to be disturbed.

2. Delineate your office area
Hide/cover you work area when you are not working. It is important to be able to walk away from your work area and not feel the pressure to just go back and finish this or that. It maybe that you close the door on your home office or if you have a desk in one of your main rooms – cover it with a sheet at the end of the day to visually show you are not at work.

3. Keep your boss/client up to date on what you are doing
Check in with them regularly, whether this be by instant message, email, phone or whatever.

It is possible to have a work/life balance, it all boils down to communication and discipline. Let people know what you are trying to achieve and when you are trying to achieve it and have the discipline to follow the hours you set. TTFN.

  • You’re right, finding the balance between work life and personal life is difficult, however for myself, because what I do – it doenst bother me.

    A few other considerations I would also note would be :

    1. Be prepared to for changes in cashflow. No longer does money come in ‘weekly’ from a JOB, but rather in lump sums, typically from projects completed. You must live beneath your means to survive initially!

    2. Work hours. Im always up til 3am, then getting up at 11. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing. Good – There are less distractions in the middle of the night. Bad – Not good when a client is trying to contact you at 9am and youre in bed snoring your head off!

    3. Becoming a recluse! Be sure to get out and about every now and then. I have found myself many a time not leaving the house for days on end. Its funny walking outside and thinking “Oh so this is what it’s like”


  • jacques

    Don’t try to save money on the baby sitter by working from home. Doing this will end up with unhappy kids and unhappy client/boss.

    Kids should either be at a nursery or any outside location or, if not possible, they should not have direct access to you ie you work in a closed room and there is a baby sitter that takes care of the kids. They must understand that when daddy/mommy enters his/her office, he/she is at work and is not to be disturbed. On your side, you must stick with regular working hours and spend a fair amount of time with them. Actually, the time you would commute from work to home is a perfect time to spend with the family.

    I started working from home in 1986 and raised my family working as a freelance. I totally agree on the fact that, over your own and client/boss expectations, it is crucial to manage your family and friends expectations too. Never let the “yeah, your working from home…” comment go by without straightening things up. Or you won’t work from home very long.

    Finally, it is very true that you end up working more than less when working from home. It is all too easy to fix a small thing here and there and since your have no commuting, you end up easily working this time too. Is this OK…it depends on each individual.


  • The hardest part is fighting the stereotype. Everyone thinks I’m not doing anything since I’m working from home. And it’s an uphill battle every day.

    Tip: To keep your clients updated in real time about your progress, steps and such, use the free site http://www.rememberthemilk.com. Just create a tab for a client, then share it privately via a link. Add all the tasks, set priorities, add notes as you complete tasks. Other clients can’t see it and they get transparency. Very helpful since I’m telecommuting.

  • Protor

    I can guarantee when I get a phone call from a friend or family who want me to do something, the first thing they will say is ‘are you busy’, they think as I’m working from home I’m never busy, when they would never call someone else at their work place and assume they are not busy.
    I think i need a separate work mobile and only give the number to clients.

  • SPGWhistler

    I work from home… I am very lucky to have a boss who works from home as well, so he understands my schedule and it allows me to have the hours that I want.

    The only problem is what has already been said above, family and friends don’t understand it and I find my self constantly explaining to them that I’m at work and wont be able to do this or that.

    Also, I am a programmer, so I find that I do my best work late at night when it’s very quiet and I have no distractions. This means that when the rest of my family is getting up, I’m still sleeping. I think this is difficult for them.

    I second the two phone lines concept. It is a good way to separate work from other tasks. Don’t give your work number to family! :-)

  • JGM

    I’m a telecommuter. Getting my family (especially my new wife) to understand that they can’t call me to chat in the middle of the day has been my biggest problem. Especially as my wife currently works only part time, so she comes home in the mid-afternoon and wants to tell me all about her day, and then gets angry when I try to tell her that I’m busy and ask her to wait until dinner to tell me about it. I’ve family members call, wanting me to help them fix their computers over the phone, and they end up angry when I tell them I am working and I can’t do that now.

    Another challenge I’ve encountered is the too many bosses problem. I know this can be a problem while working in the office as well, but I think it’s worse when you are ‘out of sight, out of mind’. I have 4 different people who assign work, and it seems as if none of them actually talk to each other. So invariably I am getting 3 projects assigned, all with a due date of tomorrow, and each of them is going to take me 6-8 hours to complete. My biggest challenge is not communicating with the office, but its getting the office to communicate with itself sometimes.

    My biggest problem of late though has been motivation. I’m reaching a point where I feel I am burning out working from home. I don’t get the same elvel of stimulation from my home office as I do when I actually travel to the office to spend a couple of days there. I’m thinking that a job change is going to be needed soon, as moving across the state is still not really an option.

  • colorbycolor

    I would like to add that the whole “You’re home so you aren’t REALLY busy” attitude is even harder to fight when you have kids. Your kids don’t get that you are really working and, therefore, can not have a half hour discussion about Star Wars Legos-and their school teachers figure that you can come to the school and help out because you’re just sitting at home. Be prepared! One other thing, if you have a spouse that is not in your industry, they may not always get your method of working and why some things take so long, why sometimes you veg out and why sometimes you just need to be left alone-at least once a week I have to remind the Mr. that I’m not moving boxes or washing dishes…I’m changing the world ;c)

  • Anyone

    One idea: Gym, run or something. Let your mind (and body) escape from your work place, returning to your home, even if you return to the same place.

  • It’s really true that it can take over your life: I know that ‘is this what the sky looks like?’ feeling too! I have also found that it’s really important to work at a desk. Too many hours sitting in a ‘comfy’ position and I can be crippled for days. This mainly seems to be because I think something will only take a minute & 6 or more hours later I haven’t moved! Many times I have ended up cursing not moving 6 feet over to my desk in the first place, instead of slouching on the sofa! I also like to keep my work area as separate from my relaxing area as possible, as many times I have read that psychologically it’s impossible to rest properly in the same space you work in. I’m still working on the hours thing: kids do suffer if mum is always working when she could be listening to stuff about school, supervising homework or cooking a meal. I also feel much better whenever I discipline myself to budget time for all those homey things, kind of ‘a change is as good as a rest’. I made the mistake of getting a reputation for super-efficiency early on & am just starting to really realize that just because I work from home it’s NOT ok for people to expect me to work 10am – 2am 7 days a week!

  • One of the things that we have a problem with isn’t family and friends thinking they can phone us during office hours (they’re generally pretty good about that) but clients thinking that they can phone us at any time – evenings, weekends, early morning etc. etc. They seem to think that because we work from home we’re obviously working ALL THE TIME. How can we politely encourage them to stick to office hours?

  • >>How can we politely encourage them to stick to office hours?

    An answering machine! Get a second phone if you have to, or have a different ringtone for friends.

  • A second phone is critical. I’m glad I got in with GrandCentral when I did. It’s the perfect call screener…and it’s free!

  • Oh…and so is a PO Box. I actually had clients stop by my house once to drop a check. Luckily I was dressed half decent that day!

  • Richard

    I have two jobs. One is daytime in the office and one is in the evenings from home.

    The most common “difficulty” I have is my wife coming home in the afternoon and saying something like, “I worked hard all day and I’m tired. You take ____ to piano; and ____ to violin; and go to the grocery store; and put gas in the car; and return the library books. Oh, and since you’re not busy, I need the garden tilled for spring.”

    She doesn’t realize that I not only worked a full day in the office, my other employer expects me to put in a full day’s work in the evening. I can’t spare the time to run errands, yet she thinks that I’m home, so I’m available.

    So I resist doing the errands and it backfires. If I leave my home office to get a snack or use the toilet, she accuses me of not working. “See, you weren’t busy after all!”

    Phones? Get caller ID and screen the incoming calls. If you were at work you wouldn’t be at home to answer calls from family and friends anyway, so just don’t pick up! They’ll leave a message (or get the message).

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been working from home for about 5 months now, full time. I guess I’m lucky in the fact that my wife understands what I do and that I need time and concentration to do it. She leaves me alone for the most part, realizing that my job is indeed real. It may help my case that I am the only one working, so it makes it even more important that I get my job done well so the income continues to come in (my wife is pregnant and very close to being due!).

    I definitely agree that I actually do work more when I’m at home though, mostly because of the pressures I put on myself to perform well so that I can continue to work from home (as stated in this article). I haven’t run into the phone problem because I’m not really freelancing, so I rarely get client calls. Working from home is a blessing, and I want to make sure I keep the privilege. I’m not sure how things will play out when the baby gets here, but that’s a different story…

  • Dorsey

    Since the mid-90’s I’ve successfully worked from home, starting part-time (several days per week) and then full time since 2005. I do periodically go to the office for personal meetings, but mostly I’m home, and that includes managing three groups in the U.S., India, and Siberia.

    Because it was less common during the 90’s, I had co-workers call me during the day and apologize for “bothering me” at home, but we got over that. I found that it is important to set aside a special work area apart from your normal at-home space, and to develop the mindset that you are working first, not when time allows. The best advice I can give is to over-deliver. This is especially importantly until you’ve developed the trust of all involved. I also frequently log in or answer mail at odd hours (very early and very late, and over weekends) to re-enforce the perception that I’m just as involved as those who go to the office every day.

    I also second the notion not to get involved in home-related things such as repairs and errands. But, I would encourage taking time for out for the tasks that you would leave the office for, anyway. In those cases, I make it clear that I’m doing so and also that I’ve made up the time.

    I’m now CTO at a social networking company and managing partner for technology at an online registration software company. I set up a virtual office environment at both companies, and it’s worked very well, at least for those who play by the rules I’ve outlined above and in this article.

  • spicycricket.blogspot.com

    These are the perfect directions mate. I really appreciate it. Thanks for a wonderful article. Simply Great !!

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