Rules, Tools and Wearing No Shoes
This article appears in the March/April 2014 issue of Business Franchise Australia & New Zealand
HOW TO PRODUCTIVELY WORK FROM HOME
Once upon a time, I worked in an office. Lots of offices really. Big corporate ones with workstations, soughtafter corner offices, lots of people, fluro lighting and fights over missing staplers. One of my offices was kind of a dungeon and if you stood on tippy toes you could see the car park, almost.
But now? Now I work from home and have done so for the last four years.
At the moment I have three kids, my partner, four dogs, a lizard and a budgie in the house. It’s school holidays. While I have an office separate to the house, during school holidays it needs to be sound and shake proof, a sensory deprivation cell designed by NASA, to not be impacted by the cacophony generated ‘out there’.
And it’s not just inside the house.
Outside, as I write this, there are five children squealing in our pool, a heated street cricket match happening and the neighbour next door obviously has a new stereo and wants to test just how loud it can go.
And you know what? Give me ‘working from home’ any day of the week. I am biased, I love it. I love the freedom, not having to commute, the flexibility and not wearing any shoes. There are downsides. If something breaks, I have to fix it and no one organises morning teas or raffles.
At first, working from home was a life changing event.
And, as a new franchisee, you will be facing a number of life changing events.
This might be the first time you’ve been in business, leaving the security of an employed job with clear expectations, routine and a regular pay check. You might be starting business with your life partner or a friend, which always brings excitement and fresh challenges to existing relationships. You may find everything new - the products or services you will be selling, new skills to master and new relationships to make.
On top of all of this, you will be changing where you work. Our environment is important to most of us. Over the years, I have seen hundreds of individuals move from the comfort of office based jobs to being a franchisee, making significant changes to how and where you work. Our research tells us that one of the major motivators for people becoming franchisees is ‘business autonomy’, the chance to be your own boss. Working from home seems to be part and parcel of this and I want to share some hints and tips based on common questions I get asked.
Can I be productive if I work from home?
There is a fair spectrum of what it means to work from home. You may have a retail outlet and do some bookwork and reports from your home office. You may be based at home full time. You may spend time at home and time on the road. It all depends on the franchise system you invest in.
But ultimately, yes. Yes you can be productive working from home. But it will require commitment to make it work. Read on.
How do I get started?
In creating (or renovating) your home office, you may be tempted to get a bunch of new stuff. If you’re like me, places like Officeworks are heaven sent, where you can go manic, convincing yourself colour coordinated hole punches and elastic bands are essential.
Firstly, determine what you need. Your franchisor should provide you with an office set up checklist – a list of things you need for your home office. I encourage you to invest money in a good computer, a good chair, a dedicated desk and fast internet. I also encourage you to tap into what other franchisees are doing and how they set up their home office and how they manage working from home. Use their advice and build on their experience.
Secondly, think about where your home office should be. Having a separate space, preferably with a lockable door is great. So, think about where this could be in your home. What will need to change? How will it impact the family and family life? What about visitors and meetings?
You will have people coming to your house. Some of them may be your customers, but your field manager might come to help set up, or do a business review with you. Where will your bookkeeper sit? Having a comfortable, welcoming office space in your home is essential, a space that you can be proud to call ‘my business’.
I know of a pool building franchisee who uses his own pool to show customers a real life example of the product he sells. Can you imagine the surprise his wife got one afternoon while she was having a quick dip with their 6 month old in the nuddie? He wasn’t popular and now they have very strict protocols in place for having customers in the house (unsure if he got the sale!).
Thirdly, getting started in setting up your home office and working from home needs a plan and more importantly, it requires getting into routine and setting clear expectations with those you live with.
Finally, protecting your business stuff, stationery, equipment and records is really important. Somehow, it is always the fun stuff that goes missing first. You go to print a document, only to find the ink has run out and someone has forgot to replace it or tell you. For me, it’s sticky tape. I was forever running out of sticky tape (I’m pretty sure the kids eat it). Now, they have their own supply and don’t touch mine.
How can I set rules and expectations with those I live with?
Being productive while working from home requires discipline and rules, so everyone knows how to best support you. There will be much excitement and change occurring in your and your loved ones’ lives when you are a new franchisee. It may be seen as a major disruption or change to normal household operations. Setting expectations, or even hard core rules, and discussing them with those you live with is a must before you start working from home.
Things like the following can be agreed to and put on the fridge:
• When the door is closed I am working and can’t be interrupted.
• Give the office dedicated opening and closing times and close the door at the end of every day.
• Keep the level of noise and carry on happening in the house to a minimum during office hours.
• What to do when customers and visitors come to the house.
• How to answer the phone or greet visitors at the door.
It’s not just your behaviour that needs to change. It’s everyones. I used to get little notes poked under my office door enquiring when I would be finishing, or would I like a drink, or a news flash the dog had just eaten a thong. Now I write my working times on the fridge. It may take a while for the household to adjust, but be patient, be kind and be consistent.
There is a flip side to this too … What happens when you are procrastinating? Taking a long lunch break? Spending more time out of your business and more time doing household things? What permissions are you going to give those you live with to get you back on track?
Some people in your network may have the perception that working from home is a bludge. That all you do is send a couple of emails, make a phone call or two, check out Facebook, watch Days of Our Lives, do some chores and send an invoice. Being
disciplined around your work day is critical. While friends and family may think you have plenty of time to run an errand or meet for lunch, saying “not today, I’m working” will be your new superpower. This applies to chores as well.
‘Chore Creep’ is the phenomenon where you start to add little household jobs into your day (such as picking up the dry cleaning, doing the grocery shopping, hanging out a load of washing). You have the autonomy and opportunity to do that. The danger is your day can quickly fill up and you have not given the time you need to run your business.
A good friend of mine fell victim to Chore Creep and was having to work late at night and on the weekend to make up for it (she had a clean house though). When I first starting working from home, I was obsessed with being able to do my washing every day. Chore Creep, it can hit you anytime, anywhere. If that’s your choice …great! … but it can become crippling and definitely something to watch out for. You still have a business to run.
What tools do I need?
Our daily team meeting is done over Skype, allowing us all to work from home around Australia. However, a hush settles over our team whenever these dreaded words are said: “My Internet is playing up…” Worse still is what we call Code Red: a SMS from a team member saying that the Internet is down and they will have to dial in using the ye olde ancient telephone. The key here is to have a contingency plan. How will you continue to run your business when the Internet is playing up? For me, I hit the local café for their WiFi or use my phone as a hotspot. My EA ‘borrows’ Internet from the neighbour …
The Internet is a powerful business tool. Nowadays, you cannot do business effectively without it. As a result, you will learn new skills. You have to.
In an office, if your computer is on the fritz you can walk down to the IT Department and make it their problem. Unfortunately there won’t be an IT team waiting on your couch. You’re the IT Department. Google has saved my life on more than one occasion (simply Google your problem and like magic, answers appear). Having an IT savvy buddy or child may also provide you with the support you need.
If you don’t have basic technology skills, then go to school on it. Do a short course or get a tutor. A franchisee friend of mine traded computer lessons with his 16 year old neighbour for driving lessons. But beware! In a recent webinar I conducted with a client, I had a nice shirt on (business attire from the waist up) and my favourite PJ bottoms on, hidden under the desk. It is part of my ‘day to night wear’ range. At the end of the webinar the client asked if I had any copies of our publications to send them. I jumped up to check, flashed my ‘Owl You Need is Love’ PJ bottoms, gave them a laugh and have since added another line to our pre-webinar checklist: ‘is your bottom respectable?’
Will I go insane working from home and not being around people?
If you are a social critter you may miss being in an office, but you certainly will be around people. Working from home doesn’t mean being in isolation. You will be speaking with customers, suppliers and supporters every day.
I love the solitude of working on my own. It’s where I do my best work. I can go for hours without speaking to anyone and still call it a terrific day. But, I need balance. I need to chat and be social and have human interaction. I’ll be climbing the walls without it.
Ultimately, the choice is yours. If you crave working in a team, find how other franchisees in your system have done it. What can you do locally for your daily dose of human contact? How many customers will you call? Who can you visit? Find a support network that works for you.
Can I create my own routine, something that works for me?
Short answer: yes.
If you are prone to wasting time in an office, you are highly likely to waste time at home too. Changing your environment doesn’t fundamentally change your personality. If you are easily distracted by your work mates (or the one doing the distracting), wanting to be involved in loud conversations and group happenings, you will be just as easily distracted by hours of TV or a chat with the postman.
Setting a routine, being disciplined around it and making changes to it when it doesn’t work for you is important when you’re starting out. Your routine will change over time, but when starting out, be disciplined and trust your routines.
A franchisee I’ve worked with gets up at 4am to do her paperwork. She then does the school run, goes out on client visits and finished her day by lunchtime. Works for her.
Good franchisors will have some tools and experiences to share when it comes to creating a schedule and routine that works for you. Tap into their experience, learning and advice – it’ll help you get to where you want to be quicker!
The moral to the story is this … Working from home is a gift, one that gives you freedom and choice. But it requires discipline, time and effort to make it work for you and those you live with. Knowing yourself and how you are productive is the key to making it work.
Karli Furmage works with The Franchise Relationships Institute, a research and training organisation that has been helping franchisors and franchisees create profitable partnerships for 24 years. To have Karli or one of her team talk at your next conference contact: