10 golden rules for working from home

Whether you see working from home as efficient and productive or regard it as an excuse to watch daytime TV, there’s no denying it’s becoming increasingly popular.

Today’s technology certainly makes it easier for many people to do their jobs away from the office, either as a regular occurrence or if their commute is stymied by travel disruption.

Some simply see it as a way to tackle a demanding project without the constant interruptions that typically characterise office routine. 

For others, of course, it’s a necessity. The number of self-employed has risen by 650,000 to 4.5 million since 2008 and now makes up 15% of the workforce.

So if you’re among the UK’s legion of home workers – occasional, regular or permanent – here are 10 ways to squeeze the maximum benefit from flexible working…

1. Be realistic

There’s no point working from home if you’re not going to get the job done.

If you work primarily in an office, make sure your at-home days don’t cut you out of the loop in terms of internal meetings or liaison with suppliers or clients. Gauge whether a video and/or telephone conference call will be sufficient. Keep on top of projects and hit your targets.

If you’re self-employed, decide whether you can operate from home or whether you really need separate business premises.

2. Create boundaries

Consider converting a spare room or the loft into a dedicated work space – somewhere that allows you to function at your best that will be respected as a business area by the rest of the household.

Don’t just lug the laptop into the living room. The presence of the TV and other distracting devices might mean you don’t give work your full attention.

3. Get kitted out

Once you’ve sorted a suitable workspace, consider what you’ll need in terms of a desktop or laptop computer (if you don’t bring them home from the office). Will you need a printer, a filing cabinet, a shredder, an extra phone line?

4. Get the broadband speed you need

Even if you already have home broadband, there’s a chance it might not be up to speed when it comes to dealing with the extra demands of a business user.

So take another look at the current broadband deals on offer, remembering that bundled packages aren’t always the most cost effective, and upgrade to a business plan if need be.

5. Be alert to energy usage

Cutting out the commute will save you money in travel costs, but spending extra time spent at home will lead to an increase in your energy bills, so it’s important to be savvy with your usage.

During the winter, if practical, only heat the room you’re working in. When the weather warms up, cool the house by opening doors and windows instead of using a fan.

Other energy saving tips include not leaving devices on standby, unplugging chargers when not in use, and switching to a cheaper energy tariff.

You may also be entitled to tax relief on your energy bills, speaking of which…

6. Claim your tax breaks

If you use your home as the base for your business, you could be entitled to tax relief on some of your expenses, such as the extra cost of gas and electricity and business phone calls.

You may also be able to claim tax relief if you have a ‘homeworking arrangement’ with your employer and only work from home some of the time.

You don’t have to work from home every day, but there must be regular pattern, such as two days at home and three in the office each week.

You might also be able to set the costs of running a car against your tax bill if you are self-employed – your accountant will know.

If you’re self-employed or running a company, depending on your turnover, you might have to register for VAT and other business taxes. For more information, visit the HMRC website.

7. Sort your insurance

Working from home has insurance implications, so standard buildings and contents cover might not cut it. If you’re self-employed, run a business and/or hold stock or other items at your property, you’ll probably need a dedicated business policy.

If staff, clients or the public will be visiting your home in a work capacity, you’ll need to consider employer’s liability (which is mandatory for employers) and public liability insurance. Read more in my article Are you covered to work from home?

8. Data security can be an issue

If you’re taking devices away from the office to use at home, it’s vital they have the latest security software installed and are password protected and encrypted to stop unauthorised eyes from seeing the data if the device is stolen, misplaced or hacked.

If you’re accessing your work network remotely, make sure all access is secured using a virtual private network (VPN). Your employer will have strict rules on what you can and cannot do.

If you’re self-employed, make sure you protect all your own data in case of theft, and back-up files so you don’t lose work or business records.

9. Stay motivated

Lack of motivation is the scourge of the home worker. Once enthusiasm levels drop, even the most mundane of household chores can become a welcome distraction. Then there is the lure of social media, online shopping and TV.

If you struggle in the self-discipline department while online, there are apps and browser add-ons that set limits on the time you can spend on certain sites, such as StayFocused (Chrome), LeechBlock (Firefox) or MindfulBrowsing (Apple’s Safari).

10. Get the job done

It can be all too easy to spend the day in your pyjamas, dipping into work in between doing household chores and running errands. But work should be your priority.

So treat working from home as you would working in the office – get dressed for business and set a realistic but demanding schedule. Start at a set time and stick to scheduled breaks. And make sure everyone else in the house understands the boundaries and respects your schedule.

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