Setting up a home office

As the internet makes the world an ever-smaller place and businesses start to recognise the benefits of less formal working arrangements, increasing numbers of people are becoming home workers.

Whether you’re fully freelance or you’ve just got a flexible working agreement in place with your employer, if it’s going to be sustainable then sooner or later you’re going to need to sort yourself out with a decent home office.

Here are a few things you might want to consider when you’re setting yourself up for home working.

Picking your property

Chances are you’ll probably need to run with what you’ve got, but if you do happen to be moving house and home working is on the cards then it’s worth factoring that into your choice of property.

Broadband speed is a major concern. Superfast broadband has been standard in big cities for years now, but in rural and even semi-rural areas the speeds can still be pretty woeful sometimes. A pedestrian internet connection can have a serious impact on your ability to get things done, but fortunately there are plenty of websites where you can check and compare broadband speeds by location and provider.

Depending on your line of work, there might be other considerations around location. Good transport links and mobile coverage could both be issues, while if clients are going to be visiting then you’ll need to make sure there’s adequate free parking, or that you’re at least able to get visitor permits.

Remember that some councils/landlords/freeholders might place limitations on running a business from your home. Sitting tapping away on a laptop is unlikely to put anyone’s back up, but for more than that you might need to look into commercial premises.

Office set-up

If you’re going to stand any chance of performing effectively, your workspace needs to be just that. Site yourself away from distractions, especially partners, housemates and other family members. Trying to work in a communal kitchen with people chatting, the cooker hood roaring and the telly blaring is a dead loss. Likewise, if you’re proposing to combine childcare and work then that’s fine, but it’s worth being honest with yourself about the impact one or more small children will have on your work rate. Even pets can sabotage your productivity, particularly cats, who love to snuggle up on a nice warm laptop.

Your options might be limited, but if you can manage it then it’s best not to work out of your bedroom. A big part of sustainable home working is being able to draw a line between work and relaxation, and that’s much harder to do when your screen is six feet from your pillow.

Also, try and think of your home office like a real office. Anyone who’s ever done health and safety at work training knows that a good employer will provide an environment that’s not too hot or cold, along with a comfortable and adjustable chair, and perhaps a monitor riser to stop you getting a crick in your neck. Why should a home office be any less comfortable?

Record-keeping

If you work freelance, you can offset business-related expenses against your taxable profit. Straightforward enough when it’s tools, professional subscriptions or printer ink, but what about the running costs of your home office? Your broadband, phone, electricity and water usage will all be much higher when you work from home, and if part of your property is entirely devoted to your business then it should follow that a corresponding portion of your rent is a business expense.

In practical terms, the lines between work and home use are likely to be rather blurry, and the rules on what you can and can’t claim are not altogether straightforward. A good accountant will be able to give you up-to-date advice, but your starting point should be a bit of record-keeping. Try to get an idea of what proportions of your various utilities are work-related. Log your working hours per week, use an energy monitor to check your work-related energy usage, and keep track of what percentage of your phone bill is work calls. It’s not an exact science, but the better your records, the more confident you can be about pruning your tax bill.

Pros and cons of home working

As a final thought, home working isn’t for everyone. Some people find it isolating, while others have trouble compartmentalising work and home life. This doesn’t mean you can’t work on your own terms. Lots of freelancers prefer to rent office space away from their home, and particularly in larger cities there are offices that specialise in offering individual desks or small spaces, often including access to useful communal facilities like meeting space and technical support. These places can also be a great place to make friends and business contacts, and could be worth looking into if you’re keen to keep home and work life separate.

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