Home work: can you have a creative career without leaving the house?

18/03/2011 16:24pm

Working from home is easy: buy a decent workstation, tell the taxman you’re going it alone and wait for the cash to roll in. That’s it. Isn’t it?

To an extent, yes – but there are a few issues you ought to consider before deciding that home is where your creative heart is. There are logistical issues, regulatory issues and the thorny problem of staying sane.

The biggest question of all is this: is homeworking the right thing for you? If the best thing about your job is the laughs you have with colleagues and the buzz when everyone’s firing on all cylinders, working from home might drive you daft.

The other big issue is focus. With no boss breathing down your neck, you need to be disciplined: kids, pets, Xboxes, daytime TV, YouTube, the b3ta message board, your unfinished novel and the local pub are powerful distractions.

Will your home work?

Is your home broadband fast enough for what you want to do? Remember the headline speeds are for downloads, not uploads, so even a 20Mbps ADSL connection is only chucking data upwards at 1Mbps – which isn’t ideal if you’re uploading something enormous to an FTP server or using a remote backup service. Bandwidth caps that aren’t an issue when you only connect at evenings and weekends suddenly become a major problem, and if you need business-grade broadband it’ll cost a bit more than more congested domestic services.

Lighting and heating are important – you don’t want to be in a room that’s a sauna in summer and a fridge in winter – and there needs to be enough room not just for you, but for all your paraphernalia – including the mountains of paperwork our supposedly paperless offices generate. A separate power supply for your computing kit would be ideal, but if that isn’t an option then surge protection is a good idea and an uninterruptible power supply may be worthwhile too.

If possible, make sure your equipment can’t be seen from the street: it could be an open invitation to burglars. If you can’t find a suitable working location that doesn’t display your expensive equipment, make sure you have strong doors and windows with sturdy locks, and consider an alarm system too (these things are a good idea for any home, but if your computers can be seen from the street then they’re essential).

Don’t forget the essentials, either: you’ll need a smoke alarm and a first aid kit, and if you have a serious medical condition it’s a very good idea to ask a friend or relative to contact you regularly to make sure you’re all right. If your condition flares up when you’re in an office, there are plenty of people around who can call for help on your behalf, but when you work from home you’re on your own.

If you’re setting up a home office from scratch, assume that everything will take longer than it should: your office furniture will be stuck on a boat somewhere, the broadband engineer won’t turn up on the promised day, software will get lost in the post and so on. If it’s essential, order it well in advance. It’s better to have stuff cluttering up the place than to be wondering where it is when you’ve got a deadline to meet.

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