Technology lets people easily set up shop at home

November 04, 1993|By Loraine O'Connell | Loraine O'Connell,Mark Powers, an Orlando, Fla., management consultantOrlando Sentinel

Danielle Morris is hard at work -- though you wouldn't know it to see her.

Her attire consists of a T-shirt, shorts and bare feet.

Ms. Morris, an independent television screenwriter and producer medical documentaries and other programs, works out of her Winter Park, Fla., home -- and relishes her comfy work life.

According to a 1991 survey by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Ms. Morris is one of 7 million people who work out of their homes.

Debbie Lynn handles the small-business market segment for United Telephone and says 14 percent of homes in the company's operating area -- which ranges from Ocala through Central Florida as far south as Naples -- have someone doing income-producing work from the house.

Companies that track home-based businesses project a 12 percent annual growth rate.

The reasons?

"Technology makes it possible for small businesses to operate from home; then there's the high cost of child care," says Ms. Lynn. "And environmental and cost-control concerns are encouraging corporations to use telecommuting."

Of course, corporate downsizing accounts for a lot of new home-based businesses as laid-off professionals turn entrepreneurial. Their choice to set up shop in their own homes makes economic sense because the overhead is low.

Then there are the folks who just want to work for themselves.

"As long as there is work to be done at a terminal, or on your own, unsupervised, there's no reason why you can't do it at home," says Mark Powers, a management consultant in Orlando, Fla.

Professionals make up the majority of people calling their homes their offices, Mr. Powers says. Among them independent sales representatives, writers, consultants, attorneys, accountants, even corporate managers who don't directly supervise anyone.

Those who move their businesses from a rented office into their homes typically see their profits go up as their overhead goes down, Mr. Powers says.

On the other hand, salaried professionals may see their income drop once they move home -- at least until they build up a base of clients.

True to Alvin Toffler's predictions in the book "Future Shock," home office workers are running their operations with the assistance of technology -- fax machines, telephone modems, personal computers and printers.

Among the advantages, is the ability to dress casually, clean house and wash clothes all week rather than in a weekend marathon, grocery shop, set your own hours and make up the rules as you go along.

Over the 12 years she has worked from home -- in an office that once functioned as a spare bedroom -- Ms. Morris has developed several rules.

For example, "I make sure I stop for lunch and 'All My Children' each day."

Another rule: no work-related meetings in her house.

"This is my home," she says. "If I bring people into my living room for meetings, then it becomes my office and I could never get away from my office." Instead, meetings take place in restaurants or in associates' offices. And, Ms. Morris takes no business calls after 9 p.m., so her show biz associates in Los Angeles just have to understand. And her Orlando pals know better than to call during the day.

Self-discipline is the big problem for most new home-office workers, says Mr. Powers.

"You've got all these wonderful distractions," he says -- TV, the fridge, your collection of CDs.

People try so hard to resist their homey temptations that they become obsessed with resisting, Mr. Powers says. They're better off giving in.

"You feel like taking a nap? Go for it," Mr. Powers advises. "As long as you're a responsible person, you'll put yourself under enough pressure; you'll take care of your business eventually" -- or you'll miss your deadlines and lose money. That's usually a wake-up call for the lackadaisical.

Attorney Eric Robinson, who began working from his home in April, faces only one real temptation.

"I want to play with the kids," he says.

But working at home has provided some balance for him.

"I'd go nuts if I played with them full-time, and I think I was going nuts working as a law partner full-time."

Daughter Jennifer, 5, is in kindergarten for a good part of each day, and son Joey, 3, is in preschool. And when Mr. Robinson's schedule is full, Jennifer goes to an after-school program, and Joey goes to a child-care provider.

"I'm more productive than I would be in an office," Mr. Powers says.

While many people accustomed to office camaraderie figure they'd get lonely working at home, most home-office workers say they cherish the quiet. They work best when uninterrupted by phones, bosses and co-workers. Besides, it's not like they're hermits.

"I can communicate with anybody anywhere by telephone, fax or computer," says Joe Rosier, a trial lawyer who has worked from home for 10 years. "I'm involved in a lot of clubs and on various boards. I'll call people and say, 'Let's have lunch.' "

HOME WORK

Here are some tips on setting up shop at home:

* Set up shop in a part of the house that you can dedicate strictly to office work. Make sure whatever room you choose has a door you can shut.

* Maintain boundaries between your home and business lifes by confining work-related activities and paperwork to the room you've selected.

* Give in to the distractions -- TV, CDs, the swimming pool -- initially. Resisting them will only make them loom larger in your mind and diminish your business effectiveness.

* Develop guidelines for handling different issues that crop up -- for example, where you'll meet with clients, what times of day and night you're willing to take business phone calls, etc.

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