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Soho so good

The rise of the Soho (small office, home office) worker has been a key

phenomenon in the workplace of recent years.

Not only have the number of self-employed operators risen but a

significant number of big companies have also decided that staff can just

as easily work from home.

Working from home can save costs, especially for advisers who are often

out with clients. It also makes flexible hours possible

On the other hand, an office in the home can be disruptive, there is

always the temptation to work unreasonable hours because the environment is

familiar and a great deal of self-discipline is required, especially for

the self-employed. However, these are not arguments against the home

office, simply reasons to prepare properly.

The office itself should be separate from the living area of the home. If

it is a room, it should be dedicated to that purpose. Otherwise, the

temptation to just do the next job or expect the family to be quiet while

you work will soon prove disruptive.

Those who want to go a little further could create a purpose-built space

either in the house or in a separate building in the garden.

Where building (including loft conversion) has to be carried out in or

outside the property, it may require planning permission or be subject to

building regulations.

Keeping some personal items in the office part may avoid it being

classified as commercial for capital gains tax assessment if the property

is sold.

Whatever method is used, one important consideration is how to fit in

technology. Technology has contributed more than any other development

towards making working from home feasible.

Technology is cheap today. But buying for the office is different from

buying a home PC. Speed determines how quickly processes can be completed

but slightly faster processing may make little difference to an overall job

time governed by the speed of, say, a printer. It is relatively easy to

upgrade to a faster processor.

Hard drive capacity, which is measured gigabytes, indicates the computer&#39s

capacity to store software and data. Given the proliferation of systems

applicable to and essential for the adviser&#39s job, the greater the

hard-drive size the better.

The computer&#39s capacity to run software and to handle large applications

such as spreadsheets will be determined by the size of the memory (random

access memory), which can be easily upgraded.

Software such as word processing, spreadsheets and my particular

favourite, the email manager and organiser Outlook from Microsoft, enable

the PC to become a virtual administration office while programmes such as

Project (which is also from Microsoft) and desktop publishing add a virtual

marketing office to the practice, enabling the home-based adviser to

present a strong corporate image and capability to customers.

The paperless office is fast becoming a reality as email management,

planners and high-capacity storage media such as tapes and rewritable CDs

make it unnecessary to hold paper copies. Even the content of paper

documents and scribbled notes can be stored digitally using a scanner.

But IT hardly ever works in isolation and certainly not for the home

office. Communications technology or telecommunication combined with IT has

created another essential tool for anybody planning to work from home.

It is important to install a separate phone line for the office so there

is no loss of amenity for the family and no loss of image for the business.

In fact, where possible the office requires two lines, one for voice and

one to carry fax and email/internet traffic. As so much work now requires

big files to be downloaded, it will help if one line is high-capacity.

BT Business Highway has been designed for the home-based worker, offering

ISDN, for the high capacity and speed needed to get the most from internet

and online services, plus two analogue lines for voice.

Those with cable TV services will be able to get a similar package from

their service provider. Soon, video conferencing, combined with the

established capability of electronic data interchange over the internet,

will make it possible for a home based adviser to conduct full online

meetings with clients or product providers.

Other equipment should be selected for what it can add to the business but

some machines have been designed with the home office in mind.

Multi-function machines can provide a solution where space is limited. They

combine a fax, scanner, copier, printer and modem in one box.

The other big consideration when working from home is security. For an

adviser whose business consists almost entirely of intellectual capital and

data, this area will be critical. Most home electricity supplies are not

protected against electrical surges or spikes that have a very disruptive

effect on PCs and can cause the loss of files and other data. It is a good

idea to have circuit protection installed, at least for the office, before

risking data. It is also a good idea to provide some back-up facility from

which the system and files can be restored in the event of any system


Bear in mind that most household insurance policies do not extend cover to

office equipment. Some insurers do offer full cover on office equipment in

the home, albeit at extra cost. Eagle Star will even add the laptop PC to

the all-risks section of the policy to cover it outside the home. If

clients or anyone else are to visit the office, public liability cover is


Advisers who work from home should make sure they set up their office

properly. Home-based should not become homespun.


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