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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


failure.


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


essential.


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


properly. Home-based should not become homespun.

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