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
Keeping some personal items in the office part may avoid it being
classified as commercial for capital gains tax assessment if the property
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's
capacity to store software and data. Given the proliferation of systems
applicable to and essential for the adviser's job, the greater the
hard-drive size the better.
The computer's 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.