Working from home - is it for you?

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It sounds like the ideal situation - avoiding the traffic jams and bypassing the rat race, while making money from the comfort of your own home. But is working from home all it's cracked up to be? We check out the pluses and pitfalls.

Man working from home
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First off, while working from home (either as an employee or self-employed person) does offer flexibility, it isn't for everyone. Self-discipline, self-motivation and organisation are essential if you are to prove productive, so before you swap the office for at-home working, it's important to consider these pros and cons.

Advantages
Home working offers a freedom and flexibility that you may not previously have experienced in the workplace. You are, in most cases, able to structure your day to fit around your personal needs, whether that involves the school run, home-studying or other activities. Done right, it can provide you with the work-life balance you have been craving.

A home office can also provide you with considerable savings - not only are you saving money on the daily commute but your work clothing bill will drop dramatically when there is no need to conform to the standard office dress code.

There are also tax advantages to working from home as a (usually very small) proportion of household bills can be written off as business expenses.

Disadvantages
Working from home is all about self-discipline - not only do you need to be able to focus on work and not on the many distractions your home provides, but with nobody looking over your shoulder, you'll need to set (and stick to) your own deadlines.

As appealing as it sounds, homeworking can be a lonely life so if you are a social butterfly who enjoys the water-cooler gossip and office interaction, it may not be the right situation for you.

Those who are self-employed homeworkers also have to deal with the extra pressure provided by an at-home job - no more paid holidays or sick days. This added pressure can lead to a difficulty in switching off at the end of the day and all too many homeworkers find their work life encroaching on family life, which nullifies the benefits.

Things to consider

If you feel you are ready, able and willing to take the home-working plunge however, these are the things you will need to consider:

Keep your workspace separate from your living space - ideally provide a specific work area which is off-limits to family members during working hours and that you can walk away from at the end of the day.

If possible, have a separate phone and internet line installed - this will further enable you to keep work separate from home life and will make claiming money on your tax return if self-employed easier (it's worth looking into local accountancy firms to help with tax returns).

Similarly, you will need to furnish your office in a professional manner. Lounging on the sofa with a laptop might seem like a dream come true but you will soon find your back aching and your eyes drawn to the TV. Get the lighting, heating and tech (particularly internet security) sorted before you start and do include office accoutrements such as filing cabinets to keep your paperwork in order.

It's also worth considering remote access to your computer (if your business relies on it) so that you are able to make client visits or set up meetings without being caught out - wireless technology has made this much easier and there are now local wireless "hot spots" whereby you can connect to the internet while on the move, while sites such as www.GoToMyPC.com allow you to access files and programs remotely from any browser for a monthly subscription.

With your rules and boundaries set however, you can enjoy a flexible and productive working life where your family no longer takes a back seat.