Going it alone: how to create your home workspace, stay focused and beat isolation

Apps and Processes

by Lucy Elkin, Founder of myworkhive, an ethical job-board and information hub for remote, home-based jobs.

Working from home can be really liberating – no more commuting! But, it can also be a challenge to find a set-up for your home workspace that helps you to stay focused and productive.  After freelancing and running a startup from home over many years, these are some of the key tips I wish I’d known at the start:

Invest in your home workspace – and yourself. It’s so easy to put your laptop on the kitchen table and dive in, without taking the time to get set up properly. But many months of working like this can really take a toll, causing back and other problems that will have an impact on your work. With no employer to worry about your health and safety, you need to look after yourself. You can find lots of information online to help you check that you have a good, ergonomic setup (for example, try this article from Posture People as a starting point.) Even if you are working at the kitchen table, getting a decent chair and making sure you have your screen at a good height, can really help. And don’t over-focus; when the pressure is on and deadlines are looming, make sure you remember to take breaks (set a timer if you have to!)

Similarly, you need to be your own HR department, looking after your own career development. You could set up a time once a year to do a career review, looking at your goals, what’s going well, what’s going less well, and any areas you’d like to develop. It can be hard to find the time for things like online courses, but if you choose a couple of skills to develop over the next 12-18 months (rather than promising yourself that you really will finish that online course this weekend) you’ll be amazed what you can accomplish. If you can afford it, you could invest in some sessions with a career coach (check out myworkhive’s interview with a fantastic career coach, which shares tips on how to choose and work with a coach). Or you could choose a friend as a career buddy, and either swap skills or learn a new skill together.

Virtual administrative assistant

Get paperwork in place: It’s best practice to let your home insurer, your mortgage lender or your landlord know that you are working from home. It probably won’t affect things, but it’s a good idea to keep a paper trail showing that you informed them. Make sure your home insurance covers any expensive new office equipment. Set up a system for storing receipts and keeping track of your expenses. Check out the rules on business rates and invest in some advice from an accountant if you’re not sure what home-office expenses you can claim or what paperwork you need to fill in.

Sort out your IT: Don’t wait until your laptop goes into meltdown when a client deadline is looming to sort out your IT systems. Plan out how and when you’ll make and store backups of any data or your website (tools like Backup Buddy can automate website backups for you, although you might want another failsafe backup in place as well.) Do you need to keep off-site records for yourself or any clients? What sort of security do you have in place to protect data on your computer (make sure you have good passwords and change them often.) Have you got good virus protection software? And don’t wait until disaster strikes to build a relationship with a good, local IT firm that can give you emergency help.

Create your work process, and find the tools that work for you: Particularly if you are new to working solo, it can be really helpful to have a schedule for the week, to avoid feeling overwhelmed. For example, for myworkhive, I deal with social media and marketing on Mondays, two days are dedicated to following up with clients, one day is a writing and research day, and one day is for administrative and business tasks. Each day, I set a couple of main goals, and keep lists of other small tasks that also need doing if I can. Blocking out time this way helps me keep on top of things, and not lose focus.

You can find a wealth of task-management tools online, and most have free options. Popular tools include Trello, Asana, Workflowy and Wunderlist, but there are many more. I spent a few weeks trying out several, which duplicated some effort but let me hone in on the tools that seemed to work best for me. Once or twice a year I set aside a couple of hours to review what’s working, and what could I tweak to make things more effective.

Find your work tribe: Just because you are working for yourself, doesn’t mean you need to always work alone, or from home. Over the last few years, lots of coworking spaces have opened across the UK; most offer hot-desking at reasonable rates, as well as an interesting community of like-minded entrepreneurs. Working at a coworking space occasionally offers a change of scene, as well as the chance to network with other freelance, start-up and self-employed folks. If coworking is too expensive, UK Jelly lists regular, free (or very low cost) meetups around the UK which offer pop-up coworking days, often held once a month or so.

Taking part in small-business networking groups can also give you the chance to brush up on new skills (many put on interesting talks and workshops) and also to make new contacts. Have a look for local groups near you. Some interesting ones include Women in Rural Enterprise (WIRE), and I Roll Up My Sleeves (who organise ethical networking days, where you meet to help out a charity project, and network along the way.) Local networking events are often looking for speakers, so you could offer to give a talk on something you’re great at, that many of their members might struggle with, such as social media, bookkeeping or time management.  

If it’s hard for you to squeeze travel and events into your day, you could even try some virtual coworking. I run an online coworking group, which is free to join, and brings together a friendly group of self-employed people to share ideas and help each other stay motivated. There are also often local facebook groups for small business owners and freelancers, which can be another great source of advice and contacts.

Hopefully, some of these tips will help you make a flying start to your self-employed, work-from-home career. For more information, myworkhive regularly publishes new resources to help people work from home effectively, and to run happy and productive remote teams.

This guest blog post was written by Lucy Elkin, Founder of myworkhive, an ethical job-board and information hub for remote, home-based jobs.


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