Working at home comes with risks and rewards

Janet Arrowood

Have you ever dreamed of setting up an office at home and working in your pajamas? For better or worse, this dream has suddenly become a reality for many people.

While working from home can be productive, it also can be unproductive and even problematic. It all depends on how you approach working at home and the equipment and physical space that’s available.

First of all, forget about working in your pajamas or sweatpants. You should strive to maintain a professional appearance and attitude even working at home. While you might not participate in lots of video conferences, the clothes you wear — or don’t wear — affect your attitude and professionalism. One of the most important tenets of looking for work is to continue the routines you followed at a 9-to-5 position. The same applies to working from home.

Make sure you have the right equipment. That includes a:

Computer with enough capability to match the one at the office or those at your client or customer offices.

Large monitor — with a split screen, if possible.

Combination printer, scanner and fax machine with high resolution and full color capability.

Comfortable chair.

Place to store things so your desk isn’t littered with stuff.

Clean, light colored wall behind you for video conferences.

Door you can close to keep children and pets out when you’re on calls and at meetings.

It’s also nice to have a separate land line to dial in to conferences to keep your cellphone free for business and emergency calls.

Then there’s the matter of insurance and liability. Hopefully, your employer provided a full suite of intellectual property, liability, umbrella and vehicle insurance when you worked in the office. But many of these coverages don’t extend to home offices, and solo business owners are on their own. Your auto, homeowners or renters insurance could provide some protection, but you should coordinate with the insurer to make sure you have what you need. For those working for employers, ask how they cover business property and liability when equipment is used and work completed at home. There also could be issues with worker’s compensation and disability insurance.

The same rules that applied in the office should apply at home. If you were limited in the amount of time you could use office equipment for personal use, that should remain the case at home. Many employers install tracking software on their computers, so they’ll know when you’re working and the websites you visit.

Avoid mixing personal tasks with business activities. Sure, you can start a load of laundry right before a teleconference. But cleaning the kitchen or building a flower bed should wait until after the workday. It’s easy to fall into the “I’ll just finish one more thing” trap, then consume an entire workday with a series of personal chores.

Also avoid the temptation to become too wrapped up in work. Keep regular hours. When the workday ends, shut off your computer and make the short commute to your non-office space.

A few more considerations:

Confirm with your human resources department what the company’s liability will be if problems arise.

Keep personal items physically separate from company equipment and software.

Verify what your homeowners and auto insurance covers and what requires a separate rider or addendum.

Secure your office when you’re not using it to protect against damage or physical and intellectual property theft.