Mandy Griffin an Upwork provider in the Admin Support and Web & Programming categories, has maintained a home office in her Bay Area home for more than 15 years. Recently, I sat down with Mandy to learn her work-at-home secrets.
From the physical workspace to the psychological and family aspects of working from home, Monita shares how she’s become a work-at-home pro:
R: How is your home office set up?
M: I have my own office area located in an add-on to our home. My office has very large windows which overlook our garden – so I get a lot of natural light and I get to be near nature.
R: How do you stay organized and connected while working from home?
M: I use a big desk with filing drawers, a laptop, and an all-in-one printer, copier, invoice software and fax machine (although I use eFax for faxing). I have one broadband connection and one wireless connection as a backup – because as we all know – things happen! I have a phone, of course, a large calculator, and plenty of pens, paper clips, and other office supplies.
R: What do you do in the evenings, when the kids get home?
M: I had recessed lights placed above my desk so that there is good light when I am working late. The room also has a gas fireplace and a couple of sofas so that my children can do their homework there after school – because they never sit at the desks in their rooms.
R: How do you keep your children busy while you work?
M: I keep them focused on their homework. I bought a three drawer rubber maid cabinet where I placed all my children’s supplies so they don’t have to come to my desk looking for scissors, calculators, etc. Once they’re done with their homework, they can go out and play or watch television in another room. The one thing I have not allowed is any television in this room. It is an office area, not a recreation area – and they know that.
R: What type of virtual set up do you have at home?
M: I have the usual Microsoft 2007 suite of software with Adobe, Photoshop, etc. I also use Skype and MSN Messenger. Since I use Skype VOIP pretty frequently, I have a microphone – it’s great for talking to clients from around the world.
R: How do you mentally prepare yourself to begin your workday?
M: I make sure I am dressed for the occasion, everyone has their own opinions and thoughts on this, but I have tried it both ways – being casual and comfortable in my pajamas, and being more careful about how I look.
R: So, you choose to dress professionally despite the fact that you’re working from home. How does that help you prepare mentally for work?
M. What I wear, and how I look directly impacts how I feel and therefore how I work. If I look presentable, I feel presentable and in control, and if I am in control then my work product is professional.
R: Do you ever feel like you miss out on the perquisites of working in an office?
M: Mostly, no. But to avoid the feeling of being alone, I make it a point to visit the Elance Water Cooler. I feel like it’s really as good as being in an office place. You get to interact with other people and share their points of view.
R: How have you managed to keep yourself from getting distracted while working from home?
M: I work an eight hour day – sometimes more. I also make sure to take an hour off for lunch and 10-15 minute breaks after every 2-3 hours of work. I don’t keep a television in my office area and I stay off the Internet unless I’m working on something related to a project.
Another thing I do is avoid clutter in my office. Clutter can be very distracting for me. I don’t want to spend time searching for my paperwork or a pen. I like to keep things neat and organized.
R: What about human distractions; do you ever get any drop in visitors or unexpected personal calls?
M: I take a conscious step to tell people I am at work. I make my friends and family aware of my schedule and let them know when I’m free and when I’m not. If they call and I can’t talk – I let them know I’ll call them back. After fifteen years of being open and honest about my schedule – the number of personal calls I receive during my office hours has dropped.
R: How have you prepared your family to allow you to work?
M: When my children were younger, it really was a juggling act for me. I spent a lot of late nights working to make up for time lost during the day. Now that they are older and understand the boundaries better, I’m able to work normal hours without disruption.
R: Does working from home allow you to spend more time with your children?
M: My children and I have set aside some time every day during which I am exclusively at their disposal. Of course they have issues that they want to discuss with me and it’s important for them to know that they have that set aside time to do that. Like any family, we have some very good days and then there are always those meltdown days we have to face.
R: What tips would you share with other work-at-home moms that are trying to thrive in a home office?
1. Devote a separate space to call your work area.
Even if it is just a corner in your bedroom, which is what I had before we remodeled, it’s important to have a place to “go to work” to.
2. Make your work space inviting.
You need a place where you can sit, think and concentrate on your projects. This is different for everyone. For me it means a cozy separate room with a great view.
For you, it may mean having lots of plants around and big bright windows that open, while for another, it may mean bright, bold colored walls with paintings hung all around. Remember, this doesn’t mean it has to be Martha Stewart style perfect – it’s just needs to be a place where you genuinely feel comfortable.
3. Use the latest and greatest software.
Having the software that you need at your finger tips makes working at home much easier than not. It can increase your productivity tremendously.
4. Replace faulty equipment.
If you’ve made a career from working at home – then you want to make sure that your equipment works – and that you can count on it. And, it always helps to have a back up of all your files – just in case.
5. Take yourself and the work you do seriously.
And make sure your family and friends take it seriously too. If working at home is your full-time job – or even if it’s your part-time job – if you take the time to express its importance to your family and friends, you’ll have a better chance at success.
6. Don’t forget, you are a professional.
Make no mistake, you are working hard, getting rated for your work, and earning hard cash – that makes you a professional. Always keep that in mind when working with clients.