Fitting In

Home (But Not Alone): Employees Working In Your Home Office

Cathy Nedd, owner of Nedd/Detroit Public Relations in Detroit, has always worked from home. She initially started her company in 1994 in an incubator situation that included an apartment, but growth came quickly and with employees on board, she soon outgrew her space. Rather than setting up shop in a traditional office, she bought a 3,000-square-foot loft and converted the downstairs into office space. Today Nedd has annual sales of $750,000 and 10 employees working in her home.

For Nedd, being homebased was a priority. "I didn't want a traditional office space," she says. "I don't like commuting; I get sleepy and out of sorts. My home is also really pleasant. There are high vaulted ceilings, skylights and a 180-degree view of downtown Detroit and Canada." Nedd's space is large enough to accommodate seven desks in the living room, which is next to the kitchen. She also has private offices for administration and the graphics department. The majority of her personal living space is upstairs.

During the day, Nedd's front door stays open so that vendors and delivery people can enter and leave at will. Employees work whether she's in the office or not. "They're all basically good employees," says Nedd, who's only had to let one person go in six years. "I tend to be trusting, and I've found that I get the best of people that way. Everyone has a key to the [loft] and can come and go as they please. On the weekends, though, they call ahead." Nedd was fortunate that the owners of the building OK'd her homebased business and that local zoning ordinances allow her to have employees.

Though she wouldn't work any other way, Nedd admits that her work situation has its challenges. "I'm not a very private person, so it doesn't bother me to have people touching my stuff and using my kitchen, but that sort of thing does bother some people," she says. "I'm also single. The situation would be more difficult for people with families." Nedd does, however, have a problem with kitchen privileges and cleanliness.

"We only have one refrigerator, so my food often disappears and I don't have a lot of food storage space because employees leave their leftovers behind," she says. Cleaning up can also be a problem. "I have a cleaning person come in once a week, but the place is often a mess. The other night, a friend stopped in after we went out to dinner and there were coffee cups all over the place and dirty dishes."

If you're considering working from home with employees, privacy, food storage and cleanliness are a just a few of the things you'll need to consider, says Rudy Lewis, president of the National Association of Home Based Businesses (NAHBB), which provides support and development services to homebased companies. "The first thing you have to do is an assessment," he says. "Determine if it's feasible for you to have employees working in your home. Then think about what roles your spouse and children will play-because they will make up a role if you don't give them one."

Although many homebased businesses don't have strict hours, Lewis suggests creating a schedule, especially if you have children. "There has to be a time when work stops and family time starts or the business could create a lot of turmoil for your family," he says.

You should also consider the type of business you have. "Some businesses create more noise and garbage than others," says Lewis. "Something fairly clean and quiet like a computer company is much different than a printing situation, which can make a lot of noise and create a lot of waste."

If you can answer yes to the following questions, then opening the doors of your home to employees may work for you.

  • Do you have enough space for a workstation for an employee or employees? Will the space be safe and functional?
  • Are your spouse and children comfortable with the idea of your having employees work at home? Do they understand what you require during work hours and can you carve out enough work hours in the day?
  • Are you and your family able to forego some privacy?
  • Are you zoned for having employees work in your home? Can you get insurance coverage?
  • Is there adequate parking for employees?
  • Is it feasible to run your type of business in a residential area?
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