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Home vs. Home Office

Lay down the rules, and you'll alleviate some of the friction that arises when home is where the heart and the business are.

Running a homebased Web and graphic design business-and raising twin daughters with his wife, Mary-has become a unique balancing act for Chris Agro. Consider the time a client dropped by at Agro's Fort Lauderdale home office . . . at about the same time Mary was returning home with a trunk-full of groceries. Or when local clients begged Agro to bring some materials over . . . and one of his two employees had to double as babysitter to Nicole and Lindsay.

In both instances, chaos could have ruled. But his daughters get along well enough with his employees (one of whom is Agro's mother) that no one resents the dual roles they sometimes play. And his visiting client actually admired the family's balance, even discussing family issues as he helped Mary bring in the groceries. "It helped solidify my relationship with him," says Agro, who has run Art by Chris Inc. Web and Graphic Design (www.artchris.com) from home since 1992. "I do more work with that client now than ever before. Who says working from your house can't lead to more business?"

Not work-at-home parents who've mastered the art of balancing home and home office. Years ago, before the advent of technology services like voice mail, Caller ID, portable phones and powerful PCs, working from home meant hiding family from clients. Traditional corporate dwellers often resented the sound of kids playing or crying in the background, and dismissed at-home workers as parents first, part-time freelancers second.

Today, technology helps homebased workers better control their schedules, businesses and lives. But working from home amid kids and spouses is still a deft balancing act, says Lisa Roberts, founder of the Entrepreneurial Parent LLC, a Fairfield, Connecticut-based resource for parents in the SOHO work force. One of the most important skills is realizing when you can't do it alone. Work-at-home parents need to garner the participation of spouses, secure help with young children (child care, preschool, grandparents or au pairs) and juggle their schedules to ensure they're productive, Roberts says.

Roberts should know. She had a 4-year-old daughter who answered the business phone and gave it to Roberts while she was in the shower, and a son who once lost his cool while traveling with her to three client meetings in one morning.

"Trying to do focused work around young children is frustrating, draining and, frankly, a waste of precious time," says Roberts, who holds family "business" meetings that let all involved know her needs for the upcoming week. "Setting up a clear-cut weekly schedule that clients, children, a spouse and you can count on is key to leading a responsible work/family balance. I've found an occasional family discussion on what's working and what's not-whether the topic's the home office, the playroom or the kitchen-can keep us all on track and in check."


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