I'll never forget the day I visited ABC Co. for a first interview with the owner. The person who arranged my interview hadn't told me the business was run out of a home office. So I walked up to the front door of a big brick house in a residential neighborhood, wondering whether I'd written down the street number incorrectly. I soon found myself being led down a hallway, past the piano room and up a flight of stairs to the third-floor office space.

For the first few minutes of my interview (those critical moments when impressions are set and judgments are made), I was in a haze. I was thinking, What does this company do again? Am I seriously considering working out of someone's house? I'm sure I projected an air of total confidence. Right...

What I'm sure I was actually projecting was confusion and hesitation. The home office setting had caught me completely unprepared. . . which leads to my list of the "10 Cardinal Rules for Homebased Business Owners." If you operate out of a home office and are thinking about hiring an employee, this list will help you set the stage for success.

Rule 1. Provide full disclosure. Prior to an interview, you should let each candidate know about your home office base. In my case, one of the things I couldn't help but wonder was whether the company was trying to hide something from me. That's not the greatest foot to put forward to potential hires.

Rule 2. Ask potential candidates how they feel about working in a home office. This should be one of the first questions you ask--and you'll want to listen carefully to the answers you get. If you're not satisfied with their answers, follow up with some behavioral questions to find out what they're really thinking. You should give the candidate time to voice any misgivings they may have. If you've followed Rule 1, this question won't come as a surprise to your candidates and you'll be more likely to receive an honest answer.

Rule 3. Before the employee starts work, set up an appropriate workspace for them. You need to find a way to balance the limited space in your home with your employee's need for privacy. Let's face it, nobody wants to be in a situation where the boss can hear every single word they say on the phone. It just breeds discontent and puts more pressure on your employee. Over time, that pressure will build up and create a situation that isn't likely to end well.

Rule 4. Establish a separate space for meetings. At the very least, you should invest in a table you can sit around to hold meetings. In theory, using your desk as a place to sit around during a meeting is a decent idea. In practice, however, it will be difficult to set a professional tone for the meeting if you and your employee are crowded around your desk, trying to work in the midst of all your paperwork.

Rule 5. Take bathroom facilities into account. If you don't have a bathroom dedicated primarily to the office space and your employees, you might want to reconsider your plans to hire someone else. Enough said.

Rule 6. Have an appropriate exit/entrance to your home office. The path to your home office should ideally not interfere with what goes on in the rest of the house. This rule isn't as critical as the restroom issue, but it helps lend a feeling of professionalism to the entire endeavor if you have an entrance that's as direct as possible.

Rule 7. Make the office off limits to your family. You need to make sure your family understands that your office space-and in particular, the desk and computer of your employee-is a no-go zone. Sure, the office is in your house, but if you want your employee to feel comfortable, this is a line that must not be crossed.

Rule 8. Provide generous vacation time. It's my belief, after working in a home office, that the rule here should be more vacation rather than less. A home office is an intense work environment, and your employees are much more apt to burn out here than in a standard work environment. An extra week of vacation-and three should be the minimum-is a great way to minimize burn out.

Rule 9. Be flexible. Be open to your employee's ideas and needs. Suggest flex-time or working remotely-your employees will thank you for it.

Rule 10. Try and laugh a little. The close quarters of a home office can be stifling, and there are no other employees around that your worker can vent to. So figure out how to keep the mood light and learn to laugh about life's daily little annoyances.


Tom Candee has spent the past two years working out of a home office as a marketing guru for an internet store in Cambridge, Massachusetts.