Q: I fear my homebased business isn't very organized, because I seem to work from everywhere in the house. I keep thinking I should find one place for everything and just work there. I have a spare room that I set up as my office, but between my laptop and cordless phone, and with my kids and many household activities, I'm just not in the office that much. Would I be more organized if I could get myself to work in the office?
A: We used to believe it was best to run a homebased business from a distinctly separate space in your home. But in the course of writing The Entrepreneurial Parent with Lisa Roberts, we conducted a survey of 606 parents who were working from home. To our surprise, we found that only about 33 percent were what we call "segregators," people who keep their home-office activities separate from the rest of their households. Like you, most parents (55.5 percent) are what we call "integrators." They thrive on weaving their home businesses into the rest of their household activities. About 8 percent do some of each.
So it sounds like you are a natural integrator. We find that the most common mistake parents make in deciding just how to use their home office space is to work against their natural styles. For example, sometimes integrators believe they should keep homes and offices separate. After all, that's how it's done in the business world most of us came from. But the integrator who tries to work in a separate office will probably feel isolated and guilty and will have trouble focusing on his or her work.
What's most important is to do what best supports you in getting your work done effectively. One of the good things about working from home is that you can live life your way. Of course, integrators and segregators are on opposite poles, and few of us are firmly one or the other. So if you're still wondering whether you're truly an integrator or just a disorganized segregator, consider these words from a strong segregator in our book The Entrepreneurial Parent. Does this sound like you?
"I recently banned my children from my office. As they got older, they became too noisy . . . I want my office to be the place set aside to do work."
Now, here are the words of a natural integrator. Does this sound more like you?
"I moved my office into the living room. I used to have it in a spare bedroom and felt like I was away . . . now I can work more, enjoy my kids and take family breaks when I need to! My children actually help me with increasing my business. At first, I wanted them to be quiet, but I realized that is why I am home . . . to hear them! And when someone else hears my kids, they wish they were home, too!"
Don't worry about which style you gravitate toward. Whether you're a segregator or an integrator, you can organize your home business successfully. Here are some organizing tips for integrators:
1. Set up a workstation to serve as a hub or base for your work, but also reserve satellite spots in other rooms of the house where you can work. Keep important papers confined to these dedicated spots so you don't feel like your business is taking over your home and intruding on other family members.
2. If you have small children, child-proof your office spaces because the kids will be attracted to wherever you're working.
3. Rely on a laptop and cell phone so you can be as mobile as possible, working where it best suits you, be it in the backyard, on the playground or at the beach.
4. Integrators love flexible work hours, but may get overwhelmed at times because they haven't set aside enough uninterrupted work time. So even though you weave together domestic and business tasks throughout the day, try to establish clear office hours. This will make life easier for you, your clients and your family.
5. Let go of the idea that you can't be both a parent and a business-person at the same time. That model doesn't work for you. It's OK to mix these roles as long as you keep client and customer needs in mind.
And here are some organizing tips for segregators:
1. Set up a dedicated home office that's not in the main traffic flow of your home.
2. Establish set business hours, and do whatever you need to do to keep these boundaries.
3. Set clear rules for family members as to when you can and cannot be interrupted.
4. Hire professional domestic help to assist you with child care and housework. The more time you have to concentrate fully on your work, the more time you'll have to be with your family after work.
5. Let go of the idea that you need to be available to your family during the workday. You don't need to have your children playing at your feet. That model doesn't work for you. Use the planning and scheduling skills that come so naturally to you.
Of course, opportunities to integrate or segregate your work will also depend on your children's ages, their personalities and the nature of your business. What's important is to feel free to find the right home/office mix for you, your family and your business.
Authors and career coaches Paul and Sarah Edwards' new book is The Best Home Businesses for People 50+. Send them your startup business questions at www.workingfromhome.com or in care of Entrepreneur.