Childproof Your Home Office Want to keep cookie crumbs, crayons, and screaming kids out of your home office? Check out these ground rules.

By Joanne Eglash

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Oreo cookie crumbs in the keyboard. . . an X-rated site suddenlyappearing in your bookmarks list. . . a scream erupting from yourhome office as you're preparing dinner in the kitchen. Signs ofa gremlin? Not if you have a child living in your house.

Parents who neglect to childproof their home offices may regrettheir oversights. Think it's not important? You'll rethinkthat theory if one of these situations occurs in your house:

Attack of the Cookie Monster. You walk into your officeand discover a keyboard generously sprinkled with graham crackercrumbs. The Cookie Monster also appears to have spilled milk onthat storyboard you created last night for your presentation thismorning. And those crayoned scribbles on your computer monitordon't exactly give you that warm, fuzzy feeling either.

Analysis: You have a child between the ages of three andsix years who has been having early morning fun.

Recommendation: As detailed below, solutions range fromestablishing rules (cookies are off limits in the office) to makingcomputer usage a reward (if you feed the cat in the morning, youcan play computer games for an hour in the afternoon).

A trip to the emergency room. You're in the kitchenfixing dinner, and you suddenly hear an agonized shriek from yourhome office. You dash into the office and discover your toddler hasbeen bonked on the head by a glass paperweight that was within herreach.

Recommendation: You may need to baby-proof your office(for example, buy special plugs for your outlets) and removetemptation from your toddler's range.

It's time for that talk. You suddenly receivea barrage of e-mails that are definitely X-rated. Put that togetherwith a teenager who's been devoting quite a bit of time tounsupervised Web surfing, and you can suspect, either accidentallyor deliberately, he or she has been exploring Internet highwaysthat you definitely don't want your child to travel.

Recommendation: Limit and supervise your child's Website exploration using programs like NetNanny and by being in theoffice during his or her surf excursions.

One of the challenges of being a homebased business owner withkids, of course, is to avoid shutting out your children whilesafeguarding your office. To meet that challenge, entrepreneurialparents have devised a variety of solutions.

Little Hands

"[My 4-year-old daughter, Julia,] usually hangs out with mein the office," explains Terri Sarappo, owner of Sarappo MediaServices, a media planning and buying firm in Belmont, California."She draws or plays school while I'm here." To avoidproblems, Sarappo has established some rules. "I haven'thad any major problems with my equipment because I don't lether play around my computer when I'm not here. She tried to puther apple juice on my desk yesterday but was quickly told thatwouldn't work."

However, Sarappo admits that it's not always easy having heryoung daughter in her office. "The hardest thing is to keepher quiet when clients are on the phone," says Sarappo, whodoes have Julia spend some time in day care. "When I was doingthis last year when she was three, she screamed, 'Get off thephone and play Barbies with me.' Work stopped and she went offto daycare at that moment."

Although Julia now understands that when mommy's on thephone, talking is forbidden, she still "loves to come in anddistract me while I'm working," says Sarappo."She'll report on what she's doing on aminute-by-minute basis or keep interrupting me to ask for help withwhat she is doing. That makes work take twice as long," saysTerri. For example, it once took Sarappo several hours to finish aspreadsheet for a client. Although she charges by the hour, Sarappoonly charged the client for two hours. "That was a moreaccurate estimate of what the job would have cost without Juliaaround."

Another Julia-created challenge: "Running out of supplies,especially paper and file folders, which she uses forartwork," Sarappo says. "Sometimes I have to stop and runto Staples at the last minute because there's not enough paperleft to receive faxes or print reports.

"One of the things I try to teach her is to respect work.She understands that we work to get money, and if she's good, Ican continue to work here instead of at an office. She likes that.I also bought her a present from the Lillian Vernon catalog andtold her it was because I got paid for a job. Now she wants me towork so we get her more things!"

Sarappo took the time to explain these economical basics to heryoung daughter, she says, "[because] I just thought it wasimportant to show her that there was something in it for her aswell: More time with mom because I no longer work full time, and Ishare the wealth when a project is finished."

Schoolage Situations

Although Dolores McCrorey's daughter Elizabeth is now19-years-old, McCrorey recalls very well her experiences whenElizabeth was much younger. "When my daughter was six, shethought it great fun to be able to 'share' in conversationsI had with clients on the phone," reminisces McCrorey, founderof Risktaking for Success LLC, a Santa Clara, California-based riskand innovation coaching and consulting firm. "The speakerphone held the most interest for her. [I would] take notes whileshe played quietly at my feet. Questions from the client neverfailed to get her attention. One time, one of my more vocalclients, who was in the middle of sharing her displeasure with theproject's direction, piqued my daughter's curiosity. Shestood tippy toe to the phone and stated matter-of-factly, 'Mymommy doesn't like you either.' "

As Elizabeth grew from babyhood to adulthood, McCrorey developeddifferent strategies for "childproofing" her office. Oneof her most useful methods was establishing clear boundaries with'office hours' and official 'break times' when sheand her daughter would take a walk, play together, go to the parkor get an ice cream. By helping her daughter understand thedistinction between work time and play time, McCrorey taughtElizabeth "to learn respect for my work and for oneanother's private times." The confirmation that Elizabethhad absorbed the lesson came when she began putting 'visitinghours' on her bedroom door. Touché.

One way that McCrorey helped Elizabeth feel as if she wasinvolved in her mother's work was to create a color-coated"cheat sheet" for Elizabeth that allowed her to playgrown-up businesswoman. Anything with a red tag meant hands-off."I made it a game by putting fun stickers on items that Ipurposely set up for her to touch," says McCrorey. "Thisallowed my daughter to see that mommy working from home could alsobe fun."

Through the years, McCrorey says her key concern has been thatof safety. "I've taken great pains to ensure that my homeoffice is safety-proofed for my daughter (and now a dog aswell)," says McCrorey. "This includes the obvious, suchas electrical outlets and computer wiring, to the not-so-obvious,like books piled high on a file cabinet or sharp edges associatedwith everyday business tools. I crawled on all fours looking forthings that might hurt my daughter (or myself), and might hurt mybusiness."

Junior High and Beyond

As your children get older, the areas that you need to limit inyour home office may change. Jean Bedord, the founder of Cupertino,California-based eContent Strategies, a consulting businessspecializing in online content, found this out as her son became apreteen. When Brian, now age 11, was younger, Bedord had noproblems with the limitations imposed by only two telephone lines(one voice and one Internet access/fax). From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.,Jean answered the phone in her business persona ("Hello, thisis Jean Bedord"); after 5 p.m., she simply answered"Hello."

As her son become older, however, he began answering the phoneas well, thinking it might be one of his friends. "Somehow,this kid's voice at the other end of the line didn'tproject the right professional image," admits Bedord. Tohandle that issue, the family now has four lines: a home telephone,Bedord's business telephone (which rings only in her office),her husband's business phone (which rings only in his office)and their shared fax/Internet access line. Brian, however, stillhad to learn that he had to keep his voice down when Mom was on thephone.

Bedord also discovered, as her son grew older, that sharing acomputer doesn't work. "My son absolutely loves computergames," says Bedord. "Unfortunately, they interfere withbusiness software and crash machines, plus he would love to camp onthe computer for hours at a time." To avoid that conflict,their home now houses three computers.

Space allocation has also been problematic. When Bedord changedfrom corporate life to entrepreneurial, homebased work, she neededa dedicated office which contained only her business stuff."I'm trying to keep the 'family stuff'segregated," says Bedord. The family has accomplished this bysetting up game consoles in Bedord's son's room, having aseparate office for her husband, and keeping the family room clearof computers and electronic games.

Bedord admits that it's an ongoing battle to stay organized."But at least now I can shut the door," she says,"instead of looking at my office during family time."

Joanne Eglash is the author of How to Write a .Com Business Plan.

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