Business advice

Working from Home — How Practical Is It?

If you’re starting up a small business, as I did last year, one of the big decisions is whether you’re going to work from home (my choice) or from dedicated premises, such as an office or a workshop. With some businesses, of course, there isn’t much of a choice. If you’re opening a restaurant, for instance, having it in your living room might make an interesting selling point, but it’s unlikely to work.

On the other hand, plenty of business types don’t need a physical location to interact with clients or customers. Even many kinds of retail can be carried on entirely online, without any need for a shop, while a staff team in a service industry may be able to interact virtually.

It’s easy to think of having a physical shop, office or workshop as the traditional model, but actually the tradition is by no means cut and dried. If you go back before the Industrial Revolution, it was normal to work from home, or to “live over the shop” (literally or figuratively). That remained common for a good way through the 20th century. My mother grew up, during the Twenties and Thirties, in a building that was a home at the back and a shop at the front, and that wasn’t an unusual experience.

The big advantage of working from home, needless to say, is that it’s cheaper. Not having to pay rent for business premises can not only increase your profits but be passed on in lower prices, making you more competitive. You also save time and cost on not having to travel, as well as not having to duplicate equipment such as computers, and you have increased flexibility, too. If I need to get some work finished at 10pm on a Sunday evening, that’s my choice. I don’t have to worry whether I can get into the building to reach my office.

There are also downsides, though, even assuming your business is one that could be run from home. There are more distractions than you’d have in an office, especially if you have a family (I don’t), and blurring the line between home and work doesn’t always make for an efficient operation. It might not be the best place for meeting clients, and it can also be seen as somewhat unprofessional. And storage of stock or equipment is a problem.

However, compromises are possible. There are companies – Wenta, for instance – that rent out not only full office space but also access to a desk and computer, offering a place to work when home is too disruptive. It’s also possible to rent, for a fraction of the cost of an actual office, a virtual address that may give your business a more professional sheen.

In the same way, storage can be rented on an ad hoc basis. As for meetings, I’ve got to know my area’s cafés far better in the past eighteen months than over the years before, and I’m sure chains like Costa and Starbucks do very well indeed from home-based businesses. Of course, if you occasionally want to impress an important client with a more upmarket setting, you could hire a meeting-room in a hotel for far less than you’d pay in the long term for an office.

One big disadvantage in working from home, especially if like me you live alone, is the lack of company during your working time. On the other hand, things might not be any better in an office if you’re a one-man-band, but some of that can be mitigated by regular networking. Colleagues are everywhere.

Many start-ups, of course, will conclude that they need to have specific work premises, and obviously that’s the right solution for them. If not, working from home is certainly an option to be considered. I’ve never regretted it.


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