Coverage in The Guardian: Small Business NetworkOriginal article by Heidi Scrimgeour: http://www.theguardian.com/small-business-network/2016/jan/19/room-luxury-essential-small-business
I knew the time had come to change my work environment when my laptop went missing amid a mass of Lego bricks and discarded toddler snacks. Situated in a cramped corner of my children’s playroom, my workspace was unaffectionately known as the “ploffice”.
I’d always relished working in close proximity to my children. I started a small business six years ago to enable me to combine a career with raising my kids, so it seemed fitting to literally work around them. But as both the business and the family grew – my third child recently turned two – the ploffice became a battleground.
Happily, a timely house move heralded a new era in my working life – a room of my own. I open the door several times a day just to marvel that everything is where I left it. Nobody adjusts my seat, borrows my favourite pen or “decorates” my diary. I expect my new space will have a positive impact on my productivity too – just as soon as I stop rearranging the furniture and get down to work.
Carl Reader, author of The Startup Coach, is unsurprised by my delight at having a room of my own in which to work. He’s firmly of the view that you need a dedicated room free of distractions to run a successful business from home.
“It takes an inordinate amount of time to regain your focus once you’ve been distracted at work, and the distractions at home can be even more invasive than those in an open-plan office,” he says. “A separate work space also makes it easier to take your mind off business when you’re not working, which in turn boosts productivity.”
I certainly love the decisiveness of closing my office door at the end of the working day; it’s a strangely soothing ritual that the ploffice’ never afforded me. But there’s good news if a dedicated work space is impracticable – not everyone is persuaded of its value.
Dave Pullig and his partner run web design and development agency Deliciousmedia.co.uk from their open-plan weaver’s cottage in Huddersfield. “The living room is on one side of a central staircase and the office is on the other, but it’s essentially one big open space,” Pullig says.
This means the office is always in plain sight, but Pullig says that doesn’t cause problems, even when the couple are relaxing and trying to forget about work. “It’s just the back of the computer and a bookcase, after all, and when you’re self-employed it’s less important to have strict boundaries between work and home – it can be beneficial to keep the two fairly fluid.”
Melissa Talago, founder of Campfirecommunications.co.uk, decamped to the spare bedroom when working from the utility room – and household dumping ground – threatened to impede the growth of her business.
“I felt really frazzled amid the clutter so in a fit of pique I dismantled the spare bed and claimed the guest room as Campfire Communications’ headquarters,” says Talago. “I wallpapered one wall to look like a log cabin, and bought a rustic desk and chair and a bunch of campfire-themed cushions and accessories, plus a new sofa bed – just in case I need a lie-down or we have guests.
“I love my work space now. I can film YouTube videos and hold Skype calls against the right background for my brand but, most importantly, I feel less crowded and more able to work and plan effectively. It also feels like I’m actually going to work as I have to climb three flights of steps to get there.”
But if staging a takeover of an unoccupied room isn’t an option, how can you create the best working environment at home?
According to Jo Blood, of ergonomic office furniture consultant Posture People, you can turn any corner into a work area, so lack of space should never stop you from starting a business. However, your number one priority should be setting up your work space properly. “It’s difficult to work if your back seizes up, and small business owners don’t have big corporate firms looking after them,” says Blood.
“If you must perch at the kitchen table, sit with your shoulders relaxed and your arms bent at a 90-degree angle at the elbows. If your forearms aren’t parallel with the table then sit on some cushions to raise you higher. If your feet are dangling, grab a block of paper or a thick book to rest them on. Finally, if you’re using a laptop don’t be tempted to position it flat on the table – that’s setting yourself up for problems. Always use a laptop stand, a separate keyboard and a mouse.”
If you’re consigned to the equivalent of the ploffice for the foreseeable future, how do you persuade other household members to recognise that the corner you’ve claimed is officially an office and should be treated accordingly?
Esther Harris, a writer and publicist at BookedPR.com, who ran a business from her kitchen table for nine years, thinks this is almost impossible – but not unworkable.
“Mess inevitably creeps into shared domestic spaces, so the best approach is to employ start and finish times for work, then set the scene with music, stationery, pin boards, and project plans to help put you in the zone, and unset it to mark the day’s end,” she says. “Is it ideal? Do you do your best creative work? No, but you can get by in the short term, especially when building a business around a young family.”
No one’s denying the value of the ploffice’ – with the right motivation you could run a successful empire from the cupboard under the stairs frankly. It’s just that you might find you run an even better one from a room of your own.