Home working: 'You can't sit about in your pyjamas'

Working from home may seem like bliss, but the reality is tougher than you'd think, says Caitlin Davies

Thursday 16 November 2006 01:00 GMT

Around my desk I have an invisible wall. It surrounds my computer, filing cabinet, notice board and chair. On one side of the invisible wall is my "office", on the other is the rest of my living room.

Like a million others in the UK, I work from home. That means I doss around, break constantly for tea and watch daytime television. This is the stereotype. The truth is, according to the Economic and Social Research Council, that home workers tend to work harder than everyone else.

While, in the past, working at home meant underpaid women doing manual jobs, today it's more a case of self-employed professionals being heavily reliant on computer, internet and broadband technology.

The internet means you can run web-based businesses from home, or buy and sell products on websites like eBay. For some, homework means converting a hobby or a skill into a business such as tutoring, childcare, pet minding, or homeopathy. The website www.homeworking.com has a number of case studies, including the more obvious jobs like web designer and magazine journalist. But there are also some unusual ones, such asa man selling mail-order condoms.

When Marie-Clare Castree gave up her office job in Brighton to work from home she was tempted to stay in her pyjamas. "That lasted about a week," she says. "Then I could see it wasn't going to work. You have to take yourself seriously. You have a vested interest in your own workforce - i.e. you - and a boss who is on your back 24/7."

Castree's career switch came when she heard about the home shopping catalogue company Kleeneze, which works like a low-cost franchise. Castree bought a starter kit and catalogues, and now has 350 customers. After working from 8am to 3pm, she stops for three hours and continues in the evening. She spends around two hours a day on her website ( www.prosperwithus.co.uk) which she uses as her main recruitment tool. One major benefit of working from home is organising your own time. No longer do you have to ask for time off over Christmas or for a doctor's appointment. Instead, you fit your work around what's most important.

Sarah Hurst has been working from home as a beauty therapist for 12 years. She says that the best part is that when the children come home they know she's around. The downside is that it's difficult to separate home and work: "You've just caught me now on my way to the supermarket because I had a cancellation. It's a constant juggle. If I have a gap I don't have a break, I empty the dishwasher."

Wendy Lidster, a psychotherapist in Hove, has also been working from home for 12 years: "It's more relaxing, to be honest. And, if someone cancels, then I can go and peel potatoes."

On the downside, working from home can be lonely. In Castree's case, she can tap into an online message community, but it can be hard switching off and to find the rituals that break up the day.

"The biggest thing for me has been challenging my mind-set," she says. "We are taught to be employees at school, we are told when to arrive, when to eat, what to wear. We carry this with us into our working lives.

"Now I'm learning to live as an adult and not as a child. It can be isolating, but then you don't have to listen to people moaning about their weekend or be told who to sit next to."

Castree began by working in her living room, but then converted a box room into an office. "I've got a lot of stock," she says "and I didn't want to be tripping over it all in the morning."

Natasha Nuttall has a similar problem. She used to work as a project manager in construction, going freelance after her daughter Saskia was born. Now she has launched an online retail company selling baby and toddler clothes, toys and accessories ( www.cowsaysmoo.co.uk).

She works in her London home around three hours a day, and flexibility is the key. "If I can't do something because of Saskia then it can wait until later," she says. I'm not sure there are any downsides. I just need a bigger place because of all the stock!"

For those who don't have the space at home for a separate office, you can always build an invisible wall.

For information on how to set about working from home, employment rights and home-working scams, visit www.direct.gov.uk. The Department of Trade and Industry has a guide for employees working from home, see www.businesslink.gov.uk.

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