You’ve always dreamed of working from home – the freedom, the flexibility, the comfy, comfy shoes. And it would seem you’re not alone: A record 4.2 million Americans now work from home at least one day a week, according to a new report from the Census Bureau. Thanks to advances in technology and shifts in employer attitudes, it’s easier than ever to earn a living without leaving your home.
But like most dreams come true, working from home isn’t always what you imagine. “A lot of people see it as a Mecca,” says Kerry Hannon, a career transition expert and author of AARP’s Great Jobs for Everyone 50+: Finding Work That Keeps You Healthy and Happy…And Pays the Bills. “But you really have to understand what it means. It’s not just getting out your laptop and off you go.” Fail to account for common drawbacks, and you could soon be longing for your old commute. Follow these four steps to avoid the unseen hazards of working from home.
1. Create Your Own Help Desk
Even the fanciest home office doesn’t come with an IT department. And if you think a down computer or failed Web connection is frustrating in the office, just wait till you experience one at home, where you could wait days for an appointment with a cable repairman. The solution? Align yourself with some sort of technical help service now. If you’re telecommuting, make a friend in your company’s IT department who can check out your equipment, supply any necessary upgrades and help you out in a pinch. If you’re self-employed, get to know the tech support services offered by retailers like Best Buy and Apple – these are good not just for repairs and advice, but classes that can sharpen computing skills (and sometimes cost you nothing).
2. Buy More Insurance
If the first step to setting up your home office is buying expensive new hardware, the second step should be making sure it’s covered by your insurance. “Most people don’t realize it, but a typical homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy won’t cover the cost of equipment in a home office,” says Lisa Kanarek, founder of Working Naked, a site dedicated to the challenges of working from home. “So if your house burns down or you’re robbed, and everything is gone, you’re out of luck.” Fortunately, it’s an easy fix: Call your insurance company and ask for a rider to cover the gear. It probably won’t cost more than a couple hundred dollars a year, and the peace of mind it buys you is priceless.
3. Show Your Face
Ironically, the real secret to working at home might be spending more time with your clients. “It’s easy to become just a voice on the phone,” says Hannon, making it more likely for clients, colleagues or employers to overlook you when it comes to assignments and opportunities. So schedule a coffee, attend a meeting, ask for a demo of a client’s new product. Of the many things the Internet and mobile phones can replace, personal interaction is not one of them.
4. Hoard Those Receipts
You probably know that your laptop and printer ink can be deducted from your taxes. But what about your heating bill, or newspaper home delivery? One major perk to working from home is the vast range of domestic expenses that suddenly (and legitimately) become tax-deductible. So get in the habit of saving all receipts and jotting down expenditures now. You can work out the details of what to write off later, but the first rule of taxes will always apply: You cannot deduct what you don’t remember buying.