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Archive for Thursday, April 29, 2010

Innovative setups allowing more employees to work from home

Shannon Abrahamson has done full-time CPA work from her home for more than three years. She says a key to working from home is setting boundaries for work and personal space.

Shannon Abrahamson has done full-time CPA work from her home for more than three years. She says a key to working from home is setting boundaries for work and personal space.

April 29, 2010

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Shannon Abrahamson’s commute to work is down one flight of stairs.

Abrahamson is an accountant for First Management, and she also does accounting work for other clients — including her husband’s business — all from the comfort of her basement office.

“When you work later at night anyway, it’s nice to be around the family, even if they’re sitting watching TV,” Abrahamson said. “I can tuck my son into bed. I can do laundry. I can run the dishwasher. You still feel like you can get stuff done around the house.”

Abrahamson is among the 3.6 percent of Americans who work from home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. For home-based employees, the work/family relationship is a balancing act that requires the right office setup and right mindset for success.

“It takes a different personality,” said Abrahamson, who lives northwest of Lawrence. “People have to be able to work by yourself. They have to be self-motivated and accountable. There’s nobody sitting next to you to keep you on task.”

The set-up

Jeff Zbar, who blogs and speaks about stay-at-home careers, said setting boundaries between work and family is key for anyone planning to work from home.

“The power tool of the home office is a door that closes,” said Zbar, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “You want to be as little of a nuisance and muster as much focus as possible.”

Aside from having a dedicated home-office space, Zbar said a comfortable chair is a must-have.

“It’s a comfortable place to work,” the freelance writer said. “I don’t mind sitting here. I don’t mind being here at 6 a.m. on the weekend while the family is still sleeping.”

As far as other furnishings or technology, that simply depends on what a person will be doing in their home office. However, any home office needs good ventilation, plenty of lighting and things on the walls that make you feel comfortable. Basically, he said, it’s just basic ergonomics.

Zbar said as a writer, he doesn’t need much in his office.

“I’m not a believer in bleeding-edge technology,” he said.

Making scents

Things are a little more complex at Bonnie Jackson’s home workspace in Lawrence.

Her basement is part office, part laboratory and part mailroom. She owns Bonnie’s Bath and Body — formerly Cuzzi Soap — which makes a variety of products that are sold at parties, at craft shows and on the Internet.

The home-based business, which Jackson is building when she’s not working as a nurse at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, has been operating for three years.

“We used to have a family room, and I used to have a craft room, and now we have a soap factory downstairs,” Jackson said. “We sort of did that on purpose, putting the business downstairs. When we call it a day on the soap business, we can walk upstairs and shut the door.”

Boxes are stacked with ingredients and finished products. Eight-foot-long tables fill one room, complete with beakers and other laboratory equipment. A separate room has a computer and materials needed for shipping products.

Jackson loves being able to do her side business from her home. But it can be consuming.

“It’s sort of a double-edged sword,” she said. “You could work 24/7. There’s no commute, but the bad thing is it’s always sitting there.”

But while she enjoys working from home, her ultimate goal is to graduate her business to its own office space.

“Then,” she said, “I could get my craft room back.”

The rules

Meanwhile, Abrahamson is perfectly happy to continue working from her basement, which her husband, Rick, finished three years ago.

She has several parameters when it comes to working at home:

• Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday morning are family time — no working.

• Her 10-year-old son has a desk in the office where he can do homework. But he’s not allowed to be a distraction if Abrahamson is working.

“I’m not very patient,” she said. “I’m very organized — everything is in a particular place. He knows not to mess things up.”

• Don’t let being at home keep you from interacting with other professionals.

“At home, you need to keep up the networking like you do in an office,” she said.

And especially during the last few busy months of tax preparation, keeping motivated is the biggest challenge of the home-office experience.

“It’s always easy to do the easy things,” she said, “and put off the hard stuff.”

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