Tuesday, March 8, 2011

8 Work-At-Home Pitfalls 1-4

The Toronto Star recently published an article whose title starts with a digit “8” and the prospect of a list always intrigues us, so we went to see what is was about.

And we didn’t agree with all we saw their, and I don’t think the disagreement is a matter of shades-of-grey.

My overall take on this is that if you suffer from more than 3 of the 8 pitfalls listed here, then you are not exercising your role as a manager, and for those of us who are solo entrepreneurs, we maintain at least four baseball caps on top of the computer.

My caps are labeled Chris-the-marketer, Chris-the-sales, Chris-the-trainer, Chris-the-application-developer, then there’s the cameo appearance of Chris-the-accounts-receivable (rare nowadays since I insist on a 50% deposit for all jobs) and the omniscient Chris-the-General-Manager.

It’s the last guy I take to task.

One of the many jobs of Chris-the-General-Manager is to allocate time, set priorities, and come up with brilliant ideas such as unplugging the phone when it seems appropriate to do so.

With that in mind I’m going to tackle each pitfall and suggest what you-the-general-manager might do to avoid the pitfall.

1.The if-you’re-at-home-you-can’t-be-working effect. This can range from unwanted drop ins during prime work hours to family calling for lengthy chin wags. Once I had a friend appear with her two toddlers. She told me she’d lost her babysitter and needed emergency help to keep an appointment.

This is not a friend. A friend is someone who communicates well with you. A friend would phone up front, and a friend would understand that you are at work.

To me this reeks of the General Manager’s failure to publicize to the world that between 9am-5pm (whatever) an area of your home is in use as an office, you are employed, you have a job to do, and you see people by appointment only.

Of course, once people learn that you bill out at $100 per hour, they’ll be happy to pay a 50% premium for unscheduled emergency tasks, right?

2. No water cooler! It can get lonely, without co-workers for time-wasting chats. You might find yourself gaily conversing with delivery people and offering them coffee just to keep them hanging around.

The General Manager recognizes this and schedules time for you to meet with peers on a regular basis. Every Tuesday morning 8am-9am you meet, rain or shine, at The Montreal Deli or the local coffee shop; no attendance rolls, no rules, just air a few topics, grievances, success stories.

As well you have a telephone on your desk; you are allowed to contact a peer and ask “Got a couple of minutes? I want to run something by you”.

Delivery people have their appointed rounds and schedules; they don’t really have the time to keep you company. Don’t be selfish.

3. No work, no pay. Sure you can take a break or vacation any time you want, but when you’re not working you don’t get paid. Most self employed people I know rarely take holidays. And sick days? Forget about it!

The General Manager’s job is to make sure that you DO get a regular salary. The huge contract cheque goes into an interest-bearing account at the local credit union (I recommend DUCA ) and from that a regular bank transfer takes place to your checking account. Whatever the amount, you are guaranteed a personal cash flow inwards each month.

As for sick days, any General Manager who doesn’t factor occasional illness into budget estimates is falling down on the job.

I am lucky in that I rarely get sick; once a year a sinus infection maybe, but when it strikes I follow the B’s – Bed, Bread, Beverages, Books – and lie still for 2 or 3 days to let the old body do its stuff.

My General Manager recognizes this and asks that I justify EVERY trip to the desk. Is that email truly essential? Today?

4. The office is always open. Even on a Sunday morning an unfinished job seems to find you and push the guilt button. And those you work for know you’re there, so they don’t hesitate to call outside normal office hours.

The General Manager has provided you with an office and a door. OK, perhaps you are working out of the dining-nook for now, but your computer has a power switch and the light has a switch too. Turn them off.

Push away from the desk at a set time (noon for lunch, 6pm for supper) and close the door. I unplug the phone at 8pm and plug it back in at 8am. (Actually, that’s what I tell people, in reality I unplug it before I go to bed and I plug it in when I get up. The General Manager agrees that the principle is the same.)

If you find you are coping with too many emergencies, discuss this with your General Manager and point out that he/she/it is only working one hour a day five days a week, and should help you to trim your schedule to 8 hours a day 5, or at most, 6 days a week.

Use your calendar wisely; schedule trips away from the house. “Sorry! I’m not in. Leave a message”.

Tomorrow – Pitfalls 5-8

Talk to Me !

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