That the number of people working from home has been consistently on the rise for more a decade is not an issue for debate. Depending on whom you believe, anywhere from 20 million to 44 million of us work from home at least one day a week. Many meeting planners count themselves among those millions. Meeting and event planning is an occupation in which a person’s workspace seems always to be on the move – in the airport, at the venue and, if you have a phone (preferably a smart one), iPad, laptop and Wi-Fi access, you are always at the office. Even at home.
So, once you get over the delight of not having to jump into traffic twice a day, and start enjoying being able to work in your pajamas, you’ll realize that you face a unique set of challenges and that working from home isn’t the right solution for everyone. here are some tips on how to sidestep the dangers of working from home.
ISSUE No. 1: Setting expectations
The perception of family and friends is that if you are working from home, you “aren’t really working” can be one of the greatest hurdles to being productive. Juanita Gaynor, president & CEO of Ellegant Affairs by Juanita Inc., has worked from home for seven years. “Because I was in the house, I would get the requests ‘Honey, can you…,’ but just because I’m home doesn’t mean I’m available to friends and family when they want me to be. I have had to pay attention to managing their expectations.” She and others have had to set clear boundaries with friends, kids, spouses and other family members that their work time is exactly that – work time.
Working from home does offer a great deal of schedule flexibility, but you must still have a structured schedule from which to deviate. In a home office, this schedule rests squarely on the individual, who must set and enforce it for themselves and those closest to them.
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ISSUE No. 2: Blurred boundaries
Everyone who successfully works from home has had to define where work starts and stops, and where home life begins and ends. For some, that means that the physical office space must be separate from the rest of the house. For others, it means defining office hours where the focus is only on work. Jeff Holland, VP of sales for Monalto Corporate Events, works from home part time and explains, “At first I could get distracted by home responsibilities – where the dishes can be staring you in the face. On the flip side, I am a little bit of a workaholic, and once I got started, I couldn’t stop working and keep the balance. So what I did was I built a structured schedule. By 8 it’s all about work, and I work till 6. I keep my deadlines. However, I do take a lunch break and get out to refocus. When I worked from home I lived in an apartment and set up a desk only for work – and now I have a separate office when I work from home.”
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ISSUE No. 3: Isolation
The entire meetings industry is built on the primary belief that tremendous energy and momentum is generated when people are together, face-to-face. Still, many inventive planners who work from home have developed techniques to overcome the solo blues.“I definitely need to change surroundings every now and then,” says Tammie Brooks, owner of the Event Salon. “I recommend others do the same. Get out, network, even if you just go up to Starbucks every now and then. Changing pace is so important to creativity.”
Gaynor adds, “When I need to be in creative mode, it really doesn’t work well solo. With the advent of social media I have developed some networking groups to bounce ideas off of, which makes it easy. I have a couple of colleagues I schedule once a week to discuss latest trends, colors, layouts, lighting – even if all we can manage is the time to Skype.”
Holland’s experience supports the need for interaction, “Live, face-to-face meetings in the office take care of misunderstandings. It’s where we brainstorm, ask questions, look at stuff together on a screen – for the same reason we have meetings – it encourages teamwork and accountability, immediacy and speed.”
Despite the challenges that accompany a commitment to work from home, Brooks believes that planners are uniquely qualified to take them on. “Being a planner makes working from home better,” she says, “because you inherently manage other people’s schedules. Since we are already in that mindset with clients, it is a natural extension to apply that same mindset with yourself.”
Do you work from home? We welcome your tips.
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