The Tradeoffs of Returning to a Home Office
Q: With the tight economy, I'm thinking about closing my office and working from home. Will that diminish my credibility as a consultant?
President and CEO
Services for Success
A: Office buildings are so 1990s. In fact, noncorporeal corporations are so common that most people have stopped measuring credibility in square footage. "About a decade ago, it would have been unusual to see a consulting firm without a big office space," says Tim Jenkins, co-founder and co-CEO of Point B, a Seattle-based management consulting firm that has 375 employees in seven cities but has never had a central office. "But these days, it's very common for even bigger firms to be using a lot less space."
"It's about the quality of what you deliver, not about where or how you get it done," says Jeff Zbar, founder of ChiefHomeOfficer.com, a site that provides tips for telecommuters and home-based businesses. That's especially true in a mobile business like consulting, where entrepreneurs routinely flit from one client's office to the next. Who can tell whether you are using your BlackBerry at the airport or hunched over a laptop at your kitchen table?
If you are skittish about conducting meetings at Starbucks or putting your home address on your business card, consider paying for a so-called virtual office. Point B uses services from Regus, which operates more than 1,000 business centers in 75 countries. For prices that start at $49 a month, you get a real office-building address for your business card -- Regus forwards your mail. Upward of $99 buys you the services of a receptionist and access to a private office a few days a month. Meeting rooms start at about $12 an hour. But before you shell out for meeting space, scope out the digs, recommends Zbar. "You want to make sure it is a place you wouldn't mind showing up with a client," he says.
Remember, too, that the home-office dream (casual Mondays through Fridays, siestas, conference calls in the bathroom) has its downsides. "You shouldn't underestimate the effect that moving to a home office is going to have on you personally," says Jenkins. "It's difficult to get the feeling of separation between home and work." Those not accustomed to working from home may become unfocused or distracted. Zbar suggests establishing a routine that includes set hours and a dedicated work area. You can even schedule meetings with yourself, just for the fun of canceling them and getting that time back.
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