Whether you're telecommuting with your team one day a week or you're running your entire operation out of your house 100 percent, a work-from-home arrangement has its idiosyncrasies. Those quirks quickly can sink you, so assuming you've already taken care of all the legalities, if you want everything to go smoothly and be efficient, set up these physical and logistical basics first.
1. A library membership
Yes, a library membership ranks number one on this list. Why? Because your library can give you free access to hundreds of professional journals, magazines, white papers, newspapers, ebooks and more, most of which you can get just by logging in to your library's website. These resources not only keep you on top of what's happening in your industry, but also allow you to get relevant data for clients. They can inspire new projects, as well.
But don't make the mistake of thinking the library is just for information! Many libraries are becoming much more service oriented. My own home library, for example, now has an iLab where you can do video or audio production with exceptionally high quality tools. They even have 3-D scanners and printers and other equipment like sewing machines. There also are dedicated private rooms you can use for teaching, mentoring or general meetings.
Did I mention the library is a great place to work if you need a change of scenery? (You will.) It can save you if your Internet or laptop is temporarily out of commission, too, no coffee purchase required.
2. Non-digital organization
Yes, most of your work probably will be nestled comfortably in the cloud or on your laptop, and calendar alerts are a Godsend. But some items, like contracts, tax documents and licenses, still deserve printing. There might be items you need hard copies of if you want to work offline, too, (say, in a park with fresh air). And because the brain retains information well when you write with pen and paper, don't underestimate the power of a few old-school notebooks or binders. You should have a space for completed items, ongoing work and upcoming projects. Another good option is a 30-folder wall organizer with dry erase Post-Its to organize your month and keep deadlines/physical documents visible, assigning one folder for each day.
Quick tip here. Don't just organize your work stuff. Organize your other stuff, like your kids school items, too. The less time you spend searching through all that, the more likely it is you'll really have the extra administrative hours that working from home or freelancing usually requires.
3. The fastest, most reliable Internet you can afford
No, you don't necessarily have to be on a provider's "business" plan. But when you're researching, trying to get through your inbox as quickly as possible, downloading documents from clients or have an important video conference or webinar, slower speeds or interrupted services just aren't going to cut it.
4. A separator
Even if it's just a nice rug or shoji screen, you need something that can define your work space. The separator can keep you from being visually distracted, help you feel like you're really "at work" so you can focus better and provide a boundary so friends and family members know not to disturb you.
5. A quality headset
You don't necessarily need to have a dedicated ground line for your phone service. But clients and other business managers are going to expect you to work with the speed of hands-free. And trust me, if you have to take notes on your laptop or hop on an online service as somebody's talking to you, you don't want a phone in your neck making you uncomfortable the whole time.
6. A time tracker
A time tracker isn't just to verify for your clients that you really worked the hours you said you did. It's also to give yourself accountability for increased efficiency. You're much less tempted to click over to your Facebook tab or grab a snack every three seconds, for example, if you know that the tracker is ticking away. There are dozens of trackers to choose from, but ideally, pick one that allows for manual adjustments, offers online, desktop app and mobile app syncing, and has built in invoicing and project organization functionalities. Use the tracker even for non-billable time, such as that post you're putting on LinkedIn, so that you have a clearer concept of what your work week really includes.
7. A payment service
Paypal might be the most well-known here and has extensions like Braintree, but other systems, such as Dwolla, Authorize.net and 2Checkout might meet your needs. Fees on these services can vary, as can the degree of automated functionality and reminders, so shop around for the best fit. Ideally, the service will integrate seamlessly into your website and provide maximum security protocols. While most people will pay you digitally now, you'll still want to have a secure setup for accepting traditional checks and providing receipts.
While every business is going to have its own needs, if you're setting up shop to work at home, you really don't need too much beyond what's on this list. Keep it simple initially and then consider new options as your company develops and expands.