Monday, 8 November 2010

Office Hours? Don't Make Me Laugh.

One of the great joys of working for yourself is that you get to decide when you'll work, no need to sit at a desk just because you have to be seen to be there, no desperate watching as the minute hand crawls round to 5.00pm before you can grab your coat and run.

Working at home gives you tremendous freedom, especially now that with mobile phones, we can be almost anywhere and still be available for our clients and suppliers.

But as any work from home business owners will tell you, that's only part of the story.

A couple of weeks ago, a fly on the wall in my house would have been able to see me simultaneously writing copy for a 6.00pm deadline whilst cooking spaghetti bolognese and overseeing some rather unpleasant maths homework. Why? Because ten minutes after I'd decided to call it a day and start cooking the dinner, my biggest client called to say he'd been offered a last minute deal and could I put something together quickly? And of course being a nice sort of person I said yes, rather than 'don't be absurd, I've a pound of mince browning and what time of day do you call this anyway!'

And this is the sort of thing that happens because when your home is also your office and when your phone goes with you everywhere, it is incredibly difficult to impose 'office hours'.

When I first started my own business, I'd refuse to leave the house at all, even when there was no work to do and nothing I actually wanted to work on, simply because after years of working 9 'til 5, I felt that I had to be there 'just in case'. I also worried that my clients would think I wasn't serious if I wasn't at the end of the phone when they called.

But gradually, I've adopted a rather more flexible approach.

My own preferred work pattern is to work fairly early in the day and then again later at night. I do the admin type jobs in the mornings and sometimes draft copy and have calls with colleagues, then at night I'll do the more solitary creative stuff. I'm not much good with afternoons, and teatime is all about feeding the family and ferrying children about. So when I can, that's how I arrange my work time. But it doesn't always work out that way, as the bolognese incident proves.

And of course it does depend to a greater or lesser extent on the nature of the industry in which you work. If your clients require you 'on-hand' 9 'til 5, you don't have much choice.

But the explosion in the numbers of people now choosing to work flexibly from home, makes me believe that more and more people are finding ways to work that do accommodate their needs for juggling work time with other things, be they family responsibilities, hobbies or even other jobs.

And the more of us that are working this way, the more our clients - I believe - will accept that it is normal and entirely agreeable. In fact, so long as we continue to offer excellent service, they're really the winners too, because as micro businesses, we're very much more responsive and flexible than bigger outfits, able to give our clients top notch service at a leaner rate than the big boys.

So I don't publish any official 'hours' to my clients. If I think they're being persistently unreasonable, I either charge them extra for the hassle factor, or decide to let someone else have the pleasure of their business. After all, we have the choice too.

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