A room of your own: The Born Freelancer on the merits of out-of-home offices

This series of posts by the Born Freelancer shares personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? Your input is welcome in the comments.

The recent poss.ca article on the benefits of working at home, already recommended on this blog, is excellent. If you haven’t looked at it yet, I would strongly suggest that you do so now. I’ll discuss some of my own additional thoughts on working from home in a future post, but in the meantime I thought it would be timely to talk about the successful freelancer’s primary alternative to working at home—namely, getting your own office.

Some freelancers might resist the idea of their own office based entirely on the costs involved. Why rent an office when you can work at home for free? The answer will vary for individuals according to their circumstances. The bottom line: having your own office can help some freelancers become more focused, more motivated, and ultimately more productive. In this post I explain why getting your own office can be very good value for the money.

To meet most freelancers’ needs, I’m essentially talking about a single room, large enough to house a computer; a work desk; a suitable chair; shelves to store reference materials; a window to stare out of when one is creatively blocked; and basic amenities, such as internet access, telephone and—at the very least—access to a nearby washroom. A small hotplate or microwave and fridge can be very handy too.

I once had the use of an office above a mom-and-pop grocery store. It was a sublet from another writer who was working abroad. It was also kind of ramshackle, and I loved it. Warm and cozy in winter, air conditioned in summer, a great window looking out over the main street, a dedicated washroom right next door to me, and fresh food downstairs whenever I wanted it. Why did I leave? Mom and Pop sold the store and, with it, the office. The building was shortly thereafter demolished. My paradise had been someone else’s eyesore. But it was great while it lasted, and here’s some reasons why.

Why having your own office can be worth it

It’s a separate space dedicated to your work and away from your domestic life.

Sometimes your domestic arrangements are such that you really cannot easily disentangle yourself from them effectively enough to do the work you need to do from home. Having a designated work space separate from your living space can be the solution.It is very healthy for domestic relationships to have separate time and space apart. If both you and your partner work at home all day, it can be lead to a lot of stress on both your work and your relationship.

Having a physically separate office means you can make your own work hours whatever you need or want them to be without having to worry about restrictions placed upon you in a domestic setting. Pulling all-night sessions to make various insane deadlines can be much easier in a dedicated office space than having to tiptoe around various sleeping family members living a more tradition 9-to-5 lifestyle.

Some people need greater control over their work environment than they may be able to arrange at home for one reason or another. In a separate work space, you can cater specifically to your professional needs without compromising over domestic arrangements. For example, in an ideal world your office should have a comfortable and ergonomically healthy chair for you to work in, given you will be spending a great deal of time in it. At home there may not be room for it or else you may need to compromise, since it may also need to function in other domestic capacities.

If you smoke and your domestic partner or co-tenants do not, your office can be your private smoker’s heaven. Conversely, if you require a strict nonsmoking environment to work in and cannot control this adequately enough where you live, an office can be your smoke-free oasis away from home.

The same holds true for music or whatever other environmental inducements you need to work effectively. If you require loud music to be motivated or if you require total silence in which to think, it’s your own office. There you are master of your own domain. Whatever you need, goes.

There are tax benefits.

You need to consult an accountant, as well as your local tax office, but in most cases your business premises and any related expenses should be allowable as some portion of a tax deduction for business purposes.

It is much easier to identify business expenses when you have your own separate business office. There can be little question of whether something is for personal or professional use if it is situated within your business location.

It is a unique space to receive clients and outside sources.

In some instances you will want to be able to receive professional guests. While it is not unusual today to meet clients casually at a convenient coffee shop or cafe, it is sometimes more desirable to meet in a private setting. Your own office is ideal. Here you can discuss confidential arrangements, contractual details, etc. without fear of being overheard. This is also true if you are meeting a source and need to keep your conversations confidential. It also affords you the opportunity of (openly) recording any such conversations for future reference (or for additional sales to radio) in a controlled setting. There’s nothing quite like trying to listen to a quiet conversation recorded in a noisy coffee bar with greater background noise than you noticed at the time of the interview.

It can be an ideal space in which to work with colleagues.

There will be times when you work with a writing/creative partner or colleague—or perhaps several, depending upon the nature of your freelancing assignments. It can work temporarily to use each of your homes, but pretty soon differences in work temperaments may arise. Some colleagues will like to arrive early; others will insist upon staying late. Some colleagues will feel they can treat the rest of your home like their own even when you have expressly defined work areas from personal spaces. If you only work at one colleague’s home, they may become resentful of it; others may resent the fact that you choose not to work at their home at all. Your favourite coffee shop may turn out to be inadequate for the amount of time you plan to spend working together (although admittedly I once spent more than a year with other writers working on a TV series out of no more than a greasy spoon restaurant.) An office may solve all of these problems and more.

Obviously, if there’s more than one of you the office configuration will need to reflect this fact. It needs to be big enough to house all of you and accommodate each collaborator’s needs. Everyone involved should be in on choosing it so there can be no complaints later.It may be possible for a group of freelancers to create a kind of informal syndicate or loose-knit affiliation and lease more elaborate office facilities together. Obviously you would need to be able to all get along and agree on how the shared space should operate. Caveat: Make sure it’s all in writing. You’d be amazed how even one weekend can change a fellow human being’s understanding of what they had agreed to only 72 hours earlier.

It forces you to get out and about and that can prepare you to do a better job.

It can be very psychologically positive for freelancers to get out and about in the course of a work day. Having some place to go to and return from forces you to get out and get a bit of healthy exercise, usually by walking there and back (or at least some of the way). I will also posit that the simple process of travelling from one physical location to another can prepare us mentally for the change of gears required to transition between domestic and work issues. As telecommuting is increasingly the norm this may become less true, but I have found it very useful in the past to have a separate place of work. The very act of going to an office gave me time to psyche myself up for the work day ahead. Subsequently, the ability to leave it all behind at the end of the day meant I could decompress while commuting home. That way I was able to function as effectively as I could both at home and on the job without blurring the two worlds in my own (admittedly frequently blurry) mind.

When to look for an office

When you are making enough money and/or have enough work!

The need for an office for freelancers happy to work at home may never come up. It will be a matter of your workload, your domestic arrangements, the money you have to spend, the folk you need to work with, and, finally, your own temperament. Once freelancers get a taste of working at home, many may never want to work in an office again. But let’s make it absolutely clear: I’m talking about having your own office. One you and only you (or you and your fellow freelancing partners) will use—an office you can design, arrange, treat, and live in any way you choose (subject to the terms of your lease.) In many ways it can become a home away from home for those who still like or need a separate physical work space but hate the idea of working somewhere like an impersonal corporate office space, where conditions are totally beyond their control.

In a future post, I’ll talk about where to look for an affordable office and what to expect in a suitable office once you’ve found it.

UPDATE: Read the Born Freelancer’s tips on finding an out-of-home office here.

Posted on January 20, 2012 at 9:00 am by editor · · Tagged with: , , , , ,

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