It’s Labor Day, and while many U.S. workers are relishing the extra day off, I’m working.
But I’m not complaining. I’m perched in a comfy chair on the porch of a simple cottage overlooking a shimmering pond, a herd of horses, and the hazy-blue-toned Shenandoah Mountains in the distance. The morning mist is cloying and no kidding, in the distance, I can hear a rooster proudly announcing the dawn.
Not a bad place to work. My commute–less than 15 seconds.
I run my own media business, and I choose to make my office wherever my laptop will roam. My life is so much better since I quit working in an office over a decade ago.
Working without a traditional employer’s workspace, well, works for me on many levels-flexibility, autonomy, and not having to ask anyone permission to take a break to walk my dog– are a few that come to mind.
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For others, the choice to commute or telecommute is not quite as tidy.
With the Labor Day holiday top of mind, I thought it would be a good time to revisit one of my favorite workforce related topics- working from home. I wrote about this topic earlier this year in this post for Forbes contributor Next Avenue.
Here is a rundown of ten things you need to keep in mind to make working from home a success.
1. Set aside a specific place exclusively for work. You’ll be able to deduct it from your taxes and it will help you psychologically.
As Richard Eisenberg wrote in Secrets of Claiming a Home-Office Deduction, although an estimated 26 million Americans have home offices, just 3.4 million taxpayers claim home-office deductions. Eisenberg notes, and, I agree, that many people with home offices skip the tax breaks because they’re worried the write-offs will spark a tax audit. That’s not really the case these days. But you must file Form 8829, Expenses for Business Use of Your Home. You can read all the home office rules in IRS Publication 587.
In general, to write-off home-office outlays, you must use the “area” for work only and on a regular, or constant basis, either as your primary place of business or a setting to meet with clients or to do paperwork, say, invoicing, ordering supplies, and phone calls. I suggest you snap a pic of the space, too, so you have a record in case the IRS is ever curious.
If you’re a full-time employee at a business, you will only qualify for the deductions if the company doesn’t provide you with an office.
You should be able to write off 100 percent of costs associated exclusively with your home office, everything from buying a work computer to office supplies. The other kind of deductible home-office expenses are “indirect” ones that are pro-rated, based on the size of your home office. These are things like your mortgage or rent, insurance, and utility bills.
In general, if the square footage of your home office equals 10 percent of your home’s, you can claim 10 percent of these expenses.
If that sounds like a lot of paperwork, the IRS announced a new short-cut or “safe harbor” rule earlier this year, which allows you to deduct $5 per square foot of your home office on your return, with a maximum write-off of $1,500 (based on a maximum of 300 square feet). You won’t be able to depreciate the part of your home used for business, though, if you go this route. If your write-offs would top $1,500 or your home office is bigger than 300 square feet, you can still claim your home-office deductions based on actual expenses.
2. Create a daily work schedule. It’s easy to get sucked into being available to work any time, any day. I work far more hours than when I had an in-house job with one employer. My choice since I am self-employed. But, in reality, for the sake of my mental health, I could use someone to pull me away from my laptop from time to time.
If you work for one company, try to set well-defined work hours to avoid phone calls and emails without boundaries on your personal time.
From my experience, to work from home on a regular basis, you must be well-organized, have time management skills and be a self-starter. Not everyone is hardwired that way. Be honest with yourself before you take the leap.
3. Accept that your rise to the top might be thwarted, or do something to fight back. Employers figure that you can’t really manage others when you work from home. I think they’re probably right on many levels. Being a boss means face-time. But even getting promoted (and the bigger salary that goes with it) often gets tied up in the out-of- sight out-of-mind phenom. It’s an unspoken trade-off at some firms if you decide to work from home.
“While working at home can be beneficial for both companies and workers, it can also lead to ‘invisibility’ that can limit opportunities for career advancement,” Ana Dutra, chief executive of Korn/Ferry Leadership and Talent Consulting says. “It is important for telecommuters to remain networked as closely as possible with peers and leaders in the office.
To combat that, I suggest you make a diligent effort to show-up on a regular basis for meetings and other office gatherings.
4. Be an extrovert. Working remotely can prevent you from building workplace relationships and chances to meet new people in an office — those things rarely happen when you work from home. This is a bit of an intangible loss, but, again, push yourself to get out of the house, and squeeze in an out-of-the-office lunch, or coffee with colleagues and bosses.
Co-workers can also be envious and resentful of your freedom. With a little effort, you can avoid the bad blood.
At the very least, every so often, make a phone call instead of shooting off an email or a text. It can be a time suck, but I think it helps build camaraderie and you might even pick up some fun office dishing.
The best work-at-home jobs are often ones that demand a quiet space where there are few distractions. Web-based jobs in accounting, translation, sales, public relations, medical transcription and customer service are some of the growing areas that I write about in my book Great Jobs for Everyone 50+, and there are more coming on stream all the time. Nonetheless, you should always be aware of keeping your people skills sharp.
5. Network electronically. You should, for instance, get active in LinkedIn groups that relate to your work, employer, alma mater, past employers, or other interests that you follow. It’s key to comment on posts from others and add in your own two cents. It displays your expertise and gives you a virtual feeling of being connected to a community. Plus, it’s remarkable how many new “connections” you can link in with. Check out my post here on ways improve your LinkedIn profile.
6. Take an aggressive stance on retirement savings. When you work for yourself, this is essential since you don’t have an employer’s plan to automatically set funds aside for you. (The good news is that the self-employed can qualify for very big retirement savings breaks.) If you’re an employee working from home and you’ve stepped off the promotion path, you may not be getting raises, making it tougher to up the amount you put into your 401(k) or a similar employer-sponsored savings plan every year.
7. Ramp up your tech skills. Help is not always on the way. If you run into a technical glitch with your computer, you may very well be left to your own devices. If you’re an employee, try to butter up someone in the IT department, who you can reach out to in a pinch. And show your appreciation, again, a lunch out or gift card are ways to say thanks. If you’re self-employed, you might be able to find tech support at Apple’s in-store Genius Bar (if you own a Mac) or at Best Buy. If you really do get computer freeze, cut it off at the pass by taking a computer class at a community college or, if you’re a Mac user, at an Apple store in your neighborhood.
And if you need to give presentations, you should get conversant with Web-based meeting programs like GoToMeeting, Cisco WebEx, Join.me, TeamViewer or Google+ Hangouts. Some are free, some aren’t.
8. Get the proper business paperwork. If you’re operating a small business out of your home, you will probably need the proper tax registrations, business and occupational licenses and permits from federal, state and local governments to operate legally.
9. Don’t forget about insurance.It’s probably a good idea to get an insurance rider in case the Fedex man trips. Most home-business owners have little or no coverage from their homeowner’s policy. What’s more, if you file a homeowner’s (or renter’s) claim for losses that stemmed from an undisclosed home-based business, your insurer may not cover it.
Each state sets its own rules about the insurance coverage that can be offered to home-based businesses.
The least expensive way to add insurance is to tack on a rider to a your existing homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy. The cost might be around $100 a year for around $2,500 of additional coverage.
If you have valuable equipment that you might want to protect, though, an in-home policy offered by your home insurer will cover a wider range of incidents. An in-home policy, generally speaking, is issued by a home insurer, and is a plan against injury or theft. Rates typically run from $300 to $500 and the plans usually cover as much as $10,000 in losses.
For more, go to the Insurance Information Institute in New York City, an industry trade group and information clearinghouse
10. Pay your quarterly taxes. Ugh. It’s quarterly time again. I know the feeling. But send in the check to avoid a possible penalty from the IRS for underpayment of taxes. Independent contractors who are paid only for work performed, in general, must pay federal taxes on income and FICA. You will need to pay estimated taxes throughout the year instead of once a year on April 15. Go to IRS resources to help you understand how to pay federal taxes as an independent contractor: Self-Employed Individual Tax Center. Depending on the location of your business, you may be required to file state and local income and business taxes.
Now about those horses that just thundered by at a gallop in their grassy field– for me that’s the sweet sight (and sound) of successfully working from home.