The expert guide to working from home

Working from home seems like heaven – the commute is non-existent, there are no arguments about whose turn it is to make the tea round, and you can even work in your pyjamas. 

Designers and artists especially can gain the most from working from home as it allows the creation of a personal work environment and schedule suited to you and you alone. Personally having the ability to work from home has enabled me to see much more of my family and also work with a wider range of clients than potentially are available if I was just working as a studio freelance artist.

However, there can be problems. It can be hard to manage client expectations, and there are all those little home chores to distract you. There are also issues that might not have even crossed your mind: can you send large files from home? Is your free graphic design software up to the task? Will you still know how to network after being stuck at home all day?

After freelancing for several years for clients both at their studios and from my home base, I'm going to share some of my tips for working from home effectively.

01. Make your own space

Working from home

Making your own space is critical to working from home

The most important element for any creative work is to find a dedicated work space. If you're sharing with a partner or housemates (and especially if kids are at home too), putting a laptop on the kitchen table and thinking that is an office is not going to work – for you, or the people you live with. It's their home as well.

In my case I am lucky to have an old shed with power (but no heating) that I work in during the day, and when I need to work at nights I have desk set up away from the main living space. This enables me to work and not get in the way of my wife when she wants to relax. So try and find a space in the house, which is not a bedroom, that can be dedicated to work.

02. Give your clients access

Working from home

Tools like Dropbox can make working from home with clients a seamless experience

The most important bills I pay as a home-based freelancer are not for software upgrades or for new computers, they are for unlimited fibre internet, Dropbox Pro and my smartphone. These give me the ability to be available to my clients, through Skype and screen sharing.

I keep my work files on Dropbox grouped by client. I then share them with my clients so that they can have immediate access to my work files if they need.

This system has worked with clients from Soho to San Diego, and helps dispel any worry a client may have in not having direct involvement in the work that they are paying for. Dropbox also keeps my computers in sync, which means if I am travelling to meetings or am away from the house I know I have access to all of my work files in the cloud on any device.

For more options, take a look at our post on free tools for sending large files.

03. Be disciplined

Working from home

Dedicate quiet periods to useful tasks such as updating your portfolio website

Working from home successfully is dependant on treating it as seriously as working in an office. It may sound counter-intuitive but I still find it is useful to get ready for work if I am working from home. I get dressed in clothes that I would be happy to wear if I was working at a client's studio, and make sure I am available to clients from 8.30am to 6pm when I am working from home.

If you do not have any billable work due on that specific work day, try not to make that a reason to switch on daytime TV. Instead, make yourself the client: update your design portfolio, website or your showreel, check in with existing clients or potential new ones, spend some time doing training, and if you spend that day on personal work, make sure it is in a format that can be used for self-promotion.

04. Work when it's best for you

Working from home

Smartphones and tablets mean you can stay in contact with clients when you're out

The payoff for this personal discipline is that you can organise your day around when you're naturally at your most creative or productive, as well as scheduling things like rendering or application compiling at a time and location that suits you.

The caveat is to make sure you're not suddenly working a schedule that impacts on downtime. Try to maintain the number of hours you would want to work if you were working in a studio. The key reason for this is to avoid burnout, but it also ensures you're not losing money if you're working to an agreed day rate with your client.

05. Stay active

Working from home

Build some exercise into your routine

Once you've managed to get ourself into a routine where you are successfully working from home it can be easy to forget that there are some benefits to working in a studio. As much as we all hate the commute, at least the walk to the car or train is exercise. So try and get out of the house at least once a day –
even if it is just to buy some lunch.

Personally I took up running. My least productive part of the day is between 10am and 11.30am, so using this time for a run and making it an early lunch hour means at least I feel I am doing something useful with my time, as well as being reminded why I work at home in the first place (I live in the South Downs).

06. Don't become a hermit

Consider meeting clients in coffee shops

The other thing that working in a studio offers is human contact. While Twitter and other forms of social media are brilliant for news and banter and can keep the hermit tendencies at bay, do try to make a couple of days every few weeks to meet with clients, have lunch with friends and generally get out of the house and see things other than the wall behind your computer screen.

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