Though the idea of being your own boss, setting your own hours, and operating within your own four walls has merit—and definite benefits—it comes with a few drawbacks as well, for both the self-employed and the telecommuting employee. When it’s happening in the shadow of a national health emergency, it adds ab extra layer of discomfort and uncertainty. Here are three tips to help strike a healthy balance.
Stick to your work schedule
Every person who has spent time working from a home base will have to deal with a lack of understanding from people who think working from home doesn’t really mean working. The burden lies upon you to set your working hours, stick to them, actually work during those hours, and refuse to let anyone else dissuade you from the idea that you’re truly employed.
Unfortunately, home life has its own distractions that can burn precious daylight and put well-meaning home workers behind on important projects. In addition to the typical interruptions in the nine-to-five (vendor calls, power outages, accidents, pet or child needs), there are personal boundaries that will continue to be pushed.
Close family members have to understand that you can’t help them move during the workday, or even chat on the phone for an hour. Setting limits if you have children at home can be especially tough. On the positive side, letting kids see you work hard at something you love—even at the parts you don’t love—can greatly influence their future career choices and entire attitude toward work.
Beware of workaholic tendencies
Efficiency and flexibility are two of the top 10 reasons that people want to work from home, along with shorter hours (what might you accomplish with eight straight hours of keyboard-pounding, uninterrupted by emails or daily staff meetings). But sometimes flexibility is too much of a good thing. When your office is always there, waiting, with that deadline looming over your head, it’s pretty hard to just close the door and pretend you’ve left for the day. Many home-based workers find themselves working more hours, not fewer, logging in work time on nights and weekends, just because it’s there and they can’t ignore it.
It’s true that many work-at-home professionals keep a five-hour day, as opposed to an eight-hour day. This does not mean, however, that they work less. Hours are often calculated as “billable hours,” meaning that for every hour spent performing a task that they charge for, there are many minutes spent doing non-compensated administrative tasks.
Don’t bet on saving money
Without a daily commute, mandatory lunches and the cost of office-appropriate attire, it may seem that working from home will peel some costs off your budget. But additional outlays can crop up. The expense to set up an office may include laptops, printers, internet service, cell phones, business cards, web hosting, business services, and software. Forget about using your existing equipment for your business if you plan on taking the full cost of each as a tax write-off. Personal and business purchases need to be kept separate in order to comply with tax law.
For starters, you can only deduct for a home office if you are working freelance or as a contractor. Since the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, you can no longer deduct for non-reimbursed work expenses if you are an employee, including any home office deduction. That makes it especially important to try to get extra costs covered by your office.
So, hold on before you try to deduct half your mortgage for “office rent” or the entire cost of your internet. There are strict limits to what can be claimed as deductions or credits on your return. You can deduct valid work-related expenses, but only the percentage that is actually used for your work. So if you pay for an internet service that is also used by your spouse and children, and even yourself for non-work-related matters, you can’t deduct the full cost—only the (estimated) portion that is exclusive to employment-related matters. The same goes for office supplies, telephone bills, and utilities.