Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Working from home in a, er, cubicle

On Nick Usborne's Home Office Productivity blog Debra Helwig talks about how her home office is in fact a Herman Miller cubicle in her cellar. For those of you not familiar with Mr Miller's work, he is the 'genius' who in 1968 invented what he called the 'open-plan office furniture system' (cubicle to us) known as the Action Office system. You can read more about the various updated versions of it, one of which is pictured here, at Thomas Interior Systems.

Avoid 11 days of congestion

According to Company Car Driver (and they should know), the average company car driver spends 11 days a year stuck in congestion. Their joint report with the RAC reveals that:
* congestion takes up five hours of a company car driver's time each week
* 40% of company car drivers want more encouragement to work from home
* 25% would like to see more flexible working hours to help them avoid congestion.
Rather more worrying, the report also said that 10% of company car drivers have fallen asleep at the wheel. Edmund King, executive director of the RAC Foundation, said: "Too much time is wasted sitting in traffic jams. Companies and drivers need to get smarter to avoid congestion." Jeremy Bennett, editor of CCD, added: “The survey results suggest that too many company car drivers are under too much pressure and perhaps some could avoid congestion by making more use of the super highway rather than sitting in jams on the real highway.”

Are you a data jockey or an urban unitasker?

A new report from Microsoft and The Future Laboratory looks at the future of work (which seems to be an increasingly popular bandwagon theme). As well as discussing what they call 'work-life blending' where amateurs with professional levels of ability become a growing part of the workforce, they also suggest four different kinds of 21st century mobile or 'transcorporate' workers, complete with usual barmy names. These are:
• Data jockeys: the under 25s who spend all their time with new technology, but as the report puts it bluntly, "have yet to learn to translate data into insight"
• Urban unitaskers: thirty and fortysomethings who can see advantages in working at home but like working by themselves rather than collaborating, concentrating on doing one thing well rather than multitasking
• Digital artisans: workers who are very keen indeed on the white heat of technology and using it in a creative and ethical way, sharing their knowledge freely and happily
• High-wire walkers: those who like a bit of security and a decent pension and are a bit unsure about a 'flexible future'
I've found it very hard tracking down the report but you can download it from Jason Langridge's blog here.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Choosing a shed – Maison d’etre Properties

Garden Studio sheds are produced by Maison d’etre Properties, husband and wife team Kevin and Anne Holliday. It's a nice web site, a good advertisement for the attractiveness of garden offices, and you can also download a useful information pack from the site. The studio comes with asphalt roof tiles from Canada and an interesting roof structure, a copper cupola which mellows into the soft verdigris of aged copper. Every office comes with smoke detector (linked to the main house if you have a wired-in system), radio-controlled burglar alarm, telephone point, convector heater, chrome spot lights, outside light and power point.

Two Minute Commute blog

The American Two Minute Commute blog is an interesting place to have a look around, its mission statement: "2minute commute is dedicated to provide you with different home based business ideas, lots of tips, and resources you might find interesting to assist you in developing and expanding your home based business." Recent posts of interest have looked at Home Office versus Commercial Space and home business case studies.

General space saving

One of the biggest problems with working from home is fitting everything in. While the DoubleSpace kitchenette from Vestal isn't strictly a piece of home office furniture, it does mean you'd have more space to fit in your desk (if you click through to the web site, there is a nice animation of the metamorphosis). And I bet nobody else you know has a chair which turns into a cooker with two electric burners (which are automatically disabled when it's in chair mode). As Vestal so rightly say: "You'll never sit and cook at the same time." Genius.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Tax self-assessment - strike looming...

It's looking like the Public and Commercial Services Union will stage a national strike on January 31. The HM Revenue & Customs site says: "We will do everything we can to maintain our services to the public and business. Our advice to self assessment taxpayers is the same as it is every year - file early before the 31 January deadline and make payment online if possible. Paper returns can be delivered to any HMRC office and we will do all we can to open our Enquiry Centres to receive returns. A taxpayer or their agent who finds it impossible to file by 31 Jan due to the industrial action should file as soon as possible on the following day. On-line services will not be affected (I filed mine online this year for the first time and it was remarkably quick and easy - I paid online too)." Whether this could mean fines for those filing 'late' is discussed at The Insitute of Chartered Accountant's web site here.

Backing up

However many articles you read suggesting you back everything up on your computer, my guess is that many homeworkers don't bother until disaster strikes and the horse has well and truly bolted out of the stable door and is gambolling around the fields. This morning, preparing to send out the latest issue of The Shed, my address book suddenly decided to wipe itself clean. Cue feeling of stomach-churning dismay - but only for a second or two since after a complete meltdown a couple of years ago, I now automatically save daily via the .Mac service to my idisk online. Granted, it's still taken me half an hour to work out how to get it all back, but at least it is now back. I'm still a bit shaky though.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Who's a clever chair then?

Who wouldn't want a clever chair? The Think from the Steelcase Store does not merely have a streamlined, environmentall-friendly design with pneumatic seat height and adjustable arms, it also has groundbreaking back and seat 'flexors' which follow your natural movements, especially if you've been slouching for hours in front of your monitor, and alter accordingly. A snip at around £500.

Neville Johnson home office

You can't have missed them in the Sunday supplements but it's still worth checking out the web site of Neville Johnson who describe themselves modestly as "the innovators of home office furniture". There are stacks of examples on the site, from the kind of understairs office pictured to full panelled luxury. I like the look of their home cinema pages too but that's another story.

New homeworking move to save rising wage costs

Even at Davos there's homeworking news. Reuters reported that call centre specialist Convergys has plans to get into homeworking in a big way following a pilot scheme. President and Chief Operating Office David Dougherty said at the WEF: "I would like our next 60,000 call centre agents to be home agents, whether those are in North America, India or the Philippines. It's lower cost - even though we actually pay that person, in some cases, a higher wage - because you don't have the capital required to build a contact centre." Convergys has 60,000 call centre staff worldwide, including 12,000 in India and 8,000 in the Philippines.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Sneak preview of the new issue of The Shed

You can read a sneak preview of the new issue of The Shed online by clicking here. If you do take a look, please tell me what you think of the experience. This demo comes from the friendly and knowledgeable folk at Zmag.

Home office of the future

Business guru Charles Handy believes that traditional offices are too like factories and force employees into leaving because they are so depressing to work in, dulling their human spirit, according to an interesting article in the Guardian newspaper. "Organisations do need a hub, a place to call home. But [in future] it will look much more like a club," said Handy, "a place for employees to meet and converse rather than sit at a desk." But I was particularly taken by what John Glascock, professor of real estate finance at Cambridge University had to say, that people view homeworking as demeaning and some kind of post industrial revolution-hangover on the basis that working at home somehow lessens the pleasure of being at home. Instead, he believes that staff will be given their own office budget to use as they think best, even if that means a home office, partly because of the miniaturisation and portability of computer technology so that, for example, memory sticks will become mobile offices in themselves. "As technology gets better," he says, "it will impose less on your house."

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Home office on wheels

The concept of a mobile office is a key one to most homeworkers, especially in America where a recent study by The Dieringer Research Group revealed that 21 million Americans work in their cars. If you want to pay through the nose you could go to a specialist like Becker Auto Design who provide luxury limos with an on-board PC, wireless keyboard, color printer, wireless high-speed Internet connection, and up to 30-inch LCD monitor. But sadly not all of us have £150,000 going spare.

Two years ago Ford unveiled a newcomer to their F-Series of pickup trucks, the F-250 Super Duty which contained a GPS, wireless broadband, printer and digital camera-equipped mobile computer, pictured, within easy reach of the driver and powered by the truck’s battery (or it can be removed and used as a normal laptop). But now we’re getting closer to a genuine office on wheels for the general driver with Ford’s new Sync system , pictured, premiered earlier this month at the 2007 North American International Auto Show and developed in collaboration with Microsoft.

The blurb describes it as “a fully integrated, voice-activated in-car communications and entertainment system for mobile phones and digital music players” and it will be available in 12 species of Ford later this year. What this means is that you can use your mobile phone (and mp3 player) via voice commands and indeed your mobile’s names and numbers will be wirelessly transferred to the vehicle. And Sync also ‘talks’ French and Spanish as well as English (if you want to give your languages a workout). More details from Ford here .

And Ford have also recently previewed their, frankly not very pretty, Airstream travel trailer which includes a dual-view screen on the instrument panel which allows the front-seat passenger to view DVDs and post mobile blogs.

Of course, you can try do it yourself. Have a look at how PC Magazine modified a Toyota Corolla (including a shredder in the glover compartment) or in this article in the Daily Telegraph how Ben Tristem turned his motorhome into a complete mobile office with a home cinema screen for video conferencing with clients and satellite broadband.

Capsule home office

If you like the look of the Gopod featured on this site last year, you'll love the Capsule office from the regal home furnishings experts House Couturier who describe it as functional artwork. It's a wooden capsule office which can be customised to taste. Although it can be made to any size, the standard model stands 1.7 metre tall and when opened is "a capacious office in a triptych effect" with a circular computer desk inside and space for all your staples. Optional add-ons included interior lighting, convex shelving and areas for hidden cabling. The capsule is on coasters so you can have capsule office races with your homeworking friends. It comes plain painted, wallpapered or covered in fabric, as does the interior. It all comes in at, well, at least £3,000. I suspect delivery is free.

Comfortable laptop working

How fickle is man. Once, the Belkin Cushtop seemed to me the height of laptop comfort chic. But now I've got my eyes on a Laptrap. It's basically a padded sleeve for your MacBook Pro or other laptop which unfolds in literally seconds but also provides padded protection while carrying so is also a kind of briefcase. Laptrap will hold computers measuring up to 14' x 11' x 1.75'. There's a special CD/DVD panel and side pockets fold open from beneath to hold power supplies, external drives, etc. Other features include non-slip riser pads for air circulation.

Homeworking in Australia

According to Australian news provider News.com.au the Australian Bureau of Statistics' latest figures show that 2.35 million Australians or 25% of those in employment, work at least some hours from home. Overall, 31 per cent are employed only or mainly at home. The ABS said reasons for homeworking included:
* 20 per cent wanting to have more time to look after their children
* 16 per cent saying it was a condition of their employment
* 20 per cent living on farms.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Snow

This is why I like working from home - it snowed overnight so this morning I got to throw snowballs with my two sons on the way to school and with the other mums and dads in the playground (of course they were no match for my Derek Randall-type throwing abilities). Meanwhile my wife had to hang around in the station for a delayed train and even with the snowball interlude I still made it to my 'office' before she got to hers.

Of course then my elderly neighbour called round to ask if I could help to fix her shed which wiped out any time won back from not commuting, but I think I'm still sitting on the high smug ground this morning.

Homeworking podcast

When you take a break today, have a listen to Enterprise Nation's new series of fortnightly podcasts sponsored by Brother and Orange. You can download each episode from their web site or subscribe to the automatic feed so it'll be delivered to you as soon as it emerges. Each podcast includes interviews, news and general useful chitchat as well as longer features (episode one talks about starting home businesses and how much they cost, with some tips on achieving a home/life balance; episode two looks at mobile technologies for the homeworker). Best of all, they're actually produced from EN's own home offices. Well worth a listen.

Virtual offices are so useful...

In one of the strangest press releases I’ve ever come across, according to The Successful Office Group which runs a New York-based answering service and call centre business hub, an 18-year-old high school student called Danny used their services to pretend he had a major business to impress women. According to the company’s CEO Michael Anthony: “He had himself as the CEO of his own made-up company, and would go to clubs handing out his business card bragging about how big he was or how rich. This impressed many women and they would check up on him by calling his company and asking about him, verifying salary and other info he told them…We all had a big laugh with Danny.” In the press release detailing the story , Anthony reveals other uses of the company’s services, including people using it to create fake financial histories to get credit cards or “do other illegal things”. Hmmm…

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Major new report backs flexible and home working

This is a rather long post, but it's well worth reading since according to a new report from the Equal Opportunities Commission, half of the working population, 52% of men and 48% of women, say they want to work more flexibly.

The EOC’s new report ‘Working outside the box’ has uncovered a massive waste of talent across the workforce. 6.5 million people in Britain today could be using their skills more fully if more flexible working was available, either by working at a level at which they used to work or simply returning to the workforce. Often considered a problem limited to working mothers, the EOC's new findings show that this 'skills drain' affects almost as many men as women, and more non-parents than parents.

'Working outside the box' warns that rigid models of work are driving highly qualified workers into jobs below their skill level in order for them to have a life outside work. One in eight graduate women are working in low-level jobs and the proportion of graduates in high level jobs is falling, despite continuing graduate skill shortages. The waste of people's skills and experience is undermining attempts to create a highly skilled workforce. Outdated workplace cultures are further damaging the economy by increasing pressure on an over-stretched transport system. Overcrowded rush-hour trains and motorways are causing misery for commuters and wasting time for employers.

The struggle to find a job that is compatible with life is leading to increasing pressure for a 'new deal' at work – increasingly, people want greater control over the hours and location of work, provided outputs are delivered, rather than reduced hours which currently often lead to low pay and poor prospects. This is not just because more women are working and men are becoming more active fathers. It is also because flexibility suits students and the increasingly ageing population.

The report also shows that pioneering employers are responding by transforming their work culture. Flexitime and home working are particularly popular and new technology is enabling companies to become more innovative in how they organise work. In return, employers are benefiting from better staff engagement and loyalty, meeting increasing customer demand for 24/7 products and services, and raising productivity.

The right to request flexible working for parents of young children, introduced by this government and which will be extended to carers in April, has been a welcome start to changing workplace culture. Today's report shows that demand for flexibility is now wider than ever before but many people are not aware that they are entitled to it. 60% of people say they had not seen any information about jobs where flexible working practices were available.

In order for everyone to benefit from a 'new deal' at work, the EOC want to see a fresh approach, with more employers learning from the best:
* Employers opening up a conversation with their staff about how they would like to work as well as telling them about what is currently on offer, and training their managers in delivering it.
* Flexibility put at the heart of the Government's strategy to improve productivity and increase people's use of their skills. For example, adult careers advice and Jobcentre Plus could do more to match people with flexible working.
* To help everyone have the confidence to engage in that conversation, an extension of the current statutory right to request flexible working to everyone.

Jenny Watson, Chair of the EOC said:"Work just isn't working for many people any longer. Far too many people burn out, trade down or drop out altogether. Millions of people are working below their skill level in order to have a life outside the office. Failing to rethink the way we've traditionally organised work is a chronic waste of talent and investment in education, at a time when Britain needs to invest heavily in skills to maintain its competitiveness globally.

"People are realising that jobs don't have to come at the expense of seeing their children, learning a new skill, or being involved in their community. Nor do they have to be packed like sardines onto a rush hour train or waste hours sitting in traffic jams just trying to get to the office. With half the working population wanting change, we've reached a critical mass and delivering a new deal for Britain's workers could radically transform the way we work.

"The benefits of flexibility are a two-way street. Some pioneering employers are leading the way using technology and better management to make a difference. They have changed their work culture and report better staff engagement and increased productivity as a result. But it's crucial for both our economic survival and individual well being that more follow their lead and embrace a new approach."

Miles Templeman, Director General of the Institute of Directors said:“Employers large and small must continue to innovate and equip themselves to face future challenges. Having the best people, who are well motivated, highly productive and able to deal with an increasingly global business environment is vital. Innovative working practices have to be seen as a vital part of the overall solution.”

Keep fit with the help of your computer

If you spend all day in front of a monitor, then you need to make sure you take breaks (and not just to go and browse the fridge). A very interesting post by Mike Gunderloy at Web Worker Daily talks about various pieces of software you can use on your computer which will encourage you to take a break and flex your muscles. My favourite is Break Reminder which keeps a weather eye on your onscreen activity and if you're spending too much time at the keyboard blacks out your screen and freezes your mouse for five minutes to encourage you to get moving. More suggestions are made in the comments section so read on after the main article finishes.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Social Enterprise Coalition

There are businesses and then there are businesses. Some of them are 'social enterprises' which the Social Enterprise Coalition describes as "dynamic businesses with a social purpose working all around the UK and internationally to deliver lasting social and environmental change." (Or as a friend put it: "Social enterprises are primarily intended to change the world not the bank balance of the entrepreneur."). Their web site puts the number of social enterprises in the tens of thousands and a combined turnover in the billions.

Among examples are Cafedirect, The Big Issue, The Co-operative Group, Welsh Water (Glas Cymru), the Eden Project and Jamie Oliver's Fifteen, but there are lots of others around the UK in pretty much every sector you can imagine (including football supporters' trusts). On their web site you'll find lots more information plus plenty of case studies. If you're in Scotland, you should also try the Scottish Social Enterprise Coalition and there are also numerous regional groupings such as the Social Enterprise East of England with their own real and virtual meetings, magazines and shared local knowledge.

Working from home with children - Part 2

Following on from the post a few days ago, there's more on this subject at Web Worker Daily by Mike Gunderloy. Among his musings is what he calls 'The question of the door'. "The raging argument that divides work-at-home parents into two camps is whether to shut the kids out entirely or not," he writes. "Should your home office have a door that you close between the hours of 9am and 5pm, with the kids safely on the outside? Certainly having the door (and someone on the other side who takes care of the children) makes your working life simpler, but to my mind it removes one of the main benefits of the home office lifestyle. If I wanted to be away from my family all day, I’d put on a tie and go into a real office somewhere. We “no-door” types prefer to watch our kids growing up, even if that makes work more difficult at times." Personally, I like watching my kids grow up too (one reason why I chose the life of a shedworker), but not when I'm working. When I'm not on sentry duty, I like a good solid door and 30ft of grass between us.

Home office in the basement

If you don't have room for a garden office, or your attic's too titchy, another option is the cellar or basement. The Manchester-based Basement Living Group is a group of specialist contractors who are experts in basement waterproofing and building. As Rob Newman, managing director of PRS, one of the founding members of the new company, said: "There are hundreds of thousands of properties throughout the UK that have basement spaces that are not used to their full potential. For those owners who want more and better accommodation, the cost of converting a basement is usually a fraction of that involved in moving to larger premises." There are plenty of pictures of good basement conversions on the site including, naturally, home offices (pictured).

Solarpowered mobile office

Patrick reports at Will Blog for Experience on his efforts at low cost (around £100), portable solar power sufficient to power a laptop. He says it weighs about 2lbs, costs around £100, and powers his Macbook for nearly two hours (1.83ghz, browsing the web and checking email via Airport Extreme, bluetooth off, screen brightness about 70%) with five hours of good sun, though as he says: "Through trying this out, I found that it is very hard to get 5 hours of good sun in Chicago in the winter. It's a great feeling when it works, but not practical for day-to-day use."

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Homeworking and e-business in Scotland

In a new report for the Scottish Enterprise E-Business Group, Future Trends for E-Business to 2011, Giraffe Consulting suggest various likely scenarios, among them the increase in flexible, mobile and home working practices, as well as more virtual collaboration and virtual companies. Key to this, say Giraffe, will be a much wider adoption of useful technologies, enabling real-time, anytime, anywhere access to business systems. Overall they conclude that: "SMEs will have greater dependence on ICT for business success."

Just as important is their rider. "However, the experts also believe these opportunities may not be realised if companies do not
have the vision and understand the benefits of pursuing these changes; they do not understand the dangers and risks in continuing without adapting to change; and they do not take action through cultural inertia."

Home office makeover


You can’t beat a good ‘before’ and ‘after’. Here, courtesy of Home and Garden Television “a plain vanilla home office is transformed into a Neapolitan treat with cool accessories.” Perhaps it's me, but where would you work in the 'after' scenario? But if you like pink, you’ll love the other photos of the makeover on the site.

McCartney planning permission saga at an end?

We’ve been following with interest on this blog Sir Paul McCartney’s run-in with local planning authorities. As reported on the BBC’s web site here, he will be allowed to keep his wildlife viewing pavilion - originally built without planning permission - on his East Sussex estate even though he was told last year to take both this and a wooden lodge down. Planners now seem to have granted permission for the pavilion if the lodge is demolished. So perhaps the moral is that you should build two illegal sheds in the hope that the local council will let you keep one?

Heating your home office

As heating experts Calor say, “There's nothing worse than a cold office and sitting at your desk you aren't generating enough heat to keep yourself warm.” Thank goodness then for Calor’s LPG portable heater, though remember that heaters must be used in a well ventilated room. The web site also has several other pages dedicated to homeworking. You could also try the range at RGK.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Everybody's homeworking (well, nearly everybody)

More than 59% of start-up and small business owners work from home, according to The Annual Small Business Survey with homeworkers citing convenience and cost as the main reasons for its popularity. It's all summed up as pithily as always by Enterprise Nation here or you can trudge through the Executive Summary here

Homeworkers of the future

Flexible working is at the heart of a major new project in York, as reported in the Daily Telegraph with pictures of the project available from Red Box Design Group. Sad though it was to say goodbye to one of my childhood icons (especially one that smelled so nice), the former chocolate factory Terry's on the outskirts of the city is to become a new one-stop 50 acre 'village', "a sustainable, complete community with the potential to carry its residents from the cradle to the grave."

And among the expected features e.g. gym, supermarket, Med-style piazza thing, will also be live-work units and studios for starter businesses at ground floor level, and an office block housing serviced offices for anything from a one-person business to major enterprises. Alan Smith, senior partner of the scheme's architects, Red Box Design Group, told the Telegraph that the project is a "very rare opportunity to help to shape the lives of many people."

Rotherham Council - flexible working initiative

The number of councils around the country who are introducing flexible and homeworking initiatives is certainly on the up. The latest to announce such a move is Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council who, according to What PC, have introduced flexible working practices for its remote support worker team and plan to broaden the initiative to other staff. "You have to ensure that people still feel part of the community and are not totally isolated; you have to explore how you deal with meetings and travel expenses and you have to do health and safety checks as you cannot allow people to work off the kitchen table – the room has to meet BSE standards," said head of information systems Paul Briddock.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Working from home with children

After solving the problem of deciding whether to wear slippers or shoes to homework, the next major obstacle for many homeworkers is combining any kind of efficient working with childcare (a problem which now faces increasing numbers of fathers as well as mothers). This article by Danielle Hollister, How To Entertain A Child While Working From A Home Office, makes a wide range of suggestions which creditably don't include parking your little one in front of Mary Poppins. There's also some good advice, and plenty of comments from other readers too, by Dane Carlson at his Business Opportunities Weblog, by Kelly Ling at her Girls Will Be Girls site, and here at the US National Federation of Independent Business.

Music while you work – Saatchi Gallery

The Saatchi Gallery has an ongoing series of articles on its blog site on what music artists listen to while they work. Entries so far include:
* Richard Misrach
* Luis Gispert
* Idris Khan
* Chloe Piene
* Una Hunderi
* Eirik Johnson

No disrespect to these artists, but even if you've never heard of them before, it's interesting to see what they listen to and how it relates to their work. I particularly like the quote from Una Hunderi who says: "I normally don't use music to boost the creative process or to get new ideas, rather it seems to be a medium which underlines or illustrates what I am working on at that specific moment."

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Smarter working practices

Work Wise UK has just announced the welcome news that "the UK is about to take a major step towards becoming one of the most progressive economies in the world". Essentially, the CBI and TUC, will sign an agreement next Monday for the wider adoption of smarter working practices across the UK "to help bring about a workplace revolution". Other organisations signing up include the British Chambers of Commerce, BT, Transport for London, RAC Foundation, Association for Commuter Transport, Scope, Technology Means Business and Henley Management. The goal is for thousands of other organisations to sign up via the Work Wise website. More information about Work Wisehere.

Is homeworking bad for career prospects?

An interesting press release from Los Angeles-based 'global provider of talent management solutions' Korn Ferry reveals that more than half (61 percent) of 1,320 global executives surveyed said they believe that telecommuters/homeworkers are less likely to advance in their careers in comparison to employees working in traditional office settings. However, nearly half (48 percent) of respondents indicated that they would consider a job which involved telecommuting on a regular basis and the vast majority (a combined 78 percent) stated that telecommuters are either equally or more productive than those who work in offices. When asked which type of flexible working arrangement they found most attractive, nearly half (46 percent) of respondents most preferred the option of working flexible hours.“Smart employers know that flexible working conditions can be an effective means to creating a productive workforce,” said Robert McNabb, chief executive officer of Futurestep [the subsidary which carried out the research]. “Often when employers offer the option of flexible hours and telecommuting, they help employees maintain balance in other parts of their lives which, in turn, fosters loyalty, satisfaction and retention.”

Homes and Gardens offices

More home office eye candy, this time from Homes and Gardens including this hot tip on 'decorative storage' - "Paperwork doesn't have to be an eyesore - choose pretty filing solutions" and this on having a study area on the landing (pictured), "Choose a spot with a view of the garden". Better still of course to have your home office actually in the garden.

Working with nonhomeworkers

An interesting post on this subject at Jim Belshaw's Ndarala Group blog in which he talks about the work expectations of traditional office workers when it comes to dealing with home workers. After discussing the various problems he concludes that: "The only solution is to ensure that the individual teleworker, his/her managers and the organisation itself work through the issues in advance. As part of this, the teleworker needs to learn how to proactively manage relations with colleagues downwards, sideways and especially up." The section is part of a much longer posting on teleworking/homeworking in general which is well worth reading.

BBC documentary in a garden office/shed

Documentary director Daniel Vernon has contacted me about a programme he's working on for the BBC. "I am making a film about the typical British male," he told me having just returned from some allotment research, "with an emphasis on married life. The location for this documentary will be, you guessed it, the garden shed. It will part of a new 40 min BBC2 Strand that will go out next Autumn, I am interested in relationships more than anything else, using the garden shed as a place where we can hear the male point of view. If you're interested in finding out more you can email Daniel here.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

What do other people's home offices look like?

There's nothing like nosing around other people's houses, but nosing around their home offices comes a close second. Among the home offices you can take a peek at online (and these are 'real' ones compared to the showhome ones from glossy mags) are:

* Robyn Tippins' in the Blue Ridge Mountains
* The Casual Keystroke blogger's
* Aaron Tersteeg's at Intel
* Barbra Sundquist's on Vancouver Island
* David Hale's in San Francisco

Doubling up home office with guest bedroom

I'm not too sure about this latest article from
Better Homes and Gardens in which they extol the virtues of using your guest bedroom as a home office. The idea is that the room is designed so the homeworker can tuck everything away at the end of the day while at the same time providing sleeping space for two guests. I'm a bit worried about phrases such as "the desk can stand in as a dressing table for guests". However it's worth taking a look if this is the situation you're in and the pictures are very attractive. My favourite shot is number 4 on the slideshow (pictured), a pull-down Message Centre with a pinboard and compartments for pens, clips, and notepaper.

Law needs changing

According to Jim Davenport writing in The Wilmington Star ('the voice of Southeastern North Carolina), State Treasurer Thomas Ravenel spent his weekend at his "virtual office". Nothing wrong with that, you might think. However, a law still in force since 1801, says the state treasurer "shall keep open and attend in his office from nine o'clock in the morning until two in the afternoon every day, Sundays, public holidays and the two succeeding days to Christmas excepted." Ravenel, apparently no fan of working Saturdays, is seeking a change in the law. "The actual bricks and mortar office had no support staff so there's no need for me to be there," Ravenel said. "There's nobody there to assist. There's no point in being in an office where there's no support staff. So I have a virtual office."

Monday, January 15, 2007

Homeworkers are happy workers says report

The extremely upbeat kitchen table entrepreneurs at Funky Angel have released a new study based on its 2006 survey of the lifestyles of its core audience which suggests homeworkers are among the happiest in the UK. It also reveals that:
* only eight per cent said they were struggling, mainly due to the feast or famine syndrome, early-stage own businesses or solo parenthood
* 16 per cent reporting that they sometimes felt anxious, 13 per cent saying they felt fed up, 17 per cent feeling frustrated and six per cent of the respondents reporting feeling isolated
Founder Claire Burdett says: "We are seeing a resurgence of a style of living that I would describe as pre-industrial cottage industries with 21st Century communications and technology added in, and I think it's the best thing that's happened to the family in decades!"

Music while you work – C86

I had a surprising number of emails from readers following the post last week about mood music and the Mighty Lemon Drops. They came from a mixture of late-thirtysomethings enjoying a trip down Nostalgia Avenue (just off Indie Crescent) and other readers too young to remember the giddy days of Bogshed, Half Man Half Biscuit, and the Close Lobsters (pictured). For those who want to continue the trip, have a good look round the marvellous Indie MP3 - Keeping C86 Alive! blog and in particular this post about C86 where you can download the tape in its entirety. Apologies to readers for whom the above simply makes no sense at all.

Flexible working - new report

Research from ISP Eclipse Internet suggests:
* 1 in 2 workers fear that working flexible will sideline their career
* Two thirds of workers want to work flexibly, despite career concerns
* Three quarters of workers are unaware of their legal right to work flexibly, three years after the Government’s legislation came into effect
* Four out of five workers believe flexible working would improve quality time with children, their productivity and loyalty to their company

According to the press release, "Only 15 per cent thought that it is an option for ‘skiving off’." I'm not sure that 'only' is the right word here - I'd have gone for 'a worryingly enormous'.

It goes on to say: "Barriers to flexi-working across the UK, besides office culture, are complex. However, one of the major reasons cited by both men and women surveyed is technology. Over half suggested that their companies aren’t willing to provide the technology they need to work flexibly, for instance, BlackBerrys, PDAs, laptops or broadband at home. After technology, women were mostly likely to consider that businesses being ‘stuck in the dark ages and averse to change’ (48 per cent) impacted the uptake of flexi-working, while men considered that it is due to companies not trusting their employees (52 per cent)."

Sunday, January 14, 2007

This blog and The Shed featured in The Scotsman

The Shedworking and Homeworking blog and The Shed magazine received a very appreciative (and appreciated) write-up at the weekend in The Scotsman newspaper by writer, campaigner and allotment guru Antonia Swinson in her popular Allotment Tales column. Under the headline 'The joy of a garden office', Antonia says: "Boy, what a difference a shed makes for sheer freedom and creativity... I made connections I would miss in a busy office, new avenues of investigation...Perhaps it is time to start evaluating the shed's true bottom-line value? Management consultants could have a profitable business persuading today's knowledge businesses to stop building glass palaces that cost a fortune to heat and start investing in employee huts - complete with company logo."

Antonia’s new book ‘You Are What You Grow - Life, Land, & The Pursuit of Happiness’ (Luath £9.99) is out now, a mere £6.79 on Amazon.

Writers' Rooms

The Guardian newspaper's Saturday Review section has a new series featuring, well, writers' rooms with a wellknown writer talking about their home office space which is illustrated by a great photo from the estimable Eamonn McCabe. Last week Beryl Bainbridge kicked things off with a voyage around her study (complete with various guns) and on Saturday it was the turn of Michael Frayn. For some reason it's not on the paper's extremely comprehensive web site, making it hard for me to link to, so to sum up, Frayn likes to work in what he describes as "an impersonal space", though he does write sitting opposite a wall of family photographs. My favourite quote: "Somerset Maugham said that writers should sit with their back to the window. I sit sideways most of the time. Moderation in this, as in all things."

Watford Borough Council homeworking strategy

Just down the road from this blog, Watford Borough Council is launching a flexible home working initiative, according to Publictechnology.net. The initiative will enable staff to work remotely using a network security solution from AppGate. Lieven Hermans, Head of Business Information Systems at Watford Borough Council said: “With AppGate, we now have a proven mobile access solution, which represents a significant part of our business continuity plans. The council has the reassurance that should employees be unable to come into the council offices, services will nevertheless continue to run as normal. Flexible working also improves choice and working options for council employees whilst boosting productivity and helping us to achieve maximum efficiency and best value as set out in the Gershon efficiency agenda.”

Watford hopes to extend the remote access to additional departments within the authority, to develop a wide-reaching business continuity strategy for the whole borough and promote flexible, home-working on a larger operational scale.

Project Orange

One of the best things about Zoe Williams's series Working From Home last week on Radio 4 (you can still listen to it via the Listen Again facility on the BBC's web site, though you'll have to be quick about it before it disappears) was the input from James Soane of design and architecture practice Project Orange. He talked interestingly about the miniaturisation of the office workplace and also the quasi-monastic elements involved in a homeworker's life. One of the projects he mentioned was a London house which had a study/bedroom behind an invisible pivoting panel wall. I found this hard to picture but you can see it on their site here: click on 'Homes' then on 'Medium' and it's the first one featured.

My other favourite invisible talking head was composer Stephen Warbeck (Shakespeare In Love, Charlotte Gray, Billy Elliot) who very sensibly said he actually quite liked being interrupted by his family during work and spoke quite movingly about the major influence working from home has on his work, particularly with Charlotte Gray. You can hear both these two in the Wednesday and Thursday broadcasts.

Home Office Productivity - new blog

A new homeworking blog to keep an eye on is Home Office Productivity by Nick Usborne, a homeworker for the last 30 years. His most recent post is on knowing when to walk away from your desk. "When you work from home, it’s all too easy to equate productivity with the number of hours you spend at your desk," he writes. "In other words, many solopreneurs end up working twelve hours a day or more...simply because their desk is right there, at home. There may be times when you do have to work long hours. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that sitting in front of your desk for twelve hours necessarily means you are being productive. In fact, in my own experience, unless I have a pressing deadline, I often find that the longer I sit in front of my computer, the less productive I become."

Friday, January 12, 2007

Music while you work – mood music

Make the music fit the mood - that's the mantra for all homeworkers with the iTunes or radio on (and was recognised in this 1942 Time magazine article in which an American housewife says: "the second movement of Beethoven's Ninth is just the right rhythm for polishing the 'furniture; the second movement of his Fifth is a mopping-the-kitchen-floor rhythm. Siegfried Idyll makes picking mud up from the children's boots not irksome in the least."). Last week I wrote about what music I played when I felt relaxed. When I'm irritated on the other hand, instead of playing something calming, I tend to turn to loud music from my teenage years. One example is The Mighty Lemon Drops, a terribly underrated band from Wolverhampton who should have been as big as Oasis. You can hear a (atmospherically early) live version of Something Happens from 1986 here, courtesy of Tom Bartlett's In Everything You Do site. And then go out and buy their excellent album World Without End.

Homeworking in the Northwest

If you work from home in North West of England, you should certainly be a regular visitor to the Homeworking in England's Northwest excellent web site (even if you're not in the NW you should still take a look). Supported by the Northwest Development Agency and run by Redbrick Enterprises, the project is encouraging and supporting homeworking through a campaign that will run until March next year. Andrew Halliwell, acting Head of Regional ICT Policy at the NWDA and project sponsor, said: “We know that the Northwest is already home to thousands of at-home entrepreneurs and employees who are making use of one of the UK’s leading IT infrastructures with over 99.99% broadband coverage across the region and this project, through putting on events, delivering publications and managing a dedicated website, will encourage this activity to flourish yet further.”

Increasing converts to garden offices

Garden offices are starting to crop up with increasing frequency in the press. The latest is this piece in The Newcastle Journal by Karen Wilson which includes an interview with North-East entrepreneur Angela McLean. Angela has a business consultancy service and has the marvellous title of 'entrepreneur in residence' at the Newcastle University. "I've always worked from home," says Angela. "However, it was always in the spare bedroom. Four years ago we decided to convert the stables. I had planning permission to build a house there and had toyed with making a granny flat but decided to create an office instead."
The work took six weeks and cost around £25,000, including internal finishing, flooring and decorating. "It has probably paid for itself in the value it's added to the house," says Angela. "And you're not paying rent and rates to someone else."

The article also quotes Victoria Machin from Sanctuary Garden Offices who says Sanctuary saw a 40% growth in demand for garden offices last year and expects it to be even greater this year.

Lean-to-desk

Home offices don't come much more minimal than the Futon Company's solid oak Lean-to-desk. On the plus side it's much cheaper than a garden office at just £99 (+£4 delivery), has its own embedded shelves, and has a commendably low-tech set-up (it just leans against the wall). Full measurements 1,943mm H x 740mm W x 438mm D. To stop it all crashing down around you, the desk can be fixed to the wall. On the downside I can't see much space for empty coffee cups and old bits of paper.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Your own home office soundtrack

Remember when you worked in a traditional office? Phones ringing non-stop, people chatting behind your desk as you interviewed Madonna, the sound of drawers opening, and tannoy calls asking the driver of LVY 367F to move his car from the visitor's car park? Wasn't that heaven? Well now you can recreate that magic with the fabulous Thriving Office CD. As the Thriving Office folk put it themselves so acutely: "Home businesses know they must seem successful to become successful. So they play Thriving Office while they're on the phone. This valuable CD is filled with the sounds people expect to hear from an established company, providing instant credibility. It's fast, easy and effective!" You can choose between two 37-minute tracks, 'busy' and 'very busy' (I know which one I'd pick, do you?) to provide instant credibility and there's even a free sample at the web site to convince you further. Forget the iPhone, this is what I want next Christmas.

Does your home office have beanbags?

Homeworking with/without children

One of the problems of homeworking commonly cited is how to keep your children away from your home office (and clients). Naturally this can be rather a distraction or in the scenario of jam in the laptop, even potentially business-threatening. But I'm experiencing a slightly different reaction to my youngest child starting school. Until last week I would work in the mornings after the school run, then pick him up from nursery around noon. At this point my working from home schedule would pretty much grind to a halt with occasional 10 minute pauses when he would very patiently play quietly while Daddy talked to somebody important on the telephone. Now he's at school until 3.20pm each day, I'm finding that it's strangely quiet at home and indeed that this quiet is distracting in itself (it's like going into an office and finding you're the only one there). It doesn't affect me in the mornings, a time when I'm used to his absence, only the afternoons when there's nobody there to colour in with.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Start your 2007 Christmas present list early

Dear Santa,

I have been very good all year and not spent too much time mucking around when I should have been working in my home office. Can I please have one of these?

I hope you liked the mince pies and beer.

Lots of love,

Alex xoxoxo

Homeworking: an estate agent's perspective

As homeworking becomes increasingly popular, so does the attraction of having a home office when you come to sell your property. This article on Canada.com quotes builder and developer Bob Gill who says that it's common to see dedicated home offices in houses selling at over $750,000. Tellingly, real estate agent Dennis Jabs says in the article that 15 years ago, only one in 10 of househunters looked for an office in their home but now that figure is nearer four in 10 with lawyers and financiers particularly keen. For more on this subject, see this article on Enterprise Nation's site which suggests a home office can raise the value of your home by over £25,000.

New US online homeworking magazine

Home Office Weekly is a new - and free - online magazine for homeworkers and potential homeworkers in the US, though much of it is equally applicable to those of us in the UK. It includes tips on publicity and marketing, time management, and advice on balancing work and family life. Home Office Weekly is published by Backporch Publishing and its owner Marcia Passos Duffy who has been working from her home for over 10 years.

Safe wireless working

As I've been increasingly working wirelessly over the last few weeks, I was pleased to see that Byestart.co.uk, the small business portal, has this Guide to working securely with wireless on its impressive web site. The advice comes from Maria Cappella, managing director at ISP Nildram, who looks at:
> Anti-Virus software
> Encryption
> SSID (making the wireless network invisible to unauthorised users by using a service set identifier (SSID).
> Firewalls
> Updating default settings

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Working from Home on Radio 4 today - reminder

Just a quick reminder to listen in to BBC Radio 4 again today at 3.45pm to the second in Zoe Williams' five part series this week on working from home. Monday's episode - complete with trendy soundtrack from Steve Reich - was well worth 15 minutes of any homeworker's time and can be heard again on the corporation's Listen Again facility.

Turf your garden office

I've written on the site and in The Shed magazine before about having a green roof on your garden office/shed, but I'm particularly excited about these selfwatering, Korean velvet grass Green Roof Tiles from Toyota as featured in today's post on the addictably browsable inhabitat. They're light, cheap and easy to install and maintain, rather like whacking a rug on top of your roof.

Second Life as a backup virtual office

Worries about how big companies would cope in a pandemic seem to be the flavour of the week. Computerworld suggests that the increasingly popular virtual world Second Life could provide a useful backup service. In the article, writer Robert Mitchell reports that Colleen Monahan, director of development at the Center for the Advancement of Distance Education at the University of Chicago, has recently worked with a large corporation to create a virtual human resources department and a situation room for executives.

"By creating a virtual company," writes Mitchell, "employees will have a place outside of the corporate firewall where they can meet around the virtual water cooler or receive counseling. Unlike videoconferencing, in Second Life, employees meet by proxy, using avatars... Security is a big concern although you can create a private island in Second Life. On the other hand, if your other IT systems are down, a virtual company could come in handy."

Enterprise Nation podcast

In what may well be a first in the homeworking arena, Enterprise Nation have launched a fortnightly podcast. Issue one can be downloaded from their front page or the link above and includes features on starting your own home business, flexible work rights and interviews with Wendy Shand, successful home business owner and MD of Tots to France and Sales Director of the One Life Live event, James Gradwell. The podcast was recorded, edited and produced from EN's home offices in Shropshire. In Episode 2 the theme is technology, with Jamie Shaw, Managing Director of Geeks-on-Wheels and Shaun Orpen, Marketing Director for Orange Business Solutions.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Working from Home on Radio 4 today

If you have 15 minutes free at 3.45pm today and at the same time all this week (though hopefully it will also be available via the BBC's Listen Again facility), tune in to BBC Radio 4 to listen to Zoe Williams talking about homeworking. The blurb goes: "Journalist Zoe Williams begins her quest to get privileged access into the often secret world of the home-worker, comparing notes on the perks and the pitfalls of working where you live and finds out what really goes on behind the net curtains during office hours without the watercooler to gather around." Wednesday's programme promises: "Swapping tips on how to cope when the divide between work and home becomes blurred", Thursday's "'Flexibility' and 'work-life balance' are buzzwords and phrases of the day, but is it really in your best interest to work from home?" and Friday's "Looking into the future. Will we all be doing it soon? Will the policy-makers look after us if we do? And will we really be able to give up the gossip at the watercooler?"

Case studies - Medical Defence Union

The Medical Defence Union (MDU) says that even doctors can work from home. The MDU employs 26 medico-legal advisers who work from home advising fellow doctors faced with ethical dilemmas or needing to respond to the GMC or an unhappy patient. Each year they take around 22,000 advice calls from doctors needing on the spot advice.

Dr Peter Schutte, Head of Advisory at the MDU, said: "The MDU originally decided to offer homeworking as a way of retaining experienced staff following the merger of its London and Manchester offices into one London HQ. We’ve since realised however that it can offer many advantages to us and to our members. All the MDU’s medico-legal advisers now work from home and, because they can be based anywhere in the UK, we are never short of high quality applicants when we are looking for new advisers.

“We have had to develop specialised computer systems because what we do is unique. We also have access to a comprehensive digital library of medico-legal information such as regulators’ guidance, relevant legislation and recent guidelines, to help us to advise members. There are great advantages to having all our files available at the click of a mouse. Recently I was able to advise a doctor who was distressed to have received notification of a GMC complaint which he thought he had resolved with the patient, with our assistance, three years earlier. Straight away I could bring up his old file on my screen and discuss how best to proceed. As he lived only a short distance from my home, I was able to meet him the next day at his surgery to discuss his response.

“There are some disadvantages of course, such as missing the face to face contact of colleagues in the office, although we have weekly meetings by video conference. I certainly don’t miss the crowded commute and, in the summer, I can step straight out of the office into the garden while most people are still struggling home.”

Homeworking in Japan

The Japanese bilingual newspaper The Daily Yomiuri has this article about the Government looking at teleworking/homeworking schemes. "The government likely will establish a study panel of experts within the next fiscal year to work toward the full-fledged introduction of the so-called teleworking system for public servants, according to government sources. The teleworking system allows employees to work from home by using information technology to communicate with the workplace.

"By setting up a situation in which workers can communicate with their offices by phone, fax and the Internet, the government intends to utilize the idling workforce among public servants such as those on childcare or nursing care leave. As part of its e-Japan strategy, the government plans to increase the percentage of people utilizing the teleworking system to about 20 percent of the total workforce, including the private sector, by 2010. Within the government, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry introduced the teleworking system in September 2006. Under the system, six ministry employees who have preschool-age children designate a certain day of the week to work at home. Their workday, however, is identical to that of employees at the office, involving an eight-hour day from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., including a lunch break."

Homeworking cliches

Over-50s marketing expert Dick Stroud (who among his many accomplishments has an excellent blog ) has a marvellous article on his site where he complains that: "The media's reporting about marketing and the over 50s is bogged down in a cycle of trivial and unsubstantiated debate. Reading an article on the subject is like Bill Murray's experience in the film Groundhog Day: a ceaseless round of identical arguments, quotes, examples and unresolved questions. The mainstream and marketing media are equally as bad." I confess that I often feel the same about articles on homeworking. Today's issue of The Guardian has a piece (not yet online) in its Office Hours section called 'How to...work from hom' by Giles Morris which particularly gets my garden shed goat.

So, homeworkers stay in bed late? Check. They work in pyjamas? Check. They spend all afternoon shopping and watching television? Check. They exist in an isolated world? Check. All bosses are paranoid about homeworkers not working? Check. It's obviously supposed to be a humorous little thing and I don't want to seem like a humourless homeworking robot, but frankly what's the point in printing it? It makes The Guardian look behind the times in terms of working trends, won't encourage 'traditional' office workers to make the change, and certainly won't be welcomed by most homeworkers I know as a reflection of their lifestyles.

Strangely though it also points out that homeworking is more efficient.

Home office space ideas

US magazine Ladies' Home Journal has this interesting piece about three very different types of home offices, all with good illustrative photographs. First there's the unbeatable cedar 'potting shed' garden office, pictured, (workplace of a shoe designer with a decidedly feminine interior). Then there's one on a landing (photographer and home furnishing shop owner). And finally there's what's basically a big wardrobe for a couple whose work is not specified.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

What not to wear when you're homeworking

New 'research' from BT Broadband Talk confirms many callers' suspicions: that loads of people in Britain talk on the phone when they're naked. 49 per cent of people questioned said that they were happy to talk to friends and family when unclothed at home. Apparently women are much more likely than men to do this (57 per cent vs 40 per cent). A quarter of people questioned also said that they used phone calls as a way of pretending they were elsewhere – this figure rises among males, 30 per cent of whom regularly use the advantage of not being seen to make the person they are speaking to think they are somewhere else (what a marvellouse ruse chaps). The research also says that 83 per cent of people questioned say that they carry out other activities while speaking on the phone.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Homeworking and flu in the City

In an article on silicon.com headlined Flu simulation puts spotlight on homeworking, Steve Ranger looks at how City firms have been looking at how they would continue operating if there were to be a flu pandemic. "Companies' homeworking strategies were also tested and "many issues" surfaced," he writes, "including how to ensure effective compliance and control over remote activity, IT security considerations and how to maintain tech support, the report found. It said the exercise also raised the question of whether the telecoms infrastructure would be able to support large-scale homeworking for a prolonged period when staff shortages in the telecoms sector progressively eroded maintenance capability.

"Investment banks responded to the (simulated) growing shortages of front, middle and back office staff by reducing trading volumes but throughout the scenario "virtually all" trading was conducted on-site as businesses were not sure they would be able to maintain levels of compliance and control to allow trading from home on a prolonged basis. But the report said that while financial infrastructure providers produced regular updates on their operational status to the market throughout the exercise, due to the high level of automation of their processes, it appears that only very high levels of absenteeism would threaten their critical functions."

Squirearchy and satellite broadband

There's been a lot of hoo-hah about what the folk in the City are going to be spending their bonuses on this year. This article in The Times concentrates on what they'll be snapping up in London this year, but also suggests a new trend. "The current new big thing for the recipients of bonus loot," writes Anne Ashworth, "is the mini-estate, according to Liam Bailey, head of residential research at Knight Frank. About £2.5 million will buy you a substantial farm in previously “off-pitch” places such as the Welsh borders, North Norfolk, North Yorkshire and deepest Cornwall and Devon. Not within commutable distance of the City, perhaps, but the new member of the squirearchy can work from home for one day a week with the help of satellite broadband."

EDM 231 - Regulation of Homework

Not the sexiest of headlines on this blog, but one of the most important. The National Group on Homeworking is asking MPs to sign Early Day Motion 231, which now has the sponsorship of Ann Cryer MP, in their ongoing campaign to win full employment rights for homeworkers. Currently thousands of homeworkers miss out on key rights such as maternity leave, pension rights or protection against unfair dismissal/redundancy because their employment status is unclear. Some are even denied the National Minimum Wage. So a change in the law is needed. Sharpish.

The EDM reads: "That this house believes homeworkers deserved the same employment rights and protections as those employed in factories or offices and that employment rights should therefore be extended to homeworkers, using the 1999 Employment Act which allows for the extension of employment rights to groups of workers not currently covered."

To apply more pressure, you could contact your local MP(s) and urge him/her/them to support the campaign.

Do I really need a mobile phone?

Well, for years I've been holding out against buying one, largely on the basis that as I'm not a surgeon on call I haven't ever really needed to be contacted urgently at any time of the night and day. It's not that I'm a techno/social dinosaur - I work remotely, wirelessly and videoconferencely, have a flexible portfolio career and even buy music by popular beat music combos. But after several occasions over the last few months when a mobile would actually have been quite useful, I caved in yesterday and bought a titchy little thing (pictured) which does everything I want it to do (call people, take people's calls) plus lots of stuff I don't (take photos and videos, make coffee, etc). I'm still not entirely convinced I'll be using it more than once a month though. If you feel the same, so do these people at The Guardian newspaper's Notes & Queries section and I'd be interested to hear other people's views on the subject.

Mobile homeworking - get a trunk

I'm not entirely sure that the i-trunk from luxury retailer Pinel et Pinel is truly what they claim as "your office in your pocket" nor that "Men has (sic) always dreamed of bringing his own office everywhere". But it certainly looks good. Essentially the 21st century trunk contains an imac, JBL Creature sound system and Canon printer. As the Pinels say, "Possessing this marvel you can make your account, write your love letters or your last novel and of course send your mails or surf on the net, in your Canadian hut, on an desert island or more simply at your home sweet home." Choose from more than 50 colours of leather. I can't see a price on it which is obviously a bit worrying.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Music while you work – birdsong


When I'm in a relaxed mood I often play birdsong on my computer (though not when I'm in an irritated mood and want to calm myself down- I'll post about what I play then next week). You can buy several high quality CDs of birdsong including ones with experts identifying the calls bird by bird, though my preference is just to have the dawn chorus wash over me. There's certainly plenty to listen to at the excellent Wildsong site which also has many other examples of natural soundscapes as well as birds - for example, click here to hear a seasonal Mistle thrush.

Homeworking trends 2007

Emma Jones over at Enterprise Nation has been peering into her always remarkably accurate crystal ball and come up with some predictions about which five key professional sectors are destined for unprecedented growth in 2007.

With more and more accountants, lawyers, graphic designers, website developers, marketing professionals and journalists considering leaving corporate employment to be their own boss at home, Emma predicts that more than 300 new professional service businesses will start from home each week in 2007; accounting for around 15% of the total number of new home business start-ups.

And with an astonishing 58% growth in the number of mobile hairdressers operating in 2006, Emma predicts that the number of home based, personal service companies, such as complementary therapists, party planners and wedding organisers will grow by 50% in 2007.

‘Food miles’ remain a hot topic in the news, with the average British Christmas dinner travelling 24,000 ‘food miles’ to get to the plate. Emma believes that the number of home businesses producing food or products from home will grow by 35% in 2007, as consumer demand for local and organic produce continues to outstrip supply.

More than 70,000 people in the UK are now making a living from eBay and thousands more are generating their income from trading online. Emma predicts that 2007 will be the Year that Second Life, the 3-D virtual world built and owned by its virtual residents makes it big in the UK and sites such as Lulu.com, the online publisher, and VCAM (viewer created ad message) will deliver a substantial income for entrepreneurial homeworkers.

Domestic energy is proving to be an interesting emerging market, showing strong signs of growth for 2007. When B&Q started selling domestic wind turbines in November, they became one of the retailers’ top selling products. Emma believes that as the debate about global warming continues, opportunities emerge to start businesses at home that tap into people’s growing awareness of the environment.

“Home working is gathering serious momentum in the UK and especially in the West Midlands region. With an estimated eight million people operating commercially from home offices in the UK the home has officially become the most popular location for business start-ups,” says Emma.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Over-50s homeworking entrepreneurs

Millennium's latest B2B newsletter on over-50s marketing matters, Circus (to be published later this month though you can download back issues from the site), features a new newsletter targeting over-50 business entrepreneurs looking to work from home, launched by 57-year-old early retiree Roger George. Boomers' Monthly aims to profile home-based wealth creation opportunities and provide members with the latest news on related topics such as book and web site reviews, nostalgia, travel and health issues to help readers maintain a healthy life and enjoy their newfound wealth.

"Having retired from the rat race at 52, I went on to spend several years researching and testing, and using many, of the vast range of primarily home-based business opportunities," says George. "I know what it's like to stare at all the business opportunities and think 'where on earth do I start?'. The 20-page newsletter includes a free DVD each month featuring what George calls "recognised masters - all self-made millionaires" talking about their routes to success plus articles on subjects such as how to set up your home business, finding customers and using the internet to benefit your business.

Subscription to Boomers' Monthly is £19.97per month with discounts available and a free triall issue. More details at Boomer's web site here.

Solarpowered home office

If you’re going down the eco-friendly home office route, especially if you have a garden office/shed, then take a look at the options at SolaLighting who specialise in “cost-effective, energy-efficient daylight solutions for new-build or existing homes and businesses”. I especially like the look of their Brighten Up® Series 10" (250mm) and 14" (350mm) Solatubes which they suggest is good for lighting a small space, although they recommend the 14" Solatube for home offices.

Choosing a shed – Berrington Designs

Established in 2000 by Jo Berrington with the backing of The Prince’s Trust, the Salisbury-based Berrington Designs offers a bespoke design service which has received a good reception at various Royal Horticultural Shows. There’s a nice gallery of recent commissions on the web site, many of them on stilts. They will also supply all the bits and pieces in ‘kit’ form if you fancy putting it all together yourself, something which seems to be a growing trend in the garden office market.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

James Bond – the ultimate homeworker?

Homeworkers are not well represented on the big screen. Writers are usually neurotic (see Woody Allen in Manhattan), inventors are eccentric (Michael Redgrave as Barnes Wallis in Dambusters) and computer experts are socially inept (Sandra Bullock in The Net, who spends so much time in her home office that only her mother knows what she looks like). However, after watching Casino Royale earlier this week, I’m wondering if Daniel Craig’s James Bond could start a new Hollywood trend. Previous Bonds have had plenty of gadgets but have used them largely as big boy toys: Craig’s Bond uses his gadgets to work.

Bond has never been deskbound in a traditional office, but now he’s become the role model for those operating a virtual office: he’s put the B in going Bedouin. So forget about exploding pens or ejector seats, now Bond never travels without his Sony Vaio laptop (though working wirelessly in a Venetian gondola is perhaps more glamorous than most of us can expect), keeps an impressive first aid kit handy (like me, in his Aston Martin DBS), and uses his Sony Ericsson mobile phone with built in GPS for text messaging.

And like many homeworkers, his employers are keen to keep track of his movements when he is out of the main office, although injecting him with a trackable microchip is perhaps a step too far.

Never one to miss a trick, Sony have bundled all this stuff, including a screen privacy filter, into one delightful Spy Gear Bundle package which you can buy from their site here.

Homeworking holidays

One of the most frequent comments by homeworkers over Christmas and New Year was the different work routines we operate compared to those in ‘normal’ offices over holiday periods. I think the Notchcode blog put it nicely. “I routinely feel like Ebenezer Scrooge. Not that I'm tighter than a high-strung violin, or stingier than a pack rat, but because I find myself working on these days before holiday weekends...the days my clients and most of the rest of the country seems to be taking off. I've stopped trying to actually go to client offices on days like these (unless I call ahead), or to schedule meetings, which is a good thing; I suffer from the small businessperson's curse of being drawn into working. all. the. time.”

Choosing a shed – Gembuild

Horsham-based Gembuild have been making buildings out of timber for 25 years and now include a special range of garden offices which they call Sussex Mini Barns. They have four main models, the Faygate, Colgate, Ruspel and Capel. The Faygate, for example, measures 2.4m x 3.6m internally, with three UPVC double glazed top hung windows in brown, stable door with 5 lever security locking, carpet tiles and Venetian blinds, external finish black stain to boarding and brown to fascias, with a cut and pitch barn hip roof and asphalt shingles in green or red. It’s a well organized web site with appealing drawings of each of the models including pictures of a mini barn going up in York (complete with smiling customers).