Todd Kashdan, author of Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life, told me he once conducted a press interview in his bathtub, with the shower curtains drawn and the fan going full blast. According to Todd, "This was to drown out the sound of my three-year old twins, who were pounding on the door like brain-eating zombies, calling Daddy! Daddy!"
As a parent of toddlers, I have also had difficult moments while working at home. Once I was so frazzled trying to get my son and his friend settled down after school that I didn't have time to take a shower or get fully-dressed for a Skype interview with "Good Morning America" workplace contributor Tory Johnson. Good thing the camera only showed me from my waist up. In other words, that’s a stock photo you see above—not me in action.
Despite the challenges of working from home, the thought of getting an office never crossed my mind until I was talking with productivity coach Charlie Gilkey of Productive Flourishing.
Me: "I don't know what is wrong with me. I am totally frazzled and can't get projects done."
Gilkey: "What kind of environment do you need to support your current work?"
Me: "I don't know," I said, followed by "Maybe I need to get an office."
I was shocked that the words came out of my mouth. And as soon as I said them, I knew it was the right thing to do.
Thirteen years of "living the dream" as a self-employed work-at-home-office dweller who rolled out of bed in my pajamas to shoot off emails to clients around the world suddenly didn't work. As my business grew, the glamour of being able to do a load of laundry while coaching a client in China over Skype started being outweighed by my inability to concentrate for more than eight minutes at a time.
So I moved into a quiet, bright, and peaceful office ten minutes from home. My entire life has changed. I can focus on my work. No one interrupts my radio interviews with requests to go to the potty. When I get home at the end of the day, I am no longer in half work/half home mode. I am tuned in to my family, ready to give them my full attention and love.
How do you know when you may be ready for a move out of the home office into an outside office?
1. Your family members directly interfere with your ability to serve your clients. Teenagers refuse to turn down loud music. Toddlers refuse to get off your lap as you are rushing to finish a project on a deadline. Your dog insists on barking loudly as you are hosting an important teleconference.
2. Your business interferes with your family's ability to lead a normal life. I learned that asking my 2-year-old to remain silent all day (with a babysitter) while I coached on the phone was not only impossible, it was unfair. Home should be a place filled with squeals of children and barks of dogs. I had visions of a therapist talking to my grown kids saying, "Tell me how it felt when Mommy told you to be silent all day."
3. The space requirements to run your business outgrow the capacity of your office. Papers or equipment are stacked everywhere. Your garage is filled with boxes and files that interfere with your ability to find your Weed Wacker.
4. You don't feel like Iron Man. Gilkey says, "You should design your ideal office like Iron Man designed his lab. You should have the right space, right equipment, and right look and feel." If you have cobbled together an office set-up that does not make you feel like a superhero, you won't be able to deliver killer service to your customers.
5. You can afford it. When bootstrapping a new business, it is normal to suffer some inconvenience for the sake of getting your business off the ground. But when your business becomes profitable and has the capability to expand significantly, it is a good investment.
6. You need a professional place to meet with clients. While meeting at a local coffee shop is an acceptable practice these days, it has its limitations. Sometimes you need a professional, confidential place to talk with clients that is not your home.
7. You have plans to expand your team. You may have part-time contractors or employees working in your business. If they all work in your home, you may be embarrassed about the dust on your countertops, or the undergarments that dropped out of your laundry basket in the hallway.
8. You are producing video or audio content on a regular basis. The key to modern-day marketing is producing relevant, timely content in multi-media format. If you have to leave home to find a quiet place to record your videos or audios, you will waste time.
9. You long to be around other working adults. In this real estate market, many businesses are eager to sublet space. There are also excellent co-working centers in many cities around the world. My office is sublet from a larger start-up company who owns the building. I have the privacy of my own space with the bonus of shared kitchen and conference rooms where I can hang out with the employees from the startup company.
10. You realize that working in a home office does not match your natural preferences. While you are sitting in a dull cubicle, the thought of working from home is very compelling. But you may find when you get there that you do not function effectively in a home office.
Working from home can be a wonderful thing. I enjoyed it for over a decade, and it fit the nature of my business and stage of growth. But when it no longer fit my business needs, an offsite office was a dream come true.
Pamela Slim is a business coach and author of the award-winning book Escape from Cubicle Nation: From Corporate Prisoner to Thriving Entrepreneur. You can read her blog and follow her on Twitter.