Work • Life • Recreation • Relaxation

Tue 24 Apr 2018

Introduction is the website for people who either work at home, or work from home.

If you are looking for help doing your school homework, then try the BBC Bitesize site.

After a year's break, the site is reinventing itself, and planning to offer:

  • Useful articles
  • Jobs
  • Book and website reviews
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  • Case studies

It will take time to develop the site, so please bare with us.

Homeworking Jobs

Jobs from Indeed

Press coverage

  • 8 Aug 1999 BBC Breakfast TV
  • 8 Nov 1999 The Scotsman
  • 14 Feb 2000 The Times
  • 7 Mar 2000 Palm Beach Post
  • 9 Sep 2003 Guardian
  • 10 Apr 2004 Telegraph
  • 16 Nov 2006 Independent
  • 9 Feb 2011 Guardian

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Peter shares a house with friends, has one cat and has been homeworking on and off all his working life.

Case study written in 1999.

Q. What do you do?
A. I am an ancient historian. (For transatlantic readers that means someone who studies ancient history not a geriatric.) In the past I worked as a researcher in this field, then moved to writing articles, contributing to books and then my own books. On and off I have been doing this, and working from home, all my working life.
Q. Where do you work at home?
A. I use the largest room in the house as a study, with two filing cabinets, two desks (one for computer, the other for paper and picture work), and bookshelves everywhere for the main part of my library.
But, I hasten to add, the room also has a sofa, TV and radio. I think it is important when you spend a lot of time in one room working to be able to switch off occasionally and watch the news or whatever. When I gutted and rearranged the study about four years ago the sofa and TV were the first things to go in, as I believe that relaxing is also an essential part of a working lifestyle. (Hope that doesn't sound contradictory.) For other people a sound system might be a vital ingredient.
Q. Do you manage to keep your work and home life separate?
A. One has to be fairly rigid with flatmates and/or partners, and state very squarely that you are concentrating on work and unless it is urgent can this or that wait for dinner-time or otherwise later.
When I am really under pressure I remind people of a little sign I have hung on my study door which I inherited from my Dad's shop. It's one of those things you switch round on a nail that says "open" and "closed". I find it can be fatal to have one's concentration broken - you may forget a thread, or, if doing something complicated on the computer, accidentally delete the wrong file. So it is best to be draconian with other people. In the long run it saves you getting annoyed with them for interrupting you.
Q. What is the best thing about working from home?
A. Definitely not having to commute. I feel sorry for those people who spend two hours a day squished in a tube-train breathing in bad air - an unhealthy and stressful way to spend a large part of the day. You can also do two things at the same time, e.g. monitor the washing machine while getting on with work.
Q. What are the negative points about working at home?
A. Seeing the same four walls over and again. I also have a garden, and in the summer its nice to have lunch/coffee there and do any work that involves reading. But at times when the pressure is on (with publishers' deadlines) and the weather is bad, one tends to get "cabin fever". Having to ignore other people who phone or knock at the door can sometimes be difficult, but just has to be done. And keeping records is, of course, a bore.
Q. What was the deciding factor to help you to decide to work from home?
A. Difficult one to answer. But I think I am fundamentally unsuited to office life.
Q. How do you cope with the isolation of working at home?
A. I don't think I could ever live alone. It suits some people, but for me I find that if I spend a week alone I become very distracted. I need the stimulation of company to spur me on. In a strange way, having other people around, like flatmates or partners, although they can interrupt (and sometimes irritate), reminds you that you are supposed to be earning a living, rather than drifting off over an interesting problem posed by Plato's philosophy.
But my main answer to isolation is to go to the pub, usually very late - at 10.30, for a couple of pints. I am blessed with a marvellous local, where there is a fantastic mixture of people of different professions, age, sex and race. One evening I might be chatting with an old geezer about the war, the next with someone with a Ph.D in physics, the next with a journalist, teacher, nurse, plumber or musician. When you work at home it is important to keep perspective, and I often find that when I am worried or oppressed by work it is great to forget one's own preoccupations and hear about other people's work and concerns. The other point is that being a writer and historian is that I study people. I feel sorry for "ivory tower" academics and have learnt so much about real things from people working in all professions from bricklayers to medical doctors. Anyone who claims to be an archaeologist or historian who does not have a social life is a fraud. The other advantage of my local (and I hope many others) is that it provides so many useful contacts - people pool their knowledge on computer problems and other practical things.
Q. Does your homeworking pay the bills?
A. Just about! But sometimes things are a struggle. Writers get paid very infrequently, and publishers have all sorts of polished techniques of accounting in order to pay as slowly and infrequently as possible. So sometimes one is in the position of having earned enough money to live, but without having it in the bank. So borrowing is needed to bridge the gaps, which is awful.
Q. How did you manage financially when you first started working at home?
A. Very badly.
Q. What sort of work did you do before you worked at home?
A. Generally speaking I have always worked from home. Soon after university I started work as a researcher for an established writer on archaeology/ancient history. From there I carried on as a free-lance writer, though I've worked in the evenings in pubs and part-time in the British Museum bookshop for a while, as it suited my plans to go there and be near the university for Hebrew and Egyptian classes and the libraries.
As a kid I used to help out in my parents' shop and had a few holiday office jobs as a student, working for a correspondence course business and a market research company. I learnt from the office jobs that I never wanted to do that sort of thing again! Having spent a whole summer rationalising the filing system at the first job it was reduced to more familiar chaos again by the clerk who had been away, while I was naive enough to be horrified when all the careful work on market research figures were fantastically pumped up by a "statistician" to suit the requirements of the client. While there was a regular wage, it all seemed so futile, and I obviously didn't have the cut-throat mentality to succeed in that kind of business. My Dad, who ran his shop all his life, always said it was best to be your own boss. He was right - for me, at least.
Q. How do you manage your time?
A. Sometimes very badly. With a computer in front of you it is sometimes all to easy to have "quick" go at the latest game acquired, and suddenly an hour has gone. I tend to work in binges. Maybe a month where I do nothing else but write, and the next one where I do correspondence and tedious paperwork and things like jobs around the house.
Q. How do you cope with distractions at home?
A. I ALWAYS screen my telephone calls through the answering machine, and I thoroughly recommend that to anyone working from home. Simply, NEVER answer the phone until you know who it is.
Inevitably, if you are trying to concentrate then friends and family will ring up for a chat. Or if you are taking a break to eat or watch Star Trek, then a colleague or transatlantic editor will ring up to remind you of deadlines. The telephone is a wonderful invention, but a terrible intrusion on privacy. I don't believe in this idea that people should demand the right to talk to you whenever they like. If they really want to get in touch, they can write. The beauty of E-mail is that, like phone-calls, it is informal and quick, but never interrupts. It is the greatest invention since the computer itself for the home-worker.
Q. What advice would you suggest to someone considering working from home?
A. First, it has to be something that you REALLY want to do. If making money alone is your bag, and stuffing envelopes or phone-selling will earn enough then you may be satisfied for a while, but unless the money is great I doubt whether the enthusiasm will last very long (except as a part-time thing).
We all have passions, and it isn't difficult to find one that can also earn money. If I weren't involved in writing I would have become a gardener, still enjoyed working from home (though getting out more) and would have probably earned more money. Even then I am sure I would have drifted into writing a history of landscape gardening or an ancient Babylonian herbal. So I guess the message is, follow your nose but make sure that what you want to do is somehow providing SOME service to other people - then hopefully people will pay for that service, whether it is being fed, entertained, informed or whatever. (On this low level of analysis, standing on one's head all day makes no money, but improving your skills to the point where you can teach yoga will do.) But it has got to be something that you are GENUINELY interested in, as you need to be persistent, and never faint of heart. Running your own business from home is fraught with problems. There is no sick pay or other benefits and no-one to bail you out except for family and friends. At many points you may succumb to the worry that you have taken the wrong path, when the bills come in and you have to write grovelling letters to the bank manager. But if you have good reason to think that the money will flow in eventually, then bite the bullet and carry on regardless. Lying in bed worrying about money is very counterproductive, so avoid that. Second, I would definitely recommend getting a professional accountant - they will save you money as they know all the things you can claim for as a homeworker.
Q. One last word?
A. I am firmly convinced that homeworking is the way of the future. Now we have the technology, a vast range of jobs can be done at home and save us all the misery of road congestion and commuting.