For a long time I had heard that the grass is greener on the other side. Then I experienced it myself. About 10 years ago, I began my career as an entrepreneur, from home of course. I remember how in those days I would dream of a plush office in one of the busy office areas. I would yearn for the daily routine of pompously walking into a busy office in crisp ironed formals. However, today, when I am on that other side, living the dream that I once dreamt, I miss seeing my two year old daughter every time she crosses a new milestone. Along with that I also miss the subtleties of Small Office Home Office [SOHO] that office-goers remain unaware of.
The concept of SOHO has gained a lot of respect and acceptance in recent times. Earlier, individuals working from home were not thought of as professionals – they were not looked upon with the same dignity as corporate executives. But times have changed. Let us evaluate the SOHO option.
Advantages of a SOHO
- SOHO eliminates the need to invest in office spaces. All that is required is a room or a small portion of the house, which is carved out for the work/business. Infrastructure too is minimal.
- Overheads, such as cost of employees, can be saved. Family members can be used for administrative support in a home-operated business. Filing papers, typing work, making/answering calls, and sending faxes are just a few examples of the value they can add.
- Saving time, energy and money by cutting down on daily commute to work
- With flexibility in time, one can effectively balance between home and work responsibilities.
- SOHO is a good option for the physically challenged or those under regular medication.
- A lot of MNCs prefer to take advantage of the different time zones across the globe and hence encourage executives/consultants to work out of home on certain days of the week and certain hours of the day.
Disadvantages of SOHO
- SOHO operation tends to give a picture of a small business unit. Credibility and reliability become a major issue in the minds of the customers; simply because big companies opt to source services from big established and known vendors.
- SOHO can probably earn a lot of money but not give a person social limelight, fame and publicity.
- A SOHO operation is likely to remain that and not a large organisation unless one steps out of the threshold of the house – literally and psychologically.
Perspective for men
- Working from home for a man can mean many different things for his family. For the aging parents — their son, for a wife – her husband, and for the children — their father being around can give a phenomenal boost and emotional strength.
- Being the breadwinner of the house, the typical working father doesn’t get to spend much time with his children and misses out on their wonderful growing years.
- Unless the prototypes in the society understand in depth the nature of a SOHO business, its scope and growth potential, a man operating a SOHO runs the risk of being perceived as somoene who didn’t manage to find a good job.
Perspective for women
- SOHO is the most ideal option for women desirous of financial independence but unable to really leave home for full-time/part-time work. A SOHO can help a woman establish her own identity without her having to compromise on family duties and responsibilities.
- SOHO helps eliminate the guilt that arises from being away from home and children for prolonged hours.
- In case of a nuclear family and responsibility of small child/children, hiring a maid for daycare of the kid/s is a very workable and a mentally satisfying option as compared to leaving a child in a creche.
Requirements for a SOHO Operation
- Family support is critical when it comes to a SOHO operation. For instance, during client/customer meetings or conference calls, it is important not to have any background noise or disturbances such as a child crying, loud television sound and so on. The family should collectively support the SOHO worker, especially if the work space is not sound proof; else it can completely ruin the professional image in the eyes of the customer.
- Discipline is fundamental to a SOHO operation. Procrastination can very easily become a routine if not worked upon in the initial stages itself. Procrastination can lead to missed deadlines — and missed opportunities.
- Flexibility in working hours can lead to stretching the work hours into late nights and beginning the following day late. This can take a toll on one’s health.
- Image management can be an issue in a SOHO operation. Because one works from home, he/she tends to work in very casual/informal attire.
- Sudden client visit can put the person in a very embarrassing situation. Hence, pyjamas, t-shirts, night wear, shorts etc., should be avoided as a rule during the working hours.
- The family members need to be trained in answering calls professionally; The client/ potential client on the other side should not even vaguely doubt about the location or type of the office.
- In today’s context, laptop/computer, printer, access to the internet, fax machine, a dedicated landline for work, visiting cards, etc., are a must. The SOHO would ideally be secluded from the rest of the house.
- Where communication techniques such as Skype or video conferencing are concerned, one needs to be very careful about the decor of SOHO. For example, one cannot have a bed, or a chair dumped with clothes, or a shabby room in the background, as the camera on the computer captures the view of the room.
How about teleworking?
It’s Monday morning, yet Ramesh Sharma, a consultant in a leading research company, does not suffer the blues. Instead, he is looking forward to beginning his work day. All he does is sit on a comfortable chair, plug in his laptop and begin working. In other words, he leaves for office without actually leaving. For individuals like Ramesh, home is not only where the heart is, but also where the office is.
The networked economy has made it possible to work remotely. Since a large element of the value added by any business comes from the processing and management of information, at least some aspects of its operation can now be done independent of geographical location. In the world of digital communications, you are never in the wrong place to do your work. This way of working has come to be known as teleworking.
Teleworking is an innovative arrangement that not only saves valuable resources but also leads to increased productivity. For example, with the help of low-cost videoconferencing and data-conferencing from ordinary desktop computers, teleworking can help to reduce the amount of travel undertaken by people both to work and in the course of work. This way, teleworking reduces drastically, if not altogether eliminates, the amount of business travel employees undertake, in the process saving time and money.
Benefits of Teleworking
While teleworking certainly makes good business sense [saving valuable resources and increasing productivity] it also helps in improving the quality of life of the teleworker. Teleworkers avoid the stress associated with daily-commuting. There is greater flexibility to integrate your work with your home life.
Employees based in cities like Mumbai and Delhi, where it takes anywhere between 2-3 hours travelling to and from work, would save on hours of productivity by teleworking.
In India, there is tremendous scope for teleworking, especially in the IT industry, thanks to the nature of work involved — coding, software development, data entry, web design, and medical transcription, among others. Writers/editors, financial analysts, stock brokers, management consultants and graphic designers can also become successful teleworkers.
Some categories of workers can benefit immensely from teleworking. For instance, mothers of young children who cannot remain away from home for long will find teleworking a rather attractive proposition. Similarly, it is a real boon for people suffering from any form of physical disability.
Teleworking is also a great model for small entrepreneurs and self-employed individuals operating SOHOs. Such individuals find obvious benefits in teleworking: saving office rentals, reaching out to a wider, potentially worldwide audience and networking with other self-employed individuals running SOHOs. The internet presents immense opportunities to do business on a global as well as on a local basis. A well-presented website, backed by appropriate payment arrangements and a high standard of response to enquiries and orders, can be the self-employed teleworker’s shop window for attracting potential customers and doing business with them. For a customer doing business across the internet, it matters not whether you are in a prestige office building or in your office over the garage. What matters is how you present your business and the value it delivers.
What makes a good teleworker?
Self motivation, ability to work without close supervision and good time-management skills are an absolute must for any teleworker. Good communication skills and being internet-savvy are also pre-requisites. A good teleworker would possess the uncanny ability to cope with conflicting demands of home and work life.
Teleworking is suited to individuals who are happy working by themselves, without colleagues and companions.