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Beating cabin fever


People tend to work from home for convenience or because their personal circumstances demand it.

That said, many people - especially those who have never done it - perceive it to be an ideal scenario. I've often aroused envy in my friends whenever I've told them I'm not going into the office. They imagine the bliss of avoiding the commute, not to mention the neurotic, egotistical or cynically point-scoring colleague. Hell can be other people, and I don't think you have to be a misanthrope for that to resonate.

It can also be easier to concentrate, because there are few things more distracting than other people. And it's a statement of the obvious to say that a life without commuting is all the better for it.

Social isolation

However, unless you're a hermit, an absence of social interaction is ultimately what makes working from home an unnatural state of affairs. Homo sapiens are social animals, believe it or not, and without colleagues around to bore with our anecdotes, jokes and observations, we can feel somewhat bereft.

If you work and relax in the same place, your four walls could eventually come to resemble a prison

And this isn't the only challenge; the condition we call 'cabin fever' is a perennial danger. If you work and relax in the same place, your four walls could eventually come to resemble a prison.

I've only ever worked from home a handful of times (during which I have found the solitude and quietude conducive to being productive) so I'm not best placed to hold forth on the psychological issues attendant with starting a home-based business. That's why I gathered some viewpoints from people who are.

Gillian Nissim, who runs from her house in London, says "on the whole, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages" of working and buying a home-based business.

"The advantage is the flexibility," she says. "I have two young children who I need to collect from school and I can fit my work around that.

"The business is internet-based, so I can link up with people who work for me via technology. There are no office costs and no overheads, which is a big bonus; cost is probably the main factor."

Gillian nevertheless does lament "spending a lot of time inside the same four walls. I sleep here, eat here and work here," she reflects.

Asked how she keeps cabin fever at bay, she explains: "I try to keep my office separate, but it can be very tempting to check emails at all times of the day. I have to make an effort to switch off."

Constant pressure

Nazir Daud, co-founder of CityLocal, an internet business directory and guide, warns that working at home can be more distracting even than the office: "Constant pressure to do little jobs around the house, play with the children, taxi them here and there, do some shopping, and 101 other little daily tasks can eat into your concentration, eat into your precious time, and make you feel guilty for locking yourself away to work."

He advises: "Bear this in mind, and discuss the whole business plan with your family to ensure they understand how you'll need their support."

Jo Dodds, who has founded three businesses from home, cautions: "You can end up working 24/7, because the office is there in your house.

"On the flip side, you don't have to travel to work. I go to my daughter's school and do more things with her during the day, which I would never have been able to do if I was in a corporate role."

Jill Willis runs a cafe, which may be a strange thing to bring up given an eatery demands retail premises. But she does work from home to carry out administrative tasks, alternating with her husband to man the cafe.

Spending 50% of her time in the premises of Taste, as their eatery is called, she hasn't found cabin fever to be a problem. In fact, the couple's working arrangements are healthy for their relationship, both as business partners and husband and wife.

"We don't actually work in the cafe together because it doesn't need two managers," she explains. "We split our time equally between the shop and home, and it works really well insofar as we're not always in each other's pockets.

"It's really important - and we always say this at trade shows to other cafe owners - for married couples who work together to have set areas of responsibility, almost as if they're in a multinational organisation. I know that I'm responsible for marketing, HR, the kitchen and the menu; Richard is responsible for financial control and new business.

"This way we don't step on each other's toes, and the responsibility to make decisions ensures we don't start fighting among ourselves."

She adds a second reason why they divide their time in this way: "It's especially important to your self-esteem if your previous jobs had lots of responsibility and autonomy."

Here's a breakdown of the various tips given by home workers to minimise the risk of cabin fever:

• Get out the house. This is the most important one. Even if it's just a walk to the local newsagents, escaping your four walls can give you a change of scenery, exercise, and some natural light

• Use your phone. You probably need to anyway, but even on days where there is no obvious need to speak to ring clients and suppliers, it can help to ring friends or family to discuss a problem or simply 'chew the fat'

• Meet clients and contacts. Whether you invite them round, meet them in their office or in a coffee shop, this is helpful to your sanity as well as your business

• Go to networking events. This broadens your range of business contacts and gives you much-needed social interaction

• Go out at night. It's obviously not sustainable, to your finances or your liver, to go to the pub all night, every night, but doing so occasionally, meeting people in a restaurant or visiting other people some evenings will vary your surroundings

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