How to Master Home Office Spillover

How to Master Home Office Spillover When Integrating Work and Family

Learning how to master home office spillover is an important part of integrating a family and a home business.

by Wendy Priesnitz

The electronic cottage may not be as peaceful as the smiling faces in photographs in the burgeoning number of glossy “mompreneur” magazines and websites might have us believe.

About 30 years ago, our self-employed family was featured in a local magazine. The photograph was lovely. It depicted two shiny faced little darlings perched on either arm of their mother’s desk chair, as hubby looked on smilingly and supportively. The reality is that it took over an hour to get child number one to stop crying, child number two had just thrown up on another part of the rug, the laundry basket was hidden under the desk, and my husband (and business partner) and I hadn’t spoken in two days.

In spite of that chaos, my home business has survived and thrived (so have the kids and the marriage!). But it has taken some planning, organization and creativity.

The home business owner wears many hats and has to deal with many conflicts between home life and business life – especially with young children at home. Spillover is the term I use to describe the creeping, oozing migration of business into personal space and of family life into business space.

Spillover is the pit bull answering the door when a client arrives. It’s that final client report with happy faces drawn in the corners. It’s when your two-year-old beats you to the business phone and won’t give it up without a temper tantrum. It’s when you want to work quietly and your teenagers want to party with their music at full blast.

The solution is separation. I don’t mean to divorce your spouse and send the kids to an orphanage (however attractive that might seem some days). I mean to create a separate workspace with a door, a lock and sound proofing if necessary. Or, if you want to work on the kitchen table most of the time, set aside one day a week for business meetings and appointments, hire a sitter or have your spouse be with the children, and work off-site – either at clients’ offices, a coffee shop or a rent-by-the-hour board room.

Part of the solution may also be to turn the problem into an asset. (After all, one of the important traits of an entrepreneur is to be able to turn a problem into an  opportunity!) Many moms today are starting businesses whose clients are other moms. They may be selling organic baby food, baby carriers or organic baby clothing, for instance. Although customers of these businesses expect and deserve quality products and service, they may also be tolerant of a higher than usual amount of child “participation” in the process. You could also enlist your children’s help; depending upon their age, they could run mail through the postage meter, do filing, or decorate the packaging in which your products will be mailed.

Equipping your office with technology (like multi-line phones, call waiting and high speed Internet access) will also help you communicate a professional image. With astute use of this equipment, the client really doesn’t have to know you’ve just stepped out of the shower, have a kid hanging on one leg and a kitten clawing its way up the other and that the smoke alarm is just about to go off because the toast is burning in the kitchen.

It may be difficult, but you will need to cultivate the ability to ignore distractions if you plan to get any work done. Personally, I’ve never had much trouble ignoring the dusting, but one home business owner I know says, “When I worked in an office and went for a drink, the water cooler didn’t say ‘clean me’; my refrigerator does. I have learned to ignore it.”

You also need to learn how to deal with people who think because you are at home you are not working. Don’t let friends keep you on the phone for hours during your working day. Try to have older family members like teens and spouses treat you as if you weren’t home during your working hours. Don’t be available to take out the trash or go to the grocery store…until you take a scheduled break.

Obviously, the support of your spouse and/or children is very important. If possible, include family members in the planning phase of your home business, so they realize what will be involved. Don’t just let them come home one day to find you’ve turned the TV room into an office. Keep them in touch with your business successes, but don’t bore them with extended dinner table discussions of the intricacies of your enterprise.

Home office spillover is just one of the psychological issues that challenge home business owners, such as loneliness and isolation, motivation and procrastination, and workaholism. But keep the ooze in control and you’ll be well on your way to mastering the rest.

Wendy Priesnitz is a writer, editor and business owner. She has worked at home since she and her husband launched their magazine publishing business in 1976. Having founded The Home Business Network in 1986, she is a pioneer in legitimizing home-based business in Canada. In addition to managing her company Life Media and editing Natural Life magazine, she has hosted her own television and radio shows, written a weekly small business newspaper column, and authored nine books, including Bringing It Home – A Home Business Start-Up Guide for Your and Your Family. Here are more of her articles about small, home-based and green business.