I recently interviewed a Really Famous Author who lives in another hemisphere. But, thanks to the wonders of Skype video, we were chatting face to face, as if she was sitting in my lounge room. I was also recording our onscreen conversation on video to share with my community. This author/entrepreneur had great insights into the world of business and also the process of writing.
As the interview was scheduled at 7.15am, I conducted it from my home, converting my lounge room into a de facto online TV studio for an hour.
Everything was going well. The questions were flowing, her answers were insightful and the technology was seamless. Since I was filming the conversation, I was also doing the very best Katie Couric impression I could muster.
Then it happened
In the middle of this professional discussion on business, finance and entrepreneurship, I suddenly realised that I’d forgotten one crucial thing that was about to ruin the interview and cause me lots of embarrassment.
I had left a bowl of cat food on the table. Unsurprisingly, my cat Rex didn’t particularly care that I was in the middle of filming a Really Important Interview with a Really Famous Person. So he promptly jumped on the table and began munching. LOUDLY.
If that wasn’t enough, the bell on Rex’s collar clinked against the bowl every time he took a mouthful. He had clearly chosen the wrong time to embark on a feeding frenzy, but he didn’t care.
Against the otherwise quiet studio-like atmosphere I’d created in my lounge room, this *clink-scrape-crunch-crumble* sounded like jack-hammering on a Sunday morning.
I tried shooing him away but Rex wasn’t going to have any of it.
I tried telepathising to him: “Get the freaking hell off the table!”
I willed my (still sleeping) partner to wake up so he could come to the rescue.
I silently prayed that Rex would be distracted by a bird outside the window.
All the while trying to conduct a professional interview that was being filmed.
After what seemed like forever, Rex jumped off. I breathed a sigh of relief. But, within a few minutes, my other cat Rocky decided to copy his brother. And the *clink-scrape-crunch-crumble* sound effects started all over again.
The jury is still out on whether we’ll be able to edit out these unwanted sound effects courtesy of this feline feeding frenzy. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
The perils of working from home
These days it’s becoming more common to work from home. There are:
* start-ups who are bootstrapping their business and can’t afford to rent premises yet.
* people with young kids who want the flexibility of working from home.
* more established business owners who have systems in place to allow them to work from anywhere (which is my ultimate aim).
There’s a fine line between embracing the idea of working from home and allowing too much “personal” to creep into the professional. Like the woman who rang me the other day. She had children screaming the house down in the background. Perhaps she had become desensitised to the noise, but I could barely make out a word she was saying. Geez, ever heard of closing the door? Or calling at a better time? Or this thing some kids need called discipline?
Then there was the seemingly professional manager of a sustainability fund. In the middle of our discussion on allocation of assets he said: “My three year old just urinated on the floor in front of me.”
I’ve spoken to work-at-home business owners who’ve said to me: “Look, this is me. I’m a mother. I have two kids. I don’t hide that and people should know that’s who they’re dealing with. If I can’t make it to a meeting because I’ve got to do the school run or because I have to let the plumber into the house then I’m honest about it.”
Transparency is great. But sharing the minutiae of your diary is just … unnecessary. If you work from home I think it’s vital to still strive for some semblance of professionalism. It’s a demonstration of your “care factor”. It’s also an indication you’re taking your business seriously instead of treating it like a hobby.
Some factors to consider:
* Get a separate phone number for your business calls
Or, at the very least, ensure that your answering machine (or outgoing voicemail message) sounds professional. That means avoiding having your three-year-old baby talk a message into it. You might think it sounds cute – but your customers and prospects probably don’t need to hear it.
* Ensure you have a dedicated email address
Ideally it will be tied to your domain name. That is: email@example.com
It’s very easy to set up and looks more professional than firstname.lastname@example.org
And whatever you do, ensure that the email address you choose is professional. I’ve seen businesses with cutsie names like email@example.com or, worse, women who use their husband’s email address. Especially when it’s so easy – not to mention free – to create your own email address.
* Get a door
Then make sure you close it.
* Dedicated space and hours
If you are working off the dining room table, you’re not likely to go anywhere fast. You need a dedicated space for your “office”. If you don’t have a spare room to convert into an office, then cordon off a dedicated space – even if it’s just a corner – in your lounge room or living area. Ensure that your family know that when you are sitting there, you should not be disturbed because you are “at work”. Even if you don’t mind working from the dining room table, that’s not the point. Ensuring a clear delineation between “personal” and “work” will help to create a proactive mindset about your business.
Does it really matter?
With flexible work arrangements and an increasing number of business owners working from home, you may wonder whether anyone actually needs to hide the fact they are working from home. My point is that it’s not a matter about hiding this. It’s about remaining professional and respectful to whomever you’re dealing with. And that means not making business calls while you have screaming hordes of children in the background. It also means not informing your customers or suppliers that your three-year-old urinated on the floor. And, yes, it also means keeping hungry cats away from Really Important Interviews!
Do you work from home? Do you hide it or are you open about it?