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Book Reviews

January, 1998

Working from Home
Working from Home, Peter Schmideg HarperCollins 179pp

There are thousands of self-help books on the market, and every one of them gives the same advice: help yourself. The same standard of advice operates in this book. When the crucial question is posed: "how do I motivate myself when Iím working from home?" the answer, predictably, is: "You have to motivate yourself".

Thanks for that.

And thanks for those little pearls like "If you do have clients walk through your house you need to ensure that itís always tidy and neat". Golly, I thought my clients wouldnít notice the blood-stained carpet, the tipped-over bong and the glorious wall of stubbies!

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This book is for absolute beginners. It assumes you arenít used to planning or being self-sufficient, arenít really a self-starter, and have no idea what it will be like to change from working outside the home to inside it. For those who fall into these categories Working From Home contains essential information like "You have to have your own stationery, paper clips, paper, printer and so on".

Working From Home covers the most basic aesthetic, practical and organisational skills that are needed to create and maintain a fairly simple home work environment ó like another phone line, getting kids to respect your work space and time, taking breaks. Most of it is pretty obvious stuff, I would have thought. And if youíre reading this review on the www then youíve probably already got a home office and know all about the isolation and the "working all hours".

Yet there is an audience for this book: itís those people whose careers and lifestyles havenít yet brought them to computers, whose services or products are good sellers, who have maybe contemplated the idea of setting themselves up but havenít thought any further than that. At least Schmideg points out the pitfalls. And there are many.

Schmidegís example of the upholstery couple working from their garage would be the ideal target market for the book. They had to work out the advantages of having a separate entrance and a set-up that didnít scream "this is our home!" as well as controlling the stray customers who would knock on their door late at night wanting a quote because they just expected the business to be open.

In this aspect Working From Home was a pleasure to read, as many of the quirky annoyances described were familiar experiences. I too receive business calls late at night, on weekends or when Iíve had a bit to drink, and have had to deal with turning on to "work mode" when I least want to. The section on "golden rules" to tell children about respecting your office space I actually gave to my partner to read:
1) If my office door is closed it means DO NOT ENTER
2) If you hear that I am on the phone that also means DO NOT ENTER

It goes on, but seems curiously to centre on home offices that are just that: offices. The types of businesses Schmideg uses as examples are definitely the middle-class, professional and semi-pro variety: interior decorator, optometrist, psychologist.

There are no Vietnamese women working as piece workers from their sweltering galvo garages here ó yet there is one working in such an establishment next door to my house. Likewise, the types of businesses that can take over your kitchen or bedroom, not your spare-room-set-up-as-an-office, are not really central to the bookís theme. What about the home catering outfit, the astrologist, the sex worker, even?

Given that 60% of small businesses fail in their first year of operation, I expected more warnings about the perils of self-employment. But Schmideg is the eternal optimist: the focus of his book is squarely on the "feel-good" aspects of setting yourself up. It is more about "making the right sort of lifestyle choices related to working from home" than about complex legal, financial or technical issues. Questions of whether to install an air-conditioner in your room overlooking the fernery (as his does), or whether to wear trackie daks to work dominate the content.

I expected more detailed information about the "nuts and bolts" issues of business: tax, insurance, accounting, etc, but this was the shortest chapter in the book. Too often the advice was to "talk to a reliable insurance broker" or "get a professional" or "talk to other people and find out what sort of policies they have". Well, why read this book then? And why didnít Schmideg tell us what he did about insurance?

We certainly heard all about the exact measurements of his "floor-to-ceiling windows with timber framing, the windows themselves separate panes of glass about 30 cm (12 inches) square". Thereís even a diagram of the actual room. More space and detail like this on technical issues and small business management techniques would have been appreciated ó but then, he often refers us to the "wealth of great publications" on those subjects.

I recommend you go for those!

Sarah Endacott
freelance editor and writer (working from home)

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