The Firm: Home versus office: Where should you work?

By David Baugher
The Daily Record Newswire

The opportunity for solos to work out of their own home offices has never been greater. The advance of technology has made it easier to abandon high-priced space in a strip mall or office building and turn that finished basement or spare room into your place of business.

Still, it’s a big decision and one that should be considered carefully. What are some of the factors to consider when deciding where to set up your HQ?

Reasons to stay home

1. Money.

By far the biggest reason one might choose a home office is it’s easier on the wallet. Turning where you live into where you work can yield significant budgetary rewards, says Mitchell Moore, a general practitioner with a home office. “The big advantage is that instead of paying rent I’m building equity. It kills two birds with one stone,” Moore says. “My wife and I wanted to buy a house, and it seemed like every time I showed any kind of profit my landlord wanted to raise my rent, so that got old.”

2. Social responsibility.

Real benefits to the environment accrue from working at home. Not only does Moore save gas by not driving to work, but also, he likes to brag, he has a smaller carbon footprint than the average bicycle rider. He’s also helping to clean up his community in a different way. “Most neighborhoods, everyone gets up and leaves at 8 o’clock in the morning, leaving the neighborhood unguarded,” he says. “You’ve got an extra pair of eyes out here all the time, and if there is anyone doing anything they shouldn’t, they’ll get seen.”

3. Family.

Quality time with loved ones can be tough when mom or dad is always at the office. Not so if the office is at home. Moore and his wife raised a nephew for a number of years. The home office made that easier. “When he’d get off the bus, I could be there for him,” Moore says.

4. Good starting place.

Home offices can be a temporary solution until your practice gets off the ground, says Carolyn Elefant, a Washington, D.C., lawyer and author of the My Shingle blog for solos. They can also keep you out of potentially problematic lease commitments. “One of the mistakes new lawyers make is that they are so desperate for cash to pay rent they might take some cases that are dogs and they are still stuck with them a year later when they are starting to get different matters,” Elefant says. “If you start from home, you can pretty much pick and choose as you go, and so you can focus on building better-quality clientele from the beginning.”

5. Location.

Dennis Donahue, an intellectual property attorney, says he plans to get an office this year. Still, he doesn’t plan to completely give up his home office. For one thing, he likes the suburban location. Not everyone lawyers serve are downtown, he says.

6. Mobility.

If you have an office, there’s a tendency to have clients come to you. That’s not always the best option, Donahue says. He says working from home encourages him to visit his clients.

“I love going to my clients’ space,” he says. “I love seeing where their facilities are at and what they are about. That’s part of the relationship.”

Reasons to head to the office

1. Credibility.

You may not mind stepping over toys or walking past crying babies to get to your desk, but your clients might. Even if the house is clean and the workspace is well-ordered, some individuals persist in believing anyone who works from home must be somehow less professional, says Matt Wilson, a consumer defense attorney. “The majority of my clients are not concerned with whether I have an office,” Wilson says. “But there is a significant minority, maybe 30 percent, who really want to see you in an office before they’ll listen to what you have to say.”

2. Motivation.

Elefant says she recently saw a study that showed that attorneys who shared space with another lawyer had earnings that outpaced both office-based solos and those who worked from home. “There are a couple of explanations. The first one is that people refer cases back and forth when they are working in a space,” Elefant says. “The other theory is that a lot of times people work better when they are around other people. It’s mutual motivation when your officemate has a stream of clients.”

3. Proximity.

If you need to be near courthouses or even networking events, the traditional office presents an advantage. “There’s an added hurdle associated with leaving the house, going 45 minutes into the city. Whereas if you are already there in your office, it’s just a matter of going down the street,” Elefant says.

4. Productivity.

Homes are good for lounging with the family but not always conducive to efficiency. Less distraction and the feeling that comes from being at the office means you are essentially forced to work. Wilson, a former denizen of a home office who eventually relocated to traditional office space, says he gets more done while at work.

5. Safety.

Some practices don’t lend themselves to home offices. If you handle domestic cases that may bring hostile parties together for tense negotiations, your living room is not always the best place for them to meet. Criminal matters present an even bigger problem. “I wouldn’t want a burglar or murderer coming into my house,” Moore says. “But I don’t do that kind of work.”

6. Quick appointments.

Those who don’t wish to host clients at home can acquire temporary space elsewhere on a meeting-by-meeting basis. But that can present problems if the need is immediate. “It’s also hard to have somebody come in on the spot,” Elefant says. “If you have someone call and say ‘I need to speak to someone right now about my case,’ if your calendar is open, you can just say, ‘Come on in.’ If you are in a home office, you may have to rent a room or get space. It can make it more difficult to take those spot appointments.”

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