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John Warrillow

Seven reasons not to work from home Add to ...

My friend has a business that sells one of the most popular iPad and iPhone applications on the market.

It’s a multimillion-dollar business and he does it from the comfort of his own home.

He has half a dozen employees scattered across the United States, and they all keep in touch through a mixture of Skype, Google Docs and e-mail.

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In some ways, I envy my friend for his ability to work from home – no commute, no rent to pay – but I also know from experience that I can’t do it for any longer than necessary.

I’m on my fifth startup, and the days I spent working from home were the least enjoyable and productive.

One of my favourite milestones in the development of a new business is the day I have enough cash flow and steady income to move out into a real office.

Here are my seven reasons to stop working from home:

1. Unabomber isolation

There is nothing worse than sitting in front of my computer all day and taking a break in the mid-afternoon, only to realize that I’m still in my pyjamas, haven’t showered and haven’t interacted with anyone all day.

I think we humans are social creatures – at least I know I feel better when I have some human contact every day. The little interactions with my office colleagues and nearby shopkeepers make me feel like part of a community.

2. Starbucks is not a boardroom

I’m a coffee addict so I’ve tried to overcome the isolation of a home-based business with regular trips to Starbucks.

But a coffee shop is not an office. Conversations are public – both yours and the chatter of the gaggle of 14-year-old girls who have just sat down to gossip beside you over their two-pump white chocolate raspberry mochas.

Yes, I could put a hood over my head and dawn my sound-cancelling earphones to block out the prattle, but then not only do I feel like the Unabomber, I now look like him, too.

3. The magnetic cave

I find the isolation of working from home becomes self-fulfilling. If I’m in town anyway, meeting a customer or colleague for lunch or a drink after work is easy.

But when I’m at home, the idea of putting on work clothes and trekking downtown seems onerous.

I have to make an effort, which means I do it less and sink further into the cave that seems to have magnetic walls, sucking me back in.

4. You’re just playing house

My first business address was 3250 Bloor St., which sounds prestigious but was actually a P.O. box in a Cards ‘n Such outlet in the suburbs.

I had a dedicated phone number for my “office” but eventually people figured out I was working from home.

Sooner or later, someone is going to say, “Let’s meet at your office,” and then the jig will be up.

With more and more successful people like my friend working from home, the stigma is slowly changing, but for now, when you work from home, most people think you’re just playing house.

5. You stifle your growth

When I start a business from home, I sink into a bunker-like mentality regarding expenses. I look at every cost through the lens of a consumer instead of a business owner trying to grow.

It doesn’t make sense, but something about being at home causes me to wear my consumer hat. I start to get cheaper and cheaper until, eventually, staying small becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Paying your business office rent each month forces you to sell to cover your expenses. It encourages a degree of rigour that is a good trial run before hiring employees.

It puts you into the habit of paying a regular monthly expense, which doesn’t fluctuate with how much you sell.

If $1,000 a month in rent seems hard, you know you’re not ready for the $3,000-a-month (or much more) that your first employee will cost you, fully loaded.

6. Errand boy (or girl)

When you work from home, people think it’s no big deal for you to take on a few little tasks around the house.

“Can you watch the kids after school – you’re home anyway.”

“Can you let the cable guy in this morning – you’re home anyway.”

I’m never more distracted than when I toil from the house.

7. The home five

Every time I work from home, I put on at least five pounds. The combination of the fridge being within stumbling distance and the inactivity of working from home is a recipe for weight gain.

If you don’t believe me, wear a step counter for a week and then compare how many steps you take on a day you work from home versus on a day where you go to an office. The mere fact that you have to get up and out of the house increases your level of activity dramatically.

Three alternatives to working from home

Ready to move out of the house? Consider these three alternatives:

1. Sign on with a business centre

Companies like Regus offer flexible office space that you can rent by the day, week or month. You can also get some administrative support and office space when you’re travelling on business in different cities. And you can rent a boardroom when you need one.

2. Find an incubator

You’ll find a hive of small startup companies in the same situation as you are in if you move into an incubator.

Incubators often also have access to mentors and usually have a thick Internet pipe so that your Web-based work is fast.

Here’s a list of incubators in Canada.

3. Become a suckerfish

Remoras – also known as suckerfish – attach themselves to larger fish, like sharks and whales, for protection, transportation and to feed on the minerals and nutrients that are dropped by their host.

Likewise, if you can find a larger business willing to rent you a small area or desk, you can often take advantage of its facilities without being much of an imposition on your host. You get the benefits of an office without the hassles and obligations.

Special to The Globe and Mail

John Warrillow is a writer, speaker and angel investor in a number of start-up companies. You can download a free chapter of his new book, Built to Sell: Creating a Business That Can Thrive Without You.

Join The Globe’s Small Business LinkedIn group to network with other entrepreneurs and to discuss topical issues: http://linkd.in/jWWdzT

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