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Last Updated: Monday, 12 June 2006, 10:45 GMT 11:45 UK
Working from your home

By Jenny Culshaw
BBC 2's Working Lunch

Are you fed up with battling through traffic to get to work?

Or frustrated that you can't take your children to school because you're due in the office?

Well there is another option.

Around 7m people in the UK spend part of their working week at home, and it's estimated that by 2003 that figure will have risen to 8.3m.

There are obvious benefits to staying at home; no more delayed trains, and the chance to see more of your family.

But there are also downsides that should be considered such as struggling for a space to work in, and spending a lot of time alone.

Working from home can also take various forms.

Working for a company

Organisations are getting more and more aware that allowing their staff to work more flexibly can be beneficial to both parties.

Churchill Insurance runs a scheme to enable its staff to work from home.

It started as a pilot scheme last summer and has taken off to the satisfaction of both the company and the staff.

By the end of this year they hope to have 200 homeworkers.

One of these is Gill Knighton.

She started working in their offices as a customer service assistant six years ago, but for the past 18 months she has been based in her own spare bedroom.

"It makes life a lot easier," says Gill.

"I can get up and sit there in my pyjamas until I get a break.

"I can also have lunch with my children."

After having twins three years ago she knew that it would not be financially viable for her to go back to work, but working from home has allowed her to create a satisfying work-life balance.

Although she's in her own home, there is no opportunity for slacking off.

Gill works set hours and takes breaks at allocated times.

From April 2003 there should be more opportunities for homeworking.

Employers will have a legal duty to consider applications for flexible working from employees who are parents of young or disabled children.

In the meantime, don't be afraid to ask your employer if they offer, or if they are thinking of piloting, a scheme.

Working for yourself

George Phillips is a self-employed sales and marketing executive.

His work takes him to out to visit clients but he needs a base and for the past five years he has used his home.

He has taken measures to keep his work and family life apart.

Separate phone lines have been set up and he uses a PO box for work related mail, but recently he's found things more difficult.

Before his three children came along he had the use of a spare bedroom. He then had to move into the family living room.

But the noise and activity got too much so he's taken a more drastic measure.

George has spent 5,000 on a double-glazed, insulated "personal office building" for his garden.

Although it takes up a lot of room, he thinks it will be worth it to give the family their living space back.

"I think it's the solution to my problems," he says.

"I can shut the door and shut myself away.

"It's got phone, lights and everything I need."

George had considered renting an office but had been quoted between 600 and 800 per month.

Homeworking can be a cheap option for the self-employed but as George found, space is vital for it to be productive.

Piece work

To many people the thought of working from home conjures up images of stuffing envelopes and answering flimsy adverts on lamp-posts.

Piece work can be a very handy way to bring in extra cash but it's important to get it from a reputable source.

Homeworking organisations are keen to emphasise that you should never pay to do work.

"There are illegitimate schemes about," says Linda Devereux of the National Group on Homeworking.

"You should never have to pay for the privilege of working.

You should never have to pay for the privilege of working
Linda Devereux, National Group on Homeworking

"Although the recruitment procedure may be more informal than with a conventional job, the only way money should be exchanged is from them to you."

Homeworking which is paid per item can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, from trimming rubber to sewing garments, or assembling and packing products.

Finding such work can be tricky.

Such jobs are often local and the best way to hear can be word of mouth.

Local newspapers can also be useful.

But don't be afraid to try the direct approach.

"If you know there is a packing company nearby give them a call and ask if they have any work going," says Linda.

"If they haven't, ask if they have a waiting list you can be put on."

Coming up to Christmas is a good time to contact companies as the assembling of crackers and packing of cards is often done by homeworkers.

And if you have a particular skill, such as sewing, try to use it by approaching suitable companies.

Employing homeworkers

If you employ people to work for you, it could be cost effective to let them work from their own home.

It means you will need less office or factory space and shouldn't have to pay for travel expenses.

However, you may be liable to cover the cost of their utility bills, and health and safety rules still apply.

"If you are the employer you are still responsible for your homeworkers' health and safety in their homes," explains Alan Denbigh of the Telework Association.

"Adhering to rules though is not difficult.

"You can do the checks yourself or get them to self-certify their own home."

for the Health & Safety Executive. It can provide useful information.


Homeworking is a very flexible way to earn a living.

If you're considering starting there are a wide range of options available.

It's vital though that you don't think of it as an easy option.

As much, if not more, dedication can be required to draw a line between your work and home life if they are based in the same place.

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