Home Place Makes Room for Work Space

With the advantages of computer links and sophisticated personal phone systems, entrepreneurs and seasoned employees alike are realizing their business potential from the home front.

While some North County workers split their time between a home office and a traditional office, many are working solely out of their home offices.

A dearth of quality child care, a desire for autonomy, a trend to efficiency and the need to have control over one's environment all contribute to the move away from the high-rise to the ranch-style business location.

Especially for start-up and small businesses, operating out of the home is less costly than leasing separate office space. Some have no interest in their business ever getting too big to be home-based; others relish the thought.

Arthur Lev-Abramo, a Carlsbad architect, made the move a dozen years ago, more by circumstance than by intent. "I was in the process of building my own home, and I needed to be there daily," he says.

While supervising his own project, he took on another for a client and ended up staying home permanently. Formerly associated with a large Beverly Hills firm, Lev-Abramo remains pleased with his solo arrangement. "There's no commute. I don't have to spend money on clothes or parking. My work life and my personal life flow together," he says.

"I do what I need to do," Lev-Abramo says. "I suppose some people could succumb to a nice couch. But my whole condo is my office when I'm busy."

Many people discover that working at home is much more complex than it might seem at first. "It creates challenges that must be met," says Treva R. Sudhalter, an Encinitas marriage and family counselor.

Ironically, family may present the most formidable hurdle: Your spouse bumps into you in the hall and asks you to pick up the cleaning. Your children demand that you play with them, make their lunch, drive them to the park. Your family "invades your business," is how Sudhalter puts it.

To stave off the invasion, home workers need to educate family members and then enlist them in the campaign.

"You need to make boundaries," Sudhalter says, and that territory encompasses both your space and your time. Make it clear to all that you are working when you are in your office and that your office is a place for business.

"Don't let the kids crayon on the desk where you are writing your trial briefs," she says. "You can take a daily hour out of your business day to take a walk or play with the children, if you want to do that. But make it clear that it is a definite time, such as 'We will take a walk at 10 o'clock.' "

One father, a writer, solved the problem of children's interruptions with a red baseball cap. If he was wearing that hat, the kids knew not to come near. When the hat was off, daddy was fair game.

Friends, too, must be cautioned against intrusion. "You must make it clear that you take social calls at other than your business hours," Sudhalter says. One woman uses her telephone answering machine to say that she's on deadline and will return calls when the project is finished.

Frank and Melody Flanagan have enlisted their two children, ages 4 and 7, in their Carlsbad business, Flanagan Advertising Specialties.

"We had 5,000 balloons in assorted colors that needed to be separated," Melody recalls. "We got out 10 boxes, one for each color, and the kids did the work. They loved it!"

The Flanagans work together in the same business and share the same office space.

They found that preschool for the younger child helped to keep the businesslike atmosphere they required for part of each working day. "It's hard for the little ones to understand that they can't interrupt when we're on the telephone with business calls," Melody says.

Still, a home environment can be too comfortable at times. "I have trouble keeping involved with the business without taking time out to do other things," Melody says. Her other things include 20-plus hours a week as PTA president of her son's school. "That's why it's good that Frank and I can fill in for each other," she says.

"But we're growing, and we'll have to (establish a traditional business location) eventually," Melody says. "But I'm not ready to make that commitment yet."

Terah and Michael Karsh operate their separate businesses out of separate offices in their Carlsbad home.

Terah operates a landscaping and environmental design business, True to Nature. "If friends call, I've gotten very good at saying, 'I'm working now; I can't talk," she says.

She recalls that, when she first began working at home, her mother didn't understand. "She didn't think I was working because I was at home all the time," she says. "We had to sit down and talk about it. I had to show her how my business was real and important."

Karsh did not have to convince her husband, Michael. He has had a home business, Team Works, for 14 years.

A training consultant and video producer, Michael enjoys his daily commute "from one room to another room," but adds that the short distance from home to office can take time.

"If I wake up in the middle of the night, usually because I have a thought about something to do with the business, I go into the office and work," he says. "And sometimes very early in the morning, when I would normally go back to sleep, I'll get up and go to the office."

Terah identifies another drawback: "I don't get out enough. Three days will go by, and I finally go out for a loaf of bread and realize that my world can be really small if I let it."

"If our businesses grow to the point where we have to hire employees, we would have to make a change," Terah says. "There would be no room for other people to work here."

Clients coming to the home can sometimes be another problem.

"We used to have to go through the kitchen to get to my office," Terah says. "And we would end up having a business conversation in the kitchen. It drove me nuts!"

That problem has been resolved in their current home. "It has two bedrooms downstairs and two upstairs, with all the living space upstairs," Terah says. "We immediately made our offices in the downstairs bedrooms, and Michael and I each have our own separate entrances. If he has a client in his office, I don't have to interrupt and vice versa."

Michael has no trouble interrupting his own work to watch a little TV or grab a snack from the refrigerator--which he says is more nutritious than what he would be getting from an office vending machine.

To avoid the workaholic syndrome, he sets a certain number of hours per day as reasonable. "If there is no need to work more, I don't," he said. But he also has no trouble getting back to work if a deadline looms.

Terah agrees. "I have a little gauge in my head," she says. "The more important a work project is, the less I'll tend to do something else."

The social aspects of working at home create issues that outside office workers don't often have to address.

If you're a person who really needs the stimulation of other people, you should plan a part of your day to get out among them so that you won't become depressed from the isolation that working at home brings, Sudhalter says.

And sometimes, particularly for couples who work together, the challenge may be how to build a little distance into the relationship.

"We're very intimate in each other's lives," said Terah Karsh. To create a little personal space, she and Michael are considering separate visits to their families in Virginia.

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