News from the Home Office

David and Lindsay Childress rely on a strict schedule to keep their business on track and to make sure they have plenty of time with 8-month-old Walter.

When office workers and students began working from home in March, most assumed it would only be for a few months.

But now, at the beginning of fall, many companies have closed their offices until December or January, and students are taking online classes for another semester. With everyone still at home, temporary plans established last spring might need adjusting.

And, who better to ask for advice than folks who have always worked from home?

We invited several entrepreneurs to share their tips for staying on task, separating work and family life, combating loneliness and getting along with your (home) officemates.

Stick to a schedule

Wendy Russell, owner of Your Chaos Coordinator, uses a block schedule, setting firm times for everything: client work, business development and family togetherness.

Wendy Russell, Your Chaos Coordinator

“You need to have those beginnings and the hard stops for things,” she said.

As far as daily to-do lists, make them manageable, says Russell, who lives in Morrisville with her husband and two children, ages 14 and 21.

“I make a to-do list that’s seven items,” she said, “and I always give myself the opportunity that all seven of those things do not need to get done. There’s usually your top three. If you get three done, then consider that an achievement.”

Russell provides back-end office management for small business owners. Her day can include office organization, wrangling paperwork, planning and strategy, and market research, among other duties.

“It’s kind of hard to pinpoint, because each business owner wants something a little different,” said Russell, who launched the business three years ago, after getting her MBA.

Lindsay and David Childress couldn’t manage their home decor business, two full-time jobs and an eight-month-old without a strict schedule and daily routine. The couple run Dogwood Depot out of their Apex garage, and the Etsy enterprise has grown from five orders a day to sometimes 30 or more.

David Childress works on signs for Dogwood Depot customers every morning from 5 to 9 a.m.

“We’ve seen a big influx of people wanting to redo their space, since they’ve been spending more time in it than ever,” said Lindsay.

Every day, David works from 5 to 9 a.m., making signs for Dogwood Depot. Then he’ll start his other job, while Lindsay finishes the signs during the day. At 5 p.m. all work stops, and it’s family time until their son is asleep. At that point, the couple will package and process orders until bedtime.

David says they’ve been successful by “staying focused on that routine, staying focused on the rules that we’ve created together.

“We sat down and had a conversation about what we will allow and not allow — what we think is best for boundaries as partners and boundaries as a family,” he said.

Have conversations

With everyone at home, household harmony depends on those preliminary conversations and lots of ongoing communication.

Diane Lawrence has been making her mother’s toffee recipe for ages, and selling it commercially as Killer Toffee since 2015. While she doesn’t make or package the candy in her own kitchen, everything else happens there.

“A lot of what I do is at home,” she said. “I have a big industrial refrigerator, where I store a lot of it. Then as I prepare for deliveries, I can bundle it up from here.”

Diane Lawrence didn’t intend to start a candy-making business. “I had a friend who was an interior designer, and she started giving it to the builders that she worked for. And then, a friend used it for favors for a wedding. It just kind of blossomed,” she says.

She shares her home in Cary’s Preston Village with her husband, two teenaged children and a son, who graduated from college in May, took a job in Chicago and is telecommuting until he can relocate.

“We’ve all had to sort of establish our own turf, and let each other know what we’re all doing,” Lawrence said. “We all just kind of work around each other.”

She gets orders one week, prepares the toffee the beginning of the next week and delivers everything within a couple of days. On weekends, she is usually at the Holly Springs Farmers Market, the Cary Food & Flea or another area pop-up market.

“That all has continued, my routine when I make the toffee. But now I have these other people at home with me, where it was otherwise very quiet during the day. So that’s been the adjustment,” Lawrence said.

Diane Lawrence whips up a sample batch of her toffee. While she makes Killer Toffee in a separate certified kitchen, she does everything else for the business at her Cary home.

Claim your space

Embroidery artist Valerie Evans has run her business, Plaid Love Threads, from home for five years, but had to adapt when her husband started working from their Apex home, too.

After a frank conversation about what each wanted in a work environment, the couple swapped home offices. Once they redecorated, each had a space they loved.

“I have a whole wall full of art from other artists and makers that I either received as gifts or purchased on my own, and it’s a very pleasant place to be around,” Evans said. “Having a space that you are happy to be in, I think makes a huge difference.”

Valerie Evans, of Plaid Love Threads, says a comfortable workspace can help you be productive. (Submitted photo)

She calls her business “a modern take on a traditional art,” creating hand-embroidered jewelry, custom bookmarks and embroidery hoop decor. She also sells patterns and kits, and teaches needlework through SkillPop.

With two children, 12 and 14, at home, she says having a door that closes and regular work hours help her be productive.

“It’s a little bit different when you’re an artist. I think sometimes people don’t take it seriously, especially in the medium that I work with — embroidery. I think a lot of people look at it as a hobby,” she said. “So for me to give myself — these are my working hours — it makes me, in my own head, feel a little bit more grown up or more legitimate.”

(Submitted photo via Facebook)

Nurture relationships

While a great space and a regular schedule can improve working from home, there is really no substitute for personal interactions. Video meetings, phone calls and texts can help, but whatever the method, it’s important to make time for friends and colleagues.

“I already partially live a life of quarantine, because I work at home all the time,” said Evans. “After a while it will bog you down.”

Before the stay-at-home order, she had enrolled her Scottish terrier in classes to become a therapy dog. That way, she would have regular face-to-face interactions at local hospitals or wherever her dog was needed.

(Submitted photo via Facebook)

“I was like, this is just a great way to get me out of the house, and not constantly chaining myself to my desk,” Evans said. “It was giving me a purpose, outside of myself.”

To connect with fellow entrepreneurs, Russell hosts a weekly gathering of the 1099 Ladies Networking Group.

“We switched completely to Zoom at one point in time, and then as the state has opened we have opened it up,” she said. “Now we’re doing it as a hybrid meeting. So, I’m still keeping in touch with people.”

Above all, when adjusting to working from home, new schedules and numerous other changes, perhaps the best advice is to be patient with yourself and everyone else at home.

“Give yourself a little bit of a break and allow yourself to not be go-go-go, work-work-work,” Russell said. “Try to be present, in the moment for the times that you’re with your family.”

(Submitted photo via Facebook)

Challenges and Tips

  • Avoid overwork. Set a schedule with beginnings and hard stops, and stick to it.
  • Set priorities. Create your to-do list the night before, so you can get started on tasks as soon as you sign in.
  • Manage interruptions. Communicate with family members about meetings, calls and deadlines. Establish regular work hours, and try to have a dedicated work space.
  • Mind your mental health. Schedule social time with friends, just like other vital meetings. Making time for daily exercise can actually improve productivity.

Your Chaos Coordinator:

Dogwood Depot:

Killer Toffee:

Plaid Love Threads:

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