Working Virtually? What to Prioritize in Your Home Search
Virtual and remote work are increasingly popular options for military family members. Not only is it growing as a common practice among many industries, the opportunity to take your office and your work with you can make the uncertainties of balancing military life and a career more manageable for many military spouses and military veterans.
Whether you are a business owner or employee, moving your office at the same time as moving your home can create layers of complexity to the PCS process.
So, let’s talk about some tips and ways of thinking about your new home search that will make it easier for you as you work from home.
When you begin the home buying search, look for the areas of the town or city which have the kind of internet speeds you need. Many service providers offer an address based search option that will identify the speed potentially available at a specific address. This will also help you identify, for example, if optic fiber has been laid in a specific neighborhood.
Your Office Space
Think about how much space you need for your office – for furniture, equipment, and storage – and if you require some distance from where your family will be spending time in the home while you are working.
For example, if you take regular conference calls, you may need some way of closing a door or blocking sound. If that is not a concern, you may instead benefit from a space that is adjacent to where children may be able to occupy themselves or do homework. If a separate room is not an option, look for furniture that could be used in a number of different ways or storage furniture that can store work files and equipment at the end of the day.
Look for the number of power outlets in any potential office – at least two sets of two, if not three or even four is helpful. Two is minimum because you are likely to need a power strip or two for standard office equipment, and in an older home you are likely to risk tripping a fuse through overloading if you don’t have enough.
A dedicated room for your office, with a door that closes, can mean you are eligible for tax deductions that you are not eligible for if you go with the multi-use space option. These deductions may be significant enough that you may be able to take it into account as you consider your budget for housing. Talk to your accountant for clarification on tax deductions that apply to your home office situation.
Location, Location, Location
While working from home is the fastest commute you will ever have, there are still location factors to consider. Are you in a neighborhood that will have significant noise or passing traffic throughout the day? Is there a factory nearby or a school that has loud bells? Living near an airport (or on base) can mean intermittent aircraft noise that will disrupt conference calls! These kinds of daytime noises may be more distracting than you expect!
Consider the location of a proposed office based on the time of day you will be in the office. Think about heating and cooling and natural light. Working virtually can mean using more heating and cooling than when you worked at a location outside your home. You may consider swapping a guest room and an office at different times of the year based on the ambient temperature in the rooms or their orientation to the late afternoon sun. This is definitely something to think about in the southern states of the U.S. where the summer heat can change the temperature of a sun-facing room by upwards of 30 degrees or more.
- Research the city and county ordinances for requirements for registering in-home businesses (this may not be relevant as an employee), and whether there are any restrictions on the size of office or the type of work you can do there. These are usually published on their websites. As an example, one city may restrict all in-home businesses to less than 200 square feet, while another may not restrict any type of business other than food preparation in one’s personal residence. These types of ordinances may influence the areas or communities where you choose to search for a home. Be extra diligent in your research if your home business will require clients visiting your home. Many cities have rules about zoning and signage for home-based work that may change where you want to be located.
- Review the requirements for receiving packages for your business that may be impacted by the neighborhood in which you are looking for a home. A gated community, for example, may have procedures and policies about accepting packages on your behalf, while some package delivery companies may charge additional fees to pick up packages from residential areas. Some other apartment complexes may require a list of personal and business names that you wish to receive mail on behalf of.
- If you are leasing or renting, review your lease agreement carefully to make sure that you fulfill any notice requirements that relate to working in a home office. If you're working virtually, it may be as simple as writing a letter, in accordance with lease requirements, explaining the kind of work you do and stating that no clients will be visiting your home and no additional traffic will be created.
Working virtually can be a wonderful opportunity to build a career that allows for additional flexibility with military family demands. Searching for a home that also allows for working remotely can be a great experience with some additional planning and research!
About the author: Anna Blanch Rabe, founder of Anna Blanch Rabe & Associates, is a military spouse, a writer, and a (non-practicing) attorney with a bad case of wanderlust.