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The true cost of working from home

Sleeping in, avoiding peak hour traffic, greeting the delivery person when you’re expecting a parcel or taking Friday off to head to a weekend festival; if you’re accustomed to the perks of student life, transitioning to a nine-to-five job might seem like a suffocating proposition.

Not to worry: with the rise of the gig economy, working from home has become increasingly common. But is it the dream that it’s built up to be?

Dr Meghan Kelly, a course director and senior lecturer in visual communication design at Deakin, worked from home for fifteen years while juggling her career and a young family. Maysie Lecciones, a graduate of Deakin’s Master of Communications (Visual Communications), has been freelancing for much of her career. Together, they give us the lowdown on the realities of working from home.

The challenges of freelancing

The wide reach of technology has increased the opportunities for employees of organisations to work remote but the majority of people who work from home are self- employed. ‘A lot of people think they are going to leave university and freelance and make enough money to get by but in actual fact it’s really difficult,’ says Dr Kelly.

Dr Kelly encourages her students to think about what type of annual income they’d like to earn. She points out that freelancers generally spend at least half of the week chasing the work, meeting with clients and doing administrative tasks. ‘If you’re working for yourself, you’re probably only sitting in front of your computer earning the money for two or three days per week. To earn the income you want, for example 100K, while working so few chargeable hours per week means charging out at very high rate.’

Charging at the rate needed for a sustainable income might not be possible for new graduates who are yet to prove their worth.

For Lecciones, budgeting has been an essential part of coping with the irregular nature of a freelancing income. ‘Once you get projects you can’t spend everything at once. You have to save for the days that you don’t have projects.’ Lecciones chooses to combine working from home with a part time job which means a component of her income is regular.

Relationships are everything

Having worked in industry prior to taking the leap into freelance, Dr Kelly already had established relationships with clients. ‘It’s the contacts you need to allow working from home to be sustainable.’

Similarly, Lecciones says her network has been integral to building her creative career. When choosing which clients to work with, Lecciones always considers the bigger picture. ‘It’s important that you pick the right client, it’s not just about money but also about building up your capability as a designer. Freelance is not just about you designing stuff, you also need to be an entrepreneur.’

'A lot of people think they are going to leave university and freelance and make enough money to get by but in actual fact it’s really difficult.'

Dr Meghan Kelly,
School of Communication and Creative Arts, Deakin University

The reality of working from home

Both Dr Kelly and Maysie Lecciones agree that it takes certain personality type to work from home successfully. ‘I think you need to be a very good time manager,’ says Dr Kelly. ‘You need to be efficient in what you’re doing. Creative practice really lends itself to working from home but you can easily spend three or four hours just brainstorming when really you’ve just got to get it done.’

It’s also worth considering whether you thrive off being around others: ‘If you’re the kind of person who prefers to talk to other people all the time then I think it’s better to have a co-working space or an office setting,’ says Lecciones.

Dr Kelly agrees. ‘The reality is it’s actually quite isolating and in creative practice you do hit walls and think “I’ve got no idea what to do about that” and you don’t have anyone to bounce an idea off.’

Lecciones is lucky that the nature of her work means she’s out and about on photo shoots and collaborating with clients for part of the week. ‘I like to have a change of environment during the week just to balance it out so I don’t get bored.’

Lecciones swears by having a regular wake up time and keeping boundaries around your down time. ‘Some clients think you are available 24/7. For me it was hard initially because I always put clients first because it was money, but if you are burnt out you can’t work at all and you end up losing money.’

Consider whether it’s worth it for you

While working from home served its purpose and kept her hand in the industry, after fifteen years of working from home, Dr Kelly made the decision to return to the nine-to-five and lack of flexibility hasn’t been an issue. ‘If you have a long term relationship with an organisation a different sort of flexibility starts to emerge because they know you. It’s okay to have sick days or come in at 9.30 am if you need to.’

It’s important to be realistic about whether working from home suits your personality and financial goals. The struggle to earn a living wage can quickly take the shine off the joys of working in your pyjamas. If you’re not ready for the hustle of freelance life you might find that perks like superannuation, sick leave and Friday night drinks outweigh the confines of the nine-to-five.

Whether you’re working from home or working nine-to-five, balance is essential. Check out these tips on juggling your job, study and passion.

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Dr Meghan Kelly
Dr Meghan Kelly

Associate Head of School (Teaching and Learning), School of Communication and Creative Arts, Deakin University

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