Working From Home

By Liz Sharkey

In March and April 2020, AMT surveyed industry practitioners as part of the Association’s biosecurity planning process. That survey showed that 50% of therapists work from a home-based business.

There are many advantages to working from home, as COVID has shown office workers this year, but it’s not all roses and sunshine.

COVID-19 restrictions have highlighted some of the pitfalls of a home-based massage therapy business. Both Tasmania and Victoria have, at various times, permitted massage services from commercial buildings but prohibited home-based clinics from operating if the clinic facility did not have a separate entrance.

What should you consider when thinking about opening a home-based massage clinic?

1. You need a dedicated, discrete space

If you are operating from home, it should be from a dedicated, appropriately set up room. Pushing the couch aside and popping a treatment table in the middle of the lounge is fine for friends and family but not for a professional clinic. Your clinic room should have all the facilities you’d expect in a commercial clinic, including a closable door for client privacy.

2. The floor plan of the house matters

Ideally your treatment room should be right next to the entrance/exit of your home and close to a bathroom. It is even better if you can have a door directly into the treatment room from outside. This was required when the Victorian and Tasmanian governments were deciding if home based clinics could operate during COVID-19 restrictions.

3. Shared facilities with household members is less than ideal

‘The risk assessments conducted as part of the return-to work planning of the AMT Biosecurity Committee put a lot of consideration into clients using a bathroom that is also accessed by household members. This does escalate the risks of transmission of airborne viruses, and that’s just for starters.

If you have no other option but sharing facilities, ensure that the bathroom is thoroughly cleaned before clients arrive, and provide disposable hand towels and liquid soap in a dispenser. Make sure that all the family linens are removed from the bathroom, and ensure all cupboards and drawers in the bathroom are either empty or locked. Household members should avoid using the bathroom during clinic hours if possible.

4. You may need a council permit

Whether you need a council permit will largely hinge on local zoning regulations. Most councils do not require a permit if massage is the only service/business you operate from home but you must check before you start your practice. If you offer dry needling, you will definitely need a permit from your state/territory health department or local council under their skin penetration registration requirements.

5. There are insurance implications

If you rent your home, you firstly MUST get approval from your landlord in writing before you start working from home. Insurance in this instance can be pretty complicated. Most landlord mortgage insurance prohibits home-based clinics from the property. You’ll need a landlord who is willing to shop around for the right insurance to allow you to operate. If you work from a unit with a body corporate, expect headaches. That would be the time to get a good insurance broker to ensure that everything is above board and you have appropriate cover.

What are some of the positives of a home-based clinic?

So, what can we include on the positive side of the equation?

  • Not paying rental/room hire fees or paying someone else a percentage of your income
  • Being your own boss
  • High degree of autonomy and control over client scheduling/cleaning/infection control
  • Setting your own operating days/hours
  • Not having to commute
  • Doing chores/laundry between clients
  • Working around family needs, greater flexibility.

What are some of the challenges?

  • Missing the company of colleagues to discuss issues
  • Marketing to new clients
  • Maintaining professionalism and professional boundaries around work life/home life
  • Having “randoms” in your home
  • Getting distracted by domestic demands
  • Maintaining work/life balance.

Safety considerations

Home-based practitioners need to consider the implications of making a home address publicly available.

Some risk mitigation strategies include:

  • Operating by appointment only
  • Not publishing the clinic address on your website or social media
  • Only providing your address when you confirm a booking
  • Screening all your potential clients over the phone before accepting their booking
  • Listening to your gut and, if you are not comfortable with a potential client when you screen them, say “no” and don’t book them
  • Keeping your phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’ in case of an emergency – never switch it off
  • Closing all other doors in house
  • Keeping lights on in other rooms and have a TV or radio on in another room
  • Being careful where you promote your business – a Gumtree ad is never going to end well
  • Do not publicise when you are going on holidays on Facebook

Please also note: home-based massage businesses still need to comply with the requirements for Workplace Health and Safety as set out in the AMT Code of Practice.

Conclusion

Working from home can be great but it is certainly not the best fit for everyone. You do need to set clear boundaries for yourself, your family and your clients. Having a uniform for when you are in work mode can help greatly, as can setting clear clinic hours and sticking to them.

The best advice, though, is: do not do it alone.

So many therapists have worked from home at one time or another. Reach out and connect with other therapists. See how they do things, share information and ideas, and support each other to succeed. You will need this support network to keep you sane.

Do you operate a home-based clinic? What advice do you have for massage therapists thinking of starting a home-based clinic?

Liz has created some helpful checklists for anyone operating/planning to open a home-based clinic, which are available on her website:

General Compliance Checklist

Workplace Health and Safety Checklist

About the Author

Liz Sharkey is a Life Member of AMT. After months of lockdown in Melbourne, Liz is preparing to restart her aged care massage business.  Her love of checklists and all things compliance has kept her busy during 2020 but the chance to get back to hands-on treatment for the first time since April has her both excited and a little apprehensive – it’s like riding a bike, right? Find out more about Liz’s work on her website.

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