Many people these days are starting up home-based businesses. Figuring out how to set up your new office is one of the first things you need to do. I set up my first office in 1995 and have been happily working from home ever since. Here are seven tips based on my years of working from home.
1. If you can, locate your office behind a door. It is worth it using a space you can close off versus an open area like a corner of your dining room. Maybe you can convert the spare bedroom. I’m always amazed at how many people have a guest room that’s set aside like some type of shrine. If you work from home, you could spend a lot more time in the room than any potential houseguests. After all, you work every day and they visit only occasionally, so let them sleep on a fold out couch if need be. Also, if it’s at all possible, locate your office out of traffic areas like hallways or rooms that connect to other rooms. Our offices are down in the basement, so they are away from our personal living space. When we leave work we shut the doors, go upstairs, and go "home." Maintaining a division between your work and home life not only helps you avoid distractions and be more productive, it also can keep you from feeling like you’re at work all the time.
2. Think about your personal ergonomics. Get a decent chair and invest in the equipment you find important for the type of work you do. When I started working from home in 1994, I had just quit a job where the owners refused to purchase an oversized monitor or functional laser printer, either of which would have dramatically improved my productivity as a graphic artist and writer. So the "executive decision" I made as the President of Logical Expressions was to spend extra on a huge monitor and a quality laser printer that worked. Both lasted for years and I never regretted the extra several hundred dollars I spent to get the tools I needed to do a good job.
3. Maximize your surface area. As noted, because I’ve always done graphic art-related work, I take my monitor arrangement pretty seriously. I have always had either an enormous monitor or a dual monitor set up, but these layouts take up a lot of desk space. To avoid being cramped, I have always set up a corner desk. Now I have a built-in desk, but before that I had one of those inexpensive corner computer desks you see at office supply stores. The corner desk arrangement gives you lots of room on both sides of the monitors for your "stuff." Desks set up in an "L" or "U" shape generally give you the most working space. Measure your office space and your furniture first. It’s a lot easier to make changes on paper than it is to move filing cabinets. (Ask me how I know.)
4. Don’t skimp on storage space. When we built our custom office, the biggest (and best) change was better storage space. We now have built-in "kitchen cabinets" to store all our papers, office supplies, and computer-related stuff. If you use "stock" kitchen cabinets, hiring a carpenter is a lot less expensive than you might think. Even if you use separate pieces of furniture, make sure everything exists for an organizational purpose. For example, as publishers, we have a lot of books, so we have more bookshelves than most people. The shelves only hold books, and the file cabinets hold the files. Always keep "like with like" so you can find stuff later. Don’t use your storage spaces as general dumping grounds.
5. Put things you need to access often nearby. For example, my pencil drawer is to the right of my monitor. That drawer also houses standard office supplies like paper clips, sticky notes, and a calculator. I’m constantly getting into it for one reason or another. It’s on the right-hand side because I’m left-handed and use a pen tablet, so my left hand is often holding the pen. I can just reach over and grab something out of the drawer with my right hand. If you’ve experienced the ergonomic hell of working in a cubicle, think about all the things that annoyed you, like the metal drawer that hit your knee every time you turned around. Don’t replicate that type of badness in your own home office. Along the same lines, if you access your files a lot, don’t put the file cabinet on the other side of the room. You’ll just throw the papers in a more convenient "to be filed" pile nearby and never file anything. Living amidst a messy filing disaster becomes depressing over time and affects your productivity.
6. When you are outfitting your office, think about the physical environment. For example, our home offices are in the daylight side of our basement. It doesn’t seem damp, but it is partly underground. So we did not purchase plastic floor mats, which would trap moisture. Instead, we covered large pieces of plywood with indoor/outdoor carpet, and as a result we’ve never had a problem with mildew under the floor mats. Consider the location of the windows in your office and their relationship to your computer monitor or any sensitive electronics. You may want to invest in niceties like curtains to shut out the sunlight at certain times of year. I made lined curtains out of WalMart sheets for next to nothing.
7. Add your own personality. My office is filled with extremely colorful posters, quilts, and wall hangings because having lots of color on the walls makes me feel more creative. (Back in my days in Corporate America, my cubicle was known for being wildly colorful, so my poster habit goes back a long time.) Some people might find my heavily adorned walls claustrophobic and prefer a more Spartan clean look. The key is to go with what feels right to you. After all, you want your office to be a happy place you enjoy hanging out in. If all goes well with your business, you could be spending a lot of time there!
Outfitting your office doesn’t need to cost a fortune. Because I was motivated to get good computer equipment, I opted to save money in other areas. When I started out, I purchased desks and filing cabinets at a used office supply store. Having worked in offices before, I knew what the high-end brands were, but bought them second-hand. I still have my heavy-duty 4-drawer Hon file cabinets, which cost $40 each. (They would have been at least $200 new, even back then.) More recently, I got a huge light table from a newspaper printer that was going digital. It’s old, but was probably originally a $5,000 light table. I paid $75 and love it. Deals are out there, so keep your eyes open for them!