Whether you are self-employed, a telecommuter or just need a place to pay bills, several questions should be answered and routines established when setting up a home office.
Find the Best Available Workspace
Do you need isolation and privacy or do you work best surrounded by lots of activity? Do you crave natural light (a window in the room) or will artificial light do just as well? Do you need an outside entrance for clients? Is remodeling necessary and within your budget? By answering these and other questions, you can find the space in your home that best suits your needs. When you have your “office” picked out, make sure the decision is embraced by the entire family.
Decide What Goes Where
Planning the office layout is next, beginning with the placement of the desk or work surface. In my experience, few practices are more disempowering or unnerving than working with your back facing the entrance to your office. Unable to see visitors enter, you subconsciously feel uneasy and have difficulty concentrating. Make sure you have at least a peripheral view of all comings and goings.
For efficient handling of daily projects, my favorite configurations are the L-shaped and the parallel desk layouts. The L-shaped uses two surfaces — a primary one, such as a desk, and a secondary surface at a ninety degree angle to the left or right of the first. Depending on how you plan to use that surface, it might make a difference whether you are left or right handed. In the parallel layout the main work station is parallel to and in front of a storage unit (credenza or lateral file cabinet). I discourage clients from angling their desks. Angling makes it almost impossible to link two work surfaces and creates sharp corners that impede movement and traffic flow.
Invest in a chair that suits you — right height, right depth, right feel. Place guest chairs in front or to the side of the desk and don’t make them too comfortable lest your guests overstay their welcome.
Include Ample Storage and Lighting
Storage units are the next consideration. Figure out how much storage space you need and what form it will take. Bookcases can house reference materials and stackable office supplies. A closet can be used for storing additional office supplies and files. Add shelving to available wall space for filing units or other essentials. Place items where they are needed. Remember to keep decorative items out of your immediate workspace.
When it comes to lighting, eyestrain makes for brain strain, which makes for less productive use of your time. A desk lamp is essential. Overhead lighting will make you weary. Place the lamp so that it doesn’t cause reflective glare or cast shadows on your work area. Share the light with a plant for added ambiance and warmth.
Don’t Share Your Business Phone
If you spend a great deal of time on the phone, install a separate line. You'll feel and project a more professional image. Invest in a phone with mute and hold buttons. Concentration and communication are almost impossible when you and your caller must pretend that background noise isn't driving you crazy.
Placement of the phone is important, too. To your right if you’re right-handed; to the left if you’re a southpaw. You don’t want the phone cord draping across your body. It doesn’t take a sleuth to detect a home message machine. For a more professional (there’s that word again) feel, I recommend subscribing to a voice messaging service through your local phone company.
Self-employed people are the most productive in our economy. According to Paul and Sarah Edwards (Working From Home, J.P. Tarcher, 1999), research indicates that productivity rises 15 to 25 percent when work is done at home versus the office - tell THAT to your boss. There are dangers, however, particularly to time management. Watch out for self-interruptions. The lack of structure and convenience of household amenities, such as the refrigerator, make distractions likely. The more self-disciplined you are, the more productive you will be.
Set Realistic Office Hours
Start with a family conference. Nine to five doesn’t work for everyone. Once you’ve decided on realistic, mutually agreeable hours, address household management systems. Have another meeting to assign chores and maybe even barter with friends to run household errands. Once these systems are in place, protect them from invaders. Acquaint friends and family with your work schedule. As I’ve said before, only you can protect your time — no one else will.
If you are telecommuting, set up workable systems with your boss — clear deadlines, meeting times, and office hours at both sites. Communication with the corporate office must be clear and timely — daily if need be. Continue to develop and prioritize your master and daily to-do lists and carefully schedule your time. (See my article, “Are You Ready for a Change?”) Clear off your desk before leaving the home office each day — you’ll enjoy yourself more in the evening.
A well-planned, well-organized home office offers the best of all worlds — convenience, comfort and that professional image you’ve been seeking. So stay home and go to work!
About the Author
Sally Allen, a certified professional organizer, is CEO and owner of A Place for Everything©. Since founding her company in 1997, Sally has helped individuals and companies throughout the U.S. effectively arrange space and efficiently manage time. A recognized expert in the field, Sally learned her organizing skills while employed by Marriott International Hotels and Resorts, the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Committee, the 1996 Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, and through moving her family 19 times.
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