After you have decided to work at home, your next step would be to create your own home office. Setting up of a home office can be as simple as gathering unused furniture and equipment here and there, or as complex as redesigning your house to create a separate home office.
When working from home, the main rule is to “each his/her own.” How you set up your space can be a uniquely personal experience. You do whatever it is that works for you; after all, gone are the facilities managers or bosses who dictates the look of your office. Now, this is your own.
Nonetheless, there are four factors that you need to consider when designing your home office: your work style, workspace, the equipment you will need, and your budget. You need to work on your personal finances to create a space that would suit your needs, your personality, and the demands of your business.
Yet, you may find that creating the right home office is not as easy as it sounds. Your shoestring budget, in particular, may hinder the creation of the home office that you need and you simply make do with what you have. As a result, you do not have the right tools in the right places, affecting your productivity, peace of mind, and yes, even sanity.
Below are ten of the most common home office blunders and how you can avoid them.
1. Failure to take ergonomics into consideration
The first major mistake is to solely base the creation of your home office on your finances, completely forgetting or disregarding the health implications of your work space You may think of on-the-job injuries as accidents that involve traumatic injuries, such as fractures, burns, or other clearly visible damage to the human body. But in fact, the fastest-growing category of workplace injuries (be it in a corporate setting or at home) involves damage that is much harder to see; injuries caused by repetitive motion, excessive force and awkward postures.
You may prefer working just about anywhere in your home, but without knowing it, the kitchen table, favorite recliner, bed, or desktop are ergonomic danger zones and can affect your health. If you write often on your dining table, the constant bending may affect your back. If you are sitting down in front of the computer for long periods of time, working with a rigid, nonadjustable, or “executive” type chair can lead to physical complaints. The forces and pressures challenging your body’s health from using a computer demand an appropriate ergonomic chair.
Applying ergonomics in your home office can spell the difference between working healthy, productively, and safely, while helping you avoid repetitive stress injury.
2. Lack of planning system
While thrilled with their independence, many home-based entrepreneurs find it hard to accomplish anything substantial in a given day. It could be the lure of lounging in bed all day, watching the television, playing with the kids, and a million and one other reasons.
The reality of being your own boss is much harder than you think. Whereas in a corporate environment, your deadlines and to-do lists are dictated by the assignments that you receive from your boss. Now, you alone have to create your own assignments and deadlines – and this can be very disconcerting!
When you are your own boss working in your own office, you actually have to sit down and think what you want to accomplish during the day. Will you do a little marketing today? Or will you be updating your web site?
Your home office must be equipped with a system that will help you plan your day and run your business smoothly. You may go as high-tech as the latest smartphones or tablet computers, or as low-tech as a bulletin board with your to-do lists. You can also use a traditional paper-based planner or calendar, or computerized scheduling software. The key is to find the system that works for you – and use it regularly.
3. Setting up the office in a wrong location
Another mistake you can make is to use the wrong room as your office. You may have a spare room in your house for your office in the basement; but your allergies to molds may prevent you from staying and working in your office. The space under the stairs may be a good spot for your office, but it does not have enough electrical sockets to support all your electronic equipment. The spare bedroom may have a good view outside, but the room is too small to accommodate all your files and materials. Your space may be too cramped in the little nook that your cabinets couldn’t be opened because the printer table blocks it.
In creating your home office, keep in mind that the place you choose should be comfortable, and allow you to be productive and efficient. You may sometimes need to compromise, but your office should first and foremost be a place that you like to be, where you can be inspired to work and be your creative best.
If the room that you want is not ideal to your needs, make the necessary changes based on your wants and needs as you’ll be spending a lot of time there. Go to the hardware or office supply store and check if they have the right storage system for you. You can also hire a carpenter to build in a desk and bookshelves to accommodate an unusually shaped room. The home office market has grown enough to make the furniture solutions much more interesting than they were even five years ago.
4. Lack of dedicated space
Your home office must perform like any corporate office that you had worked for, but you may not be able to achieve this goal if you lack the space that you need.
If you are an interior designer and you are using a small corner in the hallway, chances are your area may be too small to fit all your working needs. Your area must have plenty of space for your drafting table, swatches, and other equipment needs.
Think about how you intend to use the space, and then plan around it. You may choose to build closets to provide more filing space. You can also utilize your wall space and put more shelves to house your samples or inventory. If your business requires a lot of paperwork, you can invest in additional bookshelves and filing cabinets.
Your desk must be able to hold your laptop or computer. You need not place it on your desk, but your printer and fax machine must be easily accessible near your desk. More importantly, your phones (business and personal) must be within arms reach to avoid running down at the end of the hallway to answer the phones’ ringing. Otherwise, make sure that you have a cordless phone to allow you to conduct business from anywhere in the home.
You should also think how to set-up your home office if you plan to receive customers and visitors. If you will have frequent visitors, you may need conference space. If you are meeting customers informally, you may simply put a couch and table in your office. Some home-based entrepreneurs use a desk that can be turned into a conference table to seat 5 or 6 clients.
Another very important equipment is the door. It lets you define your workspace, allows you privacy while you work and keeps out possible disturbances. A door allows you to put an end to the workday or work night when you close it behind you. This in itself can be very refreshing with tremendous psychic rewards; particularly for people who can’t seem to stop working when they are at home.
Once you figure out how you’re going to work in your space, you can buy furniture that walks the line between office and home.
5. Inappropriate furniture and equipment
Making do with whatever furniture and equipment you have may oftentimes mean compromising your workflow. The picnic table that has not been used for years may be the most cost-effective way to start your office, but if you have difficulty accommodating your computer, printer, and table organizer, it could spell disaster.
You need to have furniture that is both functional and comfortable. Your desk is crucial to your work. It is advisable to get as much surface area as you can afford and fit into your office. You may choose a big table, or an L-shaped table particularly if you are using a computer or typewriter. You may also find it easier to organize your work area if the desk has at least one file drawer.
If you really cannot afford an ergonomic chair at the moment, be sure to select a chair for its comfort and ease of motion. The ideal chair is one that adjusts to your unique body, and that re-adjusts to accommodate the changes in the ways you sit, type, or roll around your desk. Perched on your workstation, your chair should be able to swivel around to allow you to do your tasks easily and reach out for items you need. If your chair isn’t fun to inhabit, your new business will become a burden along with your body.
If you are using a decorative table lamp as your main source of computer workplace lighting, you may want to consider enhancing your source of light. Proper illumination of your documents and work area increases your visual comfort and could improve your productivity. Try adding a floor lamp and supplemental task lighting, making sure that you reduce the glare from the window and overhead ceiling light.
6. Lack of filing and storage space
Depending on your business, you may find that files can quickly overrun you. That small computer table placed near your dining area may be sufficient at the start of your home business, but you may soon discover that you need book, filing and storage space as your business grows. Now, you are faced with a problem of lack or overcrowded file space, and missing file folders and documents. If you keep inventory, you may soon find that your products are quickly filling up your home, encroaching even your living areas. You may not even have a system or furniture to keep your mail organized, or a storage space to keep all the literature that you receive. Worse, you may not have planned for the protection of your valuables and important documents, such as business registration, tax papers, customer information, among others. Can you afford to lose priceless documents?
You can buy drawers that can double as counter space for equipment such as fax machine or scanner. If the drawer looks fancy enough, you can even use it as a side table in your family room. You can also look at various cabinet organizing systems available, such as wire racks on cabinet shelves to maximize the use of the vertical space. Consider adding built-in bookcases or cabinets to your home office plans for storing books, papers, files and office supplies in an aesthetically pleasing way. If your space cannot really absorb any additional files from your business, your last resort is to consider off-site storage.
7. A filing system that doesn’t work
The key is to identify the filing system that works for your business and personality, then constantly follow these four rules: plan, sort, organize and maintain. Assess the papers, materials and inventory that you have, then jot down where and how you think you should keep them.
Devise a system to allow you to easily sort your stuff. Know what papers you need to keep and what to throw out – e.g. bank statements, credit card statements and canceled checks should be kept for seven years. You can segregate the various items that you have: To Pay, To File, To Follow-Up, To Trash, or Undecided. You can also use an a-b-c filing system or a keyword filing system. If it works for you, you can use a color code filing system to reduce the time spent searching for files (just be sure that you remember what each color represents!). Remember, for any filing system to work, it must be easy to maintain and information must be easily retrievable.
8. Inadequate long-range growth plans
When starting your business, you must consider how its growth would affect your home office (and your life). Without proper planning, you may soon find that your home office could no longer support the demands of your business operations. The key consideration is how your current office can support your communication and electrical needs, insure your privacy and provide minimal distractions.
At the start, you may simply need an electrical socket for your computer and peripherals and a business phone line. As your business grow, you may need a second or third phone line, additional electrical outlets for a fax machine, computer equipment, modems, copy machine, task lighting and any other electrical or electronic equipment you will need before you build.
You may also need to consider how your home office could accommodate an assistant or associate helping you out of your business in the event that your business is ready to employ others. Installing additional lines and electrical outlets after your home is built costs more.
You also need to plan ahead if you foresee the day when you will receive clients and suppliers in your home office. You may need to examine the accessibility of your home office from the front of your house, and the additional furniture or conference room-like facilities that you may need. You may even want to install a separate powder room, or provide amenities like a coat rack, umbrella stand or coffee maker for your clients’ benefit.
9. Failure to consider safety and security
One important issue of working in a home office that you should give paramount importance is its safety and security.
If you use computer in your business, you need to constantly protect your computer systems from viruses, worms and hack attacks. Given the increasing amount of threat and damage caused by viruses and hackers, you should always make sure that you have the latest firewalls and antivirus software.
More importantly, you should give the physical safety of your home office its due consideration. You need to protect your home office from break-in, theft and the chaos that often results. Aside from getting a security system installed, there are a number of measures that you can implement to protect your office. Keep a low profile, making sure that your computer systems and other expensive equipment are hidden from public view. Keep your curtains or blinds closed when you are not in your office, and dim the light – especially at night. It is also very important to get your office and all your equipment insured.
You also need to consider the safety of your customers and suppliers when they visit your home business, or the associates who work from your home. Because your home business shares space in a home, they may encounter hazards created by your family members (e.g. skateboard, banana peal, etc.), and aggressive dogs or other animals that may pose a risk to them. You need to consider liability coverage if you are entertaining business visitors to your home office.
10. Too much cocooning
Working alone in your home office the whole day can be stressful – more so if you thrive on human contact. Now that you work alone in your home office the whole day, you may miss the chitchat with co-workers during coffee breaks or the quick-get together for lunch. Home alone and with nobody to talk to can drive anyone nuts!
If you find it difficult to adjust to a solitary work life, you must organize your day to interact with your customers, or simply get out of the house for some fresh air once in a while. You may meet with your clients in their offices or a coffee shop nearby (as opposed to inviting them over to your office), or attend lunch meetings organized by your local chamber. If you have nothing “official” planned for the day, you can simply walk the dog during lunch, walk around the neighborhood to exercise, or invite a friend out for lunch.
While you need to work for your business to succeed, you also need to take care of yourself and ensure that you are in tiptop shape not only physically but also mentally.
By thinking through your home office uses ahead of time, you’re more likely to end up with a working environment you can easily live with.
Recommended Books on Creating a Functional Home Office:
- The Smarter Home Office: 8 simple steps to increase your income, inspiration and comfort
- Building the Custom Home Office: Projects for the Complete Home Work Space
- At Work At Home: Design Ideas for Your Home Workplace
- Taunton’s Home Workspace Idea Book (Taunton Home Idea Books)
- A Space of My Own: Inspirational Ideas for Home Offices, Craft Rooms Studies
- How to Maintain an Efficient Filing System
- How to Organize the Work Space for Your Home Business
- What to Upgrade in Your Home Office to Boost Productivity
- Setting Up a Home Office for Multiple Users
- Declutter Your Home Office in 5 Steps