In an economy that's just coming back from the brink, working from home offers a safety net for many businesses whilst they are starting up. For others, having a home-based office is a permanent solution to their working requirements, i.e. a web design business.
Working at home means that you can be there for your family for the important moments, catching those one-time only first steps, watch your hubby put on the dishwasher or learn to play bridge with an elderly relative.
It also saves time and money from a tiresome commute.
Without a team of Feng Shui experts, interior designers or ergonomics consultants, home offices can often become unorganised, so we've come up with an easy plan to get your home office looking professional and your business off to a great start.
Sound, Air and Light:
- Choose a quiet room in an area of the house that doesn't get much traffic. Right beside your living room's flat screen or your tot's playroom will definitely distract you from your work duties. (If you over hear a Jeremy Kyle paternity slot you may well listen out to hear the results of the lie-detector test....)
- If this isn't possible, consider some ambient sound or sound-proofing.
- Natural air and light can go a huge way towards boosting concentration and productivity levels. Try to use a room with lots of natural light. In the depths of a dark winter, make sure your office is well lit so you can see what work needs to be done.
- When outside temperature allow, try to keep windows open and get some fresh air circulating, to help focus you and clear your mind of distractions. In winter, keep the office well-heated, and well-ventilated in summer. Avoid the temptation to get too cosy however, studies show that we perform better when we are slightly cooler. Keeping a few plants around your desk will help oxygenate your room and boost your brain power. Position your computer screen to avoid a glare from the sun/lights.
The main focus of your office, the desk should be placed to suit your own needs. Ask yourself:
- Do clients visit you in your home often or do you just work alone?
- Some Feng Shui junkies advise against putting your desk in front of a wall, but will you be distracted by looking out the window?
- Make sure you have a comfortable chair at the right height for you to view the computer screen.
- Keep your computer, telephone/Smartphone and a post-it pad. Try to keep this desk paper-free.
Printers et al:
We're edging closer to a paperless office each year. Of course the amount of paper you use will depend on the nature of your business, but investing in a high definition, larger computer monitor will reduce the need to print out documents to read. If you only use your printer and filing cabinet sparingly, consider keeping these in the garage or basement, especially if space is limited.
- If you have enough space, keep notepads, pens and the printer on a small table at a right angle to your desk, forming an L-shape.
- Invest in a sturdy bookshelf if you have a lot of hard literature. An external hard-drive is often over-looked by home office workers, but it is vital to back-up information. Depending on how often you use the computer, back up weekly or monthly, and store this in a location away from the main office, i.e. in your sister's house or your car.
Looking at the same drab four walls all day, every day would leave Richard Branson uninspired:
- You needn't spend much on your office, even a lick of fresh paint can do wonders to pep you up.
- Perhaps you could keep a notice board with images of smiling, satisfied clients?
- Or how about framing career memorabilia, or a collage of images that remind you of goals towards building your business?
- A few plants will freshen the air up but try to keep clutter to a minimum, you don't want to be falling over dead carnations.
- If you don’t have much natural light consider putting a mirror on one of the walls
Separating Work and Home Life:
Working from home will, inevitably, make it harder to separate family duties from work needs, but there are several steps you can take to ensure when you're working you can focus on getting important tasks done.
- If possible, use a different entrance or dedicate an entire room to use as your office, so you can close the door and be done at the end of the day.
- For many people, this won't be possible and you'll have to combine your office with another room. Try to choose one which is used rarely, i.e. a spare bedroom, not the kids play room. Put a plan in place so you can easily convert your office back into a bedroom when it’s needed (Or not if you don’t want the in-laws camping out over Christmas…).
- Set boundaries. Tell your family that when you are working to avoid constant contact, like they would if you were working in an external workforce. Arrange to meet your wife in the kitchen for elevenses or lunch, and avoid unnecessary contact outside these designated times. This way you can enjoy each other's company and take a break from work. Her asking what shirts you want washed will just serve to distract you.
- If you have small children at home, try to have someone mind them for you within the home, at least one or two days a week. This way you can catch all those important moments like first steps, but avoid a screaming toddler interrupting your first meeting with a new client.