Working from home can be the best thing you’ve ever done or the most stressful thing you’ve ever done. The biggest complaint I hear from people who just can’t work from home is that they have trouble separating work from everything else. Preach. I’ve found that achieving separation is easier with a defined home office — a physical space apart from the distractions of the rest of the house.
Some of setting up a great work space is intuitive — you likely know that you’ll need certain equipment. But other aspects, such as where to put your office and how to keep everything else out can be trickier. Let me help.
I’m a firm believer in the power of lists. As you get started, a list can help you sort through and prioritize the things you need as well as the things you can do without. While compiling your list, ask yourself a few questions.
- How will you be using your office?
- Will you have clients or colleagues over?
- How much space do you need for your work?
Once you have your list, go through it and do a quick reality check: What are the things you must have to do your job and what isn’t going to work within your constraints? Remember that you’re going to have to tailor your office to the space available in your home as well as your budget.
I think we all dream of the large office retreat with mahogany bookshelves, overstuffed leather armchairs and antique Tiffany lamps. If you can have that, I’m happy for you (really) but that’s just not be the reality for most of us.
Let’s talk about home office equipment. What do you need for your job? Depending on what you do, at the bare minimum you’ll need to consider a desk, computer and storage.
Your desk is your base of operations. You’ll be there a lot, so don’t buy the cheapest office set you can find just to save money — you need a space to comfortably work and that means quality furniture. Find a compromise that makes your wallet and your back happy.
If price is a priority, you can often find good deals online without compromising too much on quality. I got my furniture on Amazon. Check out second-hand or consignment shops too — you might be able to find a well-priced desk that just needs a good coat of paint, freeing up more money for a top-notch chair.
Take your time finding the right computer. It should be able to handle your speed, storage and software needs. Invest in something that will last for a few years. And don’t worry, your purchases are most likely tax deductible.
Consider your storage needs. I personally prefer to keep electronic records whenever possible — it cuts down on clutter and I don’t have to worry about keeping locked drawers. If that’s not an option for you, think about how much storage you’ll need and how much storage your space can accommodate.
Choose your space
Once you’ve thought about what you’ll need to put in your office, you can start thinking about where you should put it. You’ll need a space that will fit all the items from your list, preferably in a separate room from the rest of the house, though you can make just about any space work with the right setup.
If your space is tight, make sure you still have easy access to the things you’ll need daily. Even if your storage shelves aren’t in your home office, they should be close enough that you don’t have to traipse the length of your home to retrieve a document. A nearby hall closet can easily be converted into office storage.
If you expect to have people in your office, think about whether you need a seating area separate from your desk and whether you have an area with enough room for that. It might also make sense for your office be close to an entrance to avoid bringing strangers all the way through your home when they visit.
Think outside the room
You may not have the luxury of a separate room. The key is to create a separate space even if you don’t have a door. An area rug under your desk or a folding privacy screen can define your space visually and provide that little bit of separation. Anything that says, “This space is not public domain.”
Also make sure to place your office away from high-traffic areas. You’re not going to be able to concentrate if the TV is on in the background or your toddler is building a fort a foot away.
Establish office hours
Speaking of distractions, protect your office space from outside intrusions by having set office hours. This doesn’t mean that you’re unreachable, but you should enforce these hours as your work time — you wouldn’t expect to be barged in on at a commercial office, don’t tolerate it at home either.
Another note about keeping office hours is that your routine should resemble the routine you would keep if you were working outside the home. I joke that I get to work in my yoga pants, but I think there’s something to be said about getting up in the morning and getting ready for the day before you saunter off to your home office.
For me, it helps to get into the right head space. It defines my work space as actual work and provides much needed mental separation. I’m also already prepared to walk out the door when it’s time for my daughter’s ballet lessons. Treat your home office like the real job it is.
Think like an interior designer
Once you have your essentials, make your space your own. There are a bunch of articles out there suggesting you should paint your space green for productivity. You can also place a few plants around your office for a nice splash of green if you’re not interested in a mint accent wall. I like succulents — they’re easy to care for and there are so many varieties to choose from. They also hold up well to shipping.
Don’t forget to give your eyes something to look at when they wander. You’re going to need breaks, so place interesting pieces of art on the walls or a DIY cork board where you can get creative when you need to step away. And refresh your décor every couple of months by swapping out art or moving your plants around. This can help keep your space fresh and inviting.
Do you really need all those pens, sticky pads and staplers? If you don’t, don’t let them take up prime real estate on your desk. Keep only the things you use daily on your desk and find homes for all the rest out of sight. For the little things you do need on your desk, consider a desktop organizer to keep them contained.
A clear space can help keep your home office feeling inviting — it becomes a space you want to be in rather than a cave you need to escape. Make clearing your desk part of your daily routine at the end of your day so you can come into a clean office every morning.
Working from home can be a rewarding change from a commercial office. You have so much more control over different aspects of your job — including your office. With a little bit of thought and work, you can create a space you not only work in, but that works for you.