Creating the Optimal Home Office

Who doesn’t dream about working from home at least a few days a week, if not full time? For me, not sitting in some drab cubicle or bland, boxy corporate office is one of the biggest draws to a virtual work lifestyle. I’m an aesthetics person by nature and as such, my surroundings deeply impact my mood, productivity, and general well being.

She's devoted to her careerYesterday I wrote about building a professional virtual workplace persona, but now I’d like to explore designing a proper physical space.

If you haven’t spent much time working from home, there are a number of considerations before you set up shop. The occasional remote day with a laptop and a mobile phone are one thing, but establishing a professional workspace that is optimally designed for daily efficiency takes more thought and planning.

Before pulling any space together, it’s important to ask yourself a few questions to really establish the current and ongoing needs you’ll have.

  1. What sort of work will you be performing and how?
  2. How much time will you spend in the space?
  3. Are you the only one utilizing the space each day?
  4. Do you expect clients or co-workers to visit the space?
  5. What activities will be performed if they do?
  6. What type of special equipment or technologies will you need?
  7. How much storage is necessary?
  8. How much privacy is required?
  9. Is soundproofing necessary for the type of work you do?
  10. Do you plan to expand the needs of the space within the next 1-5 years?

Based on your answers, you should be able to establish whether or not you have a need for a specialized room or a simple dedicated space in your home. The execution of a well-designed home office can get expensive, so it’s important to prioritize your needs and invest in the critical elements first, leaving the non-essentials or nice-to-haves for a later date.

I’ve outlined below the main categories of consideration as you determine what will form your optimal home office.

PHYSICAL SPACE

As we discussed in yesterday’s post, you may be restricted on the physical space options you have for setting up a home office. If this will be a full-time office for you, or if you plan to have external visitors on a regular basis, figuring out a designated room with it’s own entry is obviously the desired solution. If this is impossible, consider rearranging your general living space so that the office is nearest to the main entrance and can transform its appearance to a professional office during working hours. This may be a simple transformation, or it may require putting some items behind closed doors. If no visitors are planned, just be sure it’s comfortable, quiet, electrical outlets are plenty, and that the footprint of the intended space is roomy.

If you have unique requirements for the work you do such as professional soundproofing, special equipment, or even expanded white board needs, be sure to have those defined and installed before moving in. It’s also a good time to have any painting or flooring needs taken care of as well.

FURNISHINGS

This can get expensive, so I strongly suggest thinking about your needs in comparison to your budget and invest a little more in the high traffic items. Your desk or table space and your chair are the two most important pieces. There are so many options for every budget including scouring sites like Craig’s List or Ebay. A beautiful antique desk or table is a great choice, or you may want to purchase a newer item that has special features such as a keyboard tray or built-in outlets. Just be certain to measure your space, the door it has to go through, and think about all the various tasks you perform to ensure the selection is not only beautiful, but also practical.

Your desk or table space and your chair are the two most important pieces.

The chair is one piece I strongly suggest going with a newer model. The evolution of ergonomically designed office furniture is amazing and a proper chair is simply a smart health investment. I personally have a Herman Miller Aeron Chair I’ve owned for almost 15 years. It was initially more expensive, but the quality, function, and comfort have been a fantastic return on my investment. You will spend endless hours in an office chair – be smart and get the best you can afford.

Other furnishings to consider are shelving, printer stands, seating for guests, a filing cabinet, and maybe a small table for meetings and collaboration. This will all be determined based on how much space you have, what your needs are, and what you must have readily on hand. See more ideas below in the storage section, but think about what you have today versus how much more you’ll require over the years. Make furnishings scalable for your growing needs.

STORAGE

The furnishings you’ve chosen above should take into consideration any built-in storage options. If you use a table as your desk, are you okay with not having the drawer space you would get with most desk options? Or if you use a small table for your printer or other equipment, again, if the drawer or shelf space is missing, will that work for your needs?Shelves with boxes, folders and green plantThink about other special items you need to use in your daily work life, but also that you need to keep on hand for reference purposes or future use. Do you have adequate space to store all your office supplies? Do you typically print or keep a lot of paper files or references that need to be accessible? Can you use a drawer of decorative baskets to store all your various cables and chargers? How many books will you want in your office space? Do you need to store DVDs, sales collateral, shipping materials, or promotional merchandise?

Once you establish your storage needs and develop a system that works for you, consider scheduling regular spring cleanings to discard items no longer required before clutter gets out of hand.

LIGHTING

Having a well-lit space is probably one of the most overlooked and underestimated items. If you’re lucky enough to get a nice combination of natural light mixed with lamps and fixtures, it can positively impact your general mood and productivity levels. If there isn’t much natural light in your designated space, compensate with as many lighting options as you can get to brighten the room.

Having a well-lit space is probably one of the most overlooked and underestimated items. 

If you videoconference, do a test run so you can see how the lighting impacts your image on a computer screen. The lighting placement or bulb type can wash you out or give a darker appearance on screen. Try a few things out to see what works best for the online business tools you use most.

Also consider the surface space you have available when finalizing your lighting setup. After years of having large lamps on top of my desk taking up valuable real estate, I finally installed two sconces on the wall directly facing my desk allowing me more room to stretch out with papers, books, gadgets, and notes.

In addition to a bright window splashing the room with sunlight, I also have a strong overhead light in my room, a six-arm chandelier, giving me direct light from above. It’s beautiful to look at, and it acts as my main lighting source. I supplemented it all with two more lamps on my credenza and near my bookshelf for specific task lighting.

All of these options minimize any eyestrain, make me feel less like I’m cooped up in a dark room all day, and also morph from day to night with the addition of dimmers on all of them. Dimmers are a must in my home—they’re an inexpensive way to control the environment.

TECHNOLOGY

Obviously having a computer, an excellent internet connection, and a phone are your basic necessities for any office. But challenge yourself to think about how you really work, what needs should mimic a professional setup, and whether you will have new requirements down the road.

Let’s begin with your computer setup. If you work with a laptop, consider investing in a large monitor as well. Depending on the screen size of your laptop, the continual eyestrain may be problematic.

Once you confirm the computer setup, think ergonomics. I strongly suggest investing in a riser for the laptop or the monitor so that it’s eye level at all times and you’re not looking down on the screen. This not only saves your neck, but if you video conference or you plan to record video presentations, you’ll want the screen straight ahead for the most polished and professional display. As a communications professional, I cringe when I see a recorded video of someone looking down into the camera and me looking up in his or her nose or at the light fixture on the ceiling.

Most people today only utilize a mobile phone—a home line is considered a thing of the past, but not for me. I participate on conference calls using company designated bridge lines every day. I cannot tell you how many times someone will enter a call and suddenly you hear major feedback or a terrible echo. We all chime in at the same time–who’s on their mobile phone? The reality is, a landline usually provides greater clarity for professional calls. Consider keeping or reinstalling a landline if you’re a high-volume teleconference professional.

PodcastingIn my post yesterday, I spoke of general technology needs like good all-in-one printers, back-up Wi-Fi, and more. Other things to consider investing in are a good paper shredder, an excellent back-up device, any additional mobile devices, external hard drives, cameras, headsets, and don’t forget plenty of power strips to plug them all in.

Hopefully most things are wireless, but they still require electrical cables.  Now is a good time to get your cables, cords, and wires under control. Label every cord and tidy them up securing with twist ties or clips—if you can tuck them away and out of sight, even better.

And if you plan to advance your business with new technologies and platforms such as the world of podcasting, you need a good microphone along with the software required to produce professional recordings from your home. Think future focused and where you foresee your business or profession going as it relates to evolving requirements.

AESTHETICS

I’ll end on my favorite topic–the aesthetics of your home office. I could go on all day about interior design, but it’s so important to feel happy and comfortable in the space you plan to spend extended amounts of time. Step back and think about your style and what makes you happy. What colors do you want surrounding you? Do you want a beautiful inspiration board to keep you focused on your goals? Do you enjoy working with music in the background?  Or do you need to be engulfed in beautiful artwork?

iStock_Optimal Home Office 4_LargeThis is one area I wouldn’t recommend mimicking a corporate office environment. Most are flat, one-dimensional spaces with no color, texture, or personality. I only caution you to be mindful of what any client or co-worker will see if you are conversing on camera. You don’t want the backdrop directly behind you to have a nude painting or a fully stocked liquor bar. Keep those private items off to the side and consider that ‘public view’ a reflection of your personal brand.

Don’t forget to include something living in your space. If you have a natural light source, consider a few plants or orchids to bring color and to filter the air. If you don’t have windows, try air plants or invest in fresh cut flowers each week to perk up the room. Maybe for many of you it’s enough that you have a warm and furry friend in the room to keep you company. Studies show that all of these things have a considerable impact on our emotional and physical well being and can make us happier more productive workers.

Image Credits: ©iStock.com/PeopleImages, ©iStock.com/AnikaSalsera, ©iStock.com/arinahabich, ©iStock.com/spxChrome

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