According to Forbes, one in five Americans currently works from home, and that number is on the rise. It’s easy to see the appeal of working from home. You get to make your own hours, work at your own pace and forget all about the commutes that can suck hours out of your day. It’s even been shown to increase worker productivity. In a 2013 study performed by a Stanford economics professor, it was discovered that workers who telecommute routinely outperform their in-office counterparts.
There are, however, some steps everyone who works from home needs to take to ensure a happy and productive work day. None are more important than setting up a home office. Having a dedicated place to work is just as important at home as it is if you were heading into an office each day. So if you’re one of the millions of people jumping into the liberating waters of self-employment or telecommuting, then you’ll want to follow these steps to set up your ideal home office.
Step 1: Keep it Separated One of the big dangers of working from home is that your personal life and your work life will start to blend together. The greater distinction you can draw between the two, the better. Ideally you’d have a completely separate room you could make your office. A spare bedroom, an empty laundry room or, in some cases, even an oversized walk-in closet could work nicely. In a best-case scenario, you’d have a room with a completely separate outside entrance. This would allow clients or coworkers access to your work space without requiring them to traipse through your living space. A dedicated room also gives you the big bonus of being able to write off your home office on your taxes every year. The IRS requires that a home office be use exclusively and on a regular basis for work in order for it to qualify as tax-deductible. That means a desk in the corner of your bedroom probably isn’t going to cut it.
Of course, not everyone has the luxury of all that extra space. But you can still do things to ensure your home office feels separate from the rest of your life. You can set up partitions, decorate the area differently or even just position your desk so it isn’t facing the rest of the room. Anything you do to distinguish that space as the only space you work will help you from feeling like your job is taking over the rest of your life.
Step 2: Light It Up Make sure your office is near a source of natural light. A little sunlight will keep you from feeling cooped up for long stretches of time. Add in some artificial light as well for those days where you end up working long into the night. Don’t just settle for your home’s overhead lights; invest in some table and desk lamps to give your work area a warm glow.
Step 3: Office Decorations If you don’t put a little love into how your home office looks, you may end up in a space as drab as any office cubicle. Taking the time to decorate and arrange your space in a way you find aesthetically pleasing and comfortable will go a long way toward making this a place where you’ll be happy to do eight hours of work (or more) every day. Add pictures of your family, cartoons you find amusing and some plant life to bring a little bit of the outdoors indoors. It’s important to not go overboard; you still want this to resemble a workspace even if there isn’t a stuffy office manager there to berate you for inappropriate accessories and decorations. But it is OK to enjoy a little of the freedom you have to personalize your space now that you work from home.
Step 4: Stay Organized Home offices can quickly get cluttered if you don’t have somewhere to store all your important papers and files. A filing cabinet may not be the most attractive piece of furniture, but without it you might start coming into work every morning with a desk drowning in paperwork. Or even worse, the paperwork could start spreading into other parts of your house. A small, two-drawer filing cabinet is usually enough for most home offices. You can even position it right next to your desk and decorate the top with plants, pictures or figurines to keep it aesthetically pleasing.
Step 5: Stay Comfortable Your house is probably already full of chairs, but none of them are right for eight hours of work. Pain from bad working conditions can lead to bad posture, repetitive stress disorder or worse. So don’t just pull a hard wooden chair from the kitchen into your home office. Invest in an ergonomically correct office chair. Or maybe even consider a standing desk. According to a recent study, sitting all day can seriously reduce your life expectancy. Setting up your home office could also be your first step towards a longer, happier life!
Step 6: Make Good Connections Your computer and your phone are going to be your connections to the rest of your working world, and it’s important they run as efficiently as possible. You’ll want the equipment and bandwidth to handle hour-long Skype meetings or any other surprises your job may throw your way. Don’t settle for the cheapest option when you’re setting up the Internet for your home office; invest in a package that will keep you connected and running at optimal efficiency. You’ll also want to seek out a good landline. Sure, landlines seem about as relevant as a stone and chisel in today’s world, but they’re still very much a part of the modern office. It’s cool if your cell phone drops a social call every now and then, but in business one missed connection could cost you a huge opportunity. A secure landline will keep this from happening.
Step 7: Get Out of There! For the right person, working from a home office can really improve your life. It can lead to a better, happier work day and quite possibly a more successful and fulfilling career. You might end up loving your home office so much that you just want to spend all your time in there. But don’t! If you’re prone to overworking, you could end up trapping yourself in there, especially with no one there to tell you to pack it up and go home. Make sure your home office is just that: your home office —not just your home. After all, what’s the point of being your own boss if you’re just going to work yourself to death!