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How to Set Up an Effective Office Space

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I’ve worked full-time from my home since 1992 and can’t imagine doing it any other way. Whether you work full-time out of your home, occasionally telecommute, catch up on work in the evening, or run a household, you need some sort of dedicated “office” space in your home. Offices can serve as the family computer center, a place to do paperwork, and the occasional work-at-home office.

The first big question is where to locate your home office. Until the last few years, most builders didn’t catch on to the popularity of a built-in home office. If you have a computer, you might need more than an antique writing desk in the living room. But if you only use your “office” to pay bills, write letters, and return phone calls, you can get away with a corner of the kitchen.

If extra space is difficult to come by in your home, you’ll need to get creative. I’ve seen people attempt to use a hallway, part of a bedroom, and even a closet. However, these spaces can be fraught with disadvantages. It’s difficult to work while children are running everywhere. If you’re working near your bed, you might think about napping constantly. If you’re too cramped, you can’t spread out your work or lay out projects. Personally, I commandeered the “formal” living room—no one ever used it anyway, so it was wasted space. Perhaps you can steal the guest room?

Set yourself up for success. Wherever you end up locating your home office, ensure you put some thought into your decision. If you are going to be working from your home full-time, use this checklist to ensure you’re set up for success and maximum productivity. Here are some initial considerations:

  • Where will you set up your home office?
  • How will you modify the space to meet your needs?
  • Can you lock the door? Can you lock the windows?
  • Do you have sufficient lighting for that area?
  • Can you get privacy if you need to make a phone call?
  • What office supplies you will need?
  • Where are the electrical sockets located? Will you need additional power sources?
  • Do you have enough storage space, such as a file cabinet, bookcases, credenza, closets, etc.?
  • Where you will store back-up disks? Is the storage area safe from fire, flooding, etc.?
  • If your home office is in the basement, and if the basement tends to get damp, do you have a de-humidifier?

  • Do you have a personal computer that you already use at home? Will you need different software or upgrade the RAM? Will others need to stop using it for personal purposes?
  • Do you have sufficient office equipment for your home office?
  • Do you have a desk? Is it large enough to do office work?
  • Do you need to have a modem installed on your home computer?
  • Are there sufficient phone jacks in the area you’ve designated for your home office?
  • Do you need a separate fax line, Internet, and business line?
  • Do you have voice mail or an answering machine?
  • Do you have a smoke detector in your home office area?
  • Do you have a fire extinguisher located hear your home office?

Regardless of whether you work full-time from home or a few times each month, your home office has some common requirements.

Furniture and storage. You’ll be sitting a lot, so make sure you’re comfortable. A folding chair will soon make your back ache and your productivity wane. Insufficient storage space will result in piles of paper all over the floor. So make your home office function just like your traditional office. Think through all the elements that surround you while you work:

  • A professional office desk and worktable
  • Sturdy filing cabinets and drawer space for files (quality pieces that won’t fall apart)
  • An ergonomically correct chair
  • Bookcases or shelves to hold binders, trays, phone books, and reference manuals
  • Stackable storage units that maximize your space vertically
  • Large garbage can
  • Supply caddy/accessories
  • Stackable trays for “in” and “out” boxes
  • A large, standing document sorter with slots for envelopes, fax paper, letterhead, etc., that fits under your desk for easy access

Computer and peripherals. This is not the area to skimp—make your computer fly. You do not want to waste time waiting to run or switch between programs. Get the fastest computer you can afford, one that is upgradeable. Within a year or two, it will be obsolete, and you will need the ability to stay current.

  • A computer with lots of RAM, a large hard drive, and a DVD burner
  • Docking station. Your main computer should be your laptop that can be hooked into an external monitor when you return to your home office (no transferring files)
  • External back-up system (like an external drive)
  • DSL or cable or satellite Internet connection (no dial-up)
  • High-security remote access to your offsite office computer
  • USB hub such as Linksys 2.0, which has seven easy access ports to plug in your keyboard, iPod, PDA docking station, digital camera, USB flash drive, etc.

Software. You should select software packages that “talk” to each other, to minimize copying and keystrokes. I personally use Microsoft Office products, because more software is designed around that platform than any other. My contact manager works with my word processor that works with my accounting software that works with my graphics package, etc. Here are my requirements:

  • Spam filter
  • Internet security and virus protection
  • Integrated contact management
  • Fax within the computer
  • Postage
  • Accounting software
  • Email software
  • Spreadsheet, presentation, and word processing suite
  • Calendar or a paper planner

Other technology and equipment for people who work at home. Now add all the peripherals that go with your new setup:

  • A separate business phone line and fax line if you conduct business from home so your clients don’t get voice mail saying, “You’ve reached the Smith residence.”
  • Wireless headset
  • Cell phone and PDA, which can be separate, but optimally one which includes PDA and email access
  • Pager or text pager (only if you’re required to carry one)
  • High-quality laser printer, copy machine, and scanner (separately or all-in-one)
  • Telephone with voice mail

It takes money, time, and creativity to set up a home office. Who knows … setting up a clean, organized, productive office space at home might allow you to consider more work-at-home or other home-based business opportunities.

By Laura Stack, Personal Productivity Expert


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