Connecticut Home: Home Office Primer
Working from home . . . for some, it’s a dream come true. (How cool is it to work in your jammies, anyway?) For others, it’s not exactly work heaven—there’s never enough room, there are too many distractions, no support staff (unless you count the dog), you have to buy your own Post-Its, and there’s no such thing as being off the clock.
Love it or not, for many the home office is a fact of life. And whatever the nature of your business, it’s important to create a space and a system that work for you. Setting up an effective and attractive workspace in your home requires careful consideration—but not necessarily buckets of money. It’s possible, with a little forethought (and a trip or two to Staples) to create a home office that meets all the essential requirements for the job: comfort, efficiency and style.
Comfort is Key
Unless your home office is completely separate from your living area (in the garage or accessible only by an outdoor entrance), you need to consider basic comforts on both sides of the door—such as how much space you can dedicate, where that space is, whether you can control the temperature, lighting and acoustics—and whether working there will intrude on your domestic life.
In this case, space is the first frontier.
“Finding extra room for a home office can be challenging, especially when your space is limited,” acknowledges home office expert Lisa Kanarek. Think small, advises Kanarek, who is also an interior designer, the author of five books including Organize Your Home Office for Success, and keeper of an entertaining blog at workingnaked.com. “You can convert a small closet into a workspace, use a computer cabinet or an armoire to house your equipment, or a drop-down desk attached to the wall can work well too,” says Kanarek. “The nice part about working from home is that you don’t need a huge space to set up shop.”
Once you’ve settled on a location, make a list of the equipment you need in order to do your job. For “office” work, most of us will require a desk and chair, computer (laptop or desktop, large monitor or small?) a telephone (cell or land line, both?), scanner, printer and copier (will an all-in-one do?).
The particulars of your job will dictate the nuances of your setup.
Says Kanarek: “If you’re a writer, you’re going to need a work surface for your laptop or desktop, plus plenty of space for files. If you’re a Web designer, you may need less file space but room for a large monitor, an all-in-one and, more important, an ergonomically correct chair.”
Don’t go overboard on the furnishings—at least not right away.
“I don’t recommend getting one of those big office desks,” says Ginny Moffitt, a Fairfield interior designer who works out of her home. “In general, the smaller the scale of your furniture, the happier you’ll be.”
While creating an attractive workspace is important for many reasons, dressing a home office to the nines is one of the biggest mistakes people make.
“Some people spend more money on furnishing their home office with expensive furniture, and skimp on their computer and other equipment they need,” says Kanarek. “Buy furniture that will last, but set priorities and focus on the things that will help you grow your business.”
Which brings us to efficiency.
Just Do It
Professional organizing expert Matt Baier of Stamford beams when asked how to set up an efficient home office; he lives for this. As a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers, he helps clients unclutter their files and streamline their businesses—80 percent of them home-based.
His philosophy is that less is more, so simplify—and clean off your desk. “A work surface is like a computer,” he says. “It can hold a lot of memory, and it can work well for a long time . . . but when it gets overloaded, eventually it will crash. And if you don’t manage your paper, you’ll crash, too.”
“Computers were supposed to make us a paperless society, but what’s happening more and more is that we are printing out our emails,” he says. Baier has a strategy for managing paper (and everything else we surround ourselves with in a home office); he calls it the “target model.”
“Imagine a target with concentric circles and a bull’s-eye,” he says. “Every circle represents something you need—but most of them don’t have to be anywhere near you when you work. In the outermost circle are your archives and your backup supplies. The next one is for reference materials: books, printer, binders and CDs. They should be handy but not in the way. The next ring is for things you need at your fingertips: your computer, telephone and action files.”
What goes in the bull’s-eye? “Nothing,” says Baier. “Because a clear work surface is absolutely the No. 1 organizing tool.”
That said, whether you work out of a suite in the basement or a corner of the kitchen, how do you deal with all that paper?
“Think of it in four stages,” Baier says. “The first is ‘Running’—it’s paper we must take action on. It shouts ‘Pay me!’ ‘Read me!’ ‘Review me!’ The second is ‘Sitting’—this can go into a cabinet but it must be easy to get to. The third is ‘Sleeping’—some of it is very important, some of it we hold onto just in case. It can and should be stored remotely. Finally, there’s ‘Dead’—this is paper that has lost its value.”
Baier guarantees your home office will run smoothly if you categorize everything that comes across your desk in this way—especially your (USPS) mail, which, despite email, just keeps on coming. “I say be as ruthless with your mail as it is with you,” concludes Baier.
One of the best things about working in a home office is the ability to create a pleasing environment in which to toil away. You’re not locked into the world of cookie-cutter cubicles or dreary office neutrals; you can make your space your own—and you absolutely should, says interior designer Moffitt.
“There’s a reason why people bring pictures of their family or dog to work,” says Moffitt. “It makes you feel good. You should feel uplifted by your surroundings. When you work at home, you have the luxury of designing a space that is worthy of you!”
When Moffitt commandeered a bedroom in her home after her youngest child left the nest, she knew it would have to do double-duty as a guest room, but that didn’t stop her from making it beautiful. “I found a great glass-topped table on sawhorses—I knew it was the perfect desk for me, but it also could serve as a nice surface on which guests could place their things. I added a convertible sofa for extra seating, and I hid my all-important file cabinets, stacked, in the closet. I left half the closet empty so guests could hang up their clothes.”
The stunning space worked beautifully for years—until Moffitt had to give over the space to a family member. She didn’t flinch; “I just moved the table into my breakfast room and it fit perfectly. I even liked the light better in there.” Her lifesavers? Portable file boxes with hanging folders: “You can take them anywhere,” she says.
“The challenge was getting people to understand that when my back was turned and I was on the phone or on the computer that they had to respect my space,” she says.
Aside from balancing work and family—an especially tricky maneuver if you have young children at home—many who work at home complain about being disconnected from the rest of the business world, or feeling they can never “punch out.”
Kanarek suggests a “field trip” from time to time—even if it’s just to a coffee shop (make sure you buy something, she says). Another remedy: Seek out a co-working space (loosecubes.com is a good resource), or join a group of like-minded home-office professionals who get together regularly to brainstorm.
Be firm about closing time. “Rather than check email all night, set a stopping point like dinnertime or 5 p.m. so you don’t find yourself working day and night,” says Kanarek. “I used to work days, nights and weekends and finally hit a burnout point. The first change I made was to shut my home office door at the end of the day.”
Finally, remember that your home office “should be a space you look forward to working in, even if the commute is only 10 seconds away,” says Kanarek. “If it’s cluttered, you waste time looking for lost items and you increase your stress level. Your home office doesn’t have to resemble something from a design magazine, but it should be comfortable and set up in a way that helps you be more efficient.”