From Spare Room to Office – Fast!

So you’ve finally decided to work from home — you’ll need to set up your own home office! It’s one of the best parts of working from home. For the first time in your life, you get to choose your desk and where it will go. You get to choose the equipment and the supplies. You get to choose the chairs and the lamps. This is going to be fun! Let’s explore the essentials of designing your home office… everything from finding the best space, to buying the right supplies. You’ll spend a lot of time in your office, so let’s make sure you design it right!

Find The Room

Sometimes it’s hard to find the right room in which to locate your home office. After all, when you moved into your house you probably didn’t know you’d end up working from home. Look for a room in your house that meets these criteria:

  1. Separate from household members and distractions
  2. Enough room for a desk, chair, equipment, office supplies, and space to think and move around
  3. Enough electrical outlets and power for all your equipment
  4. Phone line(s) available
  5. Enough heating and cooling
  6. Windows for sunlight and fresh air
  7. Good ventilation

In an ideal situation, all of the above elements will be present.

If you choose a room that’s completely separate from other rooms, "defined work space used exclusively for your business" (as defined by the IRS Tax Code), you can deduct your home office at tax time. So it might be better for your pocket to choose an enclosed space that isn’t used in day to day family life.

But what if you can’t find any space for your home office? Try to use your imagination before you call an architect to start renovations! Are there any walk-in closets in your home? How about your basement? You can clean up your garage and park cars on the street. Maybe separating some space in an existing room with bookshelves might do the trick.

If you still can’t figure out a way to make space for your home office, maybe you should consider hiring an architect or general contractor to add on to your house, or build an office in your basement etc. This might be an easy job… just adding a wall to make one room into two. Or you might end up spending quite a bit of money. But I’d recommend that you don’t get too carried away until your business has run smoothly for at least 6 months, and you’re sure you’re committed to working from home.

Office Layout Plan

It isn’t time to go shopping yet; rather it’s time to get out the graph paper, rulers, and pencils. Before we buy furniture and equipment we will need to map out our office, or in other words make a layout plan. Have a family member help you measure the length and width of the room and the height and width of the doorway. On your piece of graph paper draw the room to the right proportions. Then consider all of the equipment and supplies that you’ll need to run your business. Here are my suggestions:

  1. Chair
  2. Desk
  3. Filing Cabinet
  4. Bookshelves
  5. Telephone(s)
  6. Computer
  7. Fax Machine / Copier / Scanner
  8. Storage Bins
  9. Pens / Pencils
  10. Paper
  11. Binders
  12. Folders
  13. Staples, Binder Clips, Paper Clips
  14. Envelopes
  15. Media Storage Devices (Zip Disks, Floppy Discs, CDs, etc)

Think ahead: is there anything else you might need? Now, map out on the graph paper where you want to place each of these items… design away! Remember, you’ll spend much of your time in your office, so try to make it a place that you will enjoy being in, or you might wind up dreading your work. The way you design your home office can make or break your freelance business, so keep the following in mind:

  • Only paint with neutral colors, or the paint will overpower your furniture and you’ll be distracted.
  • Don’t jam tons of furniture and equipment into your office unless it’s totally necessary. You’ll be less likely to want to visit a cluttered office.
  • If you’re easily distracted, don’t put your desk in front of a window.
  • Place your bookshelf, filing cabinet, and telephone within arms’ reach.
  • Place your desk near the electrical supply and phone lines.
  • Add your personal touch to everything. This will create a more inviting atmosphere.
  • If there’s enough room, add a reading chair for those times when you need a change of scene.

Let’s Go Shopping

Now to the fun part… shopping! Whether you decide to shop online or in a conventional store, don’t forget your list and layout plan. As you shop for items, take their measurements and draw them on your plan to make sure they fit. A few online stores that you might visit are:

What to Look For

…in a Desk or Workstation

Since the advent of the computer, one small desk is often no longer enough: a workstation is a more appropriate item now. Depending on what your profession is, you’ll need desk space for your computer, and then more desk space for administrative work. Think about what type of equipment you will need, and where it will go.

How much room do you have for a desk? Usually your best option is to get an "L" desk. What I mean by this is choose your favorite desk, and then choose a smaller desk that can be placed perpendicular to the main desk (or, if you can, buy a desk with a ‘return’). The big desk is perfect for your computer equipment, and the smaller desk can be kept clear as a writing surface.

Be sure to choose a sturdy desk that you can keep for a long time. It’s better to fork out a few more bucks now than to have to replace your desk in a year or so. Also, find a desk that’s at a height that is comfortable for you. And if you don’t have enough money to buy a new desk, try visiting the Salvation Army or a used furniture store to save money.

…in a Chair

You chair is one of the most important items in your office. If you purchase a cheap chair, you could hurt yourself and/or hate working in your office. A good chair reduces fatigue and other pains that occur when posture is bad for long periods of time. Buy an adjustable chair (height, armrests, back angle, and lumbar support) so you can enjoy your office and avoid pain and injuries.

…in a Bookshelf

The size of the bookshelf will probably depend on how much room you have left in your office after your workstation and chair are in place. My suggestion is to install your bookshelf right behind and above your desk. This way books are always at arms’ reach and you save yourself a lot of room. Purchase as big a bookshelf as you can — you’ll be surprised how fast it fills up!

…in a Filing Cabinet

At the very least, you’ll want to buy a four-drawer filing cabinet. It’s crucial that your filing system is organized and easily accessible.

…in a Telephone

It’s important to get a telephone that has a hold and speaker button. It’s also a good idea to get a separate line for the telephone and fax / modem.

…in a Computer

The computer will most often be the most expensive piece of equipment you purchase for your office. Because of the large number of variables involved, let’s look at this in detail.

Operating System

Your first decision is going to be the operating system for the computer. Unless you have a reason to choose otherwise, you are going to be looking at a Mac or a Windows machine. If you have experience on one platform you might want to stick with it. When you work on your own without any kind of system support, you’ll want to use a computer that you’re comfortable with. All things being equal, if you are a graphic designer, desktop publisher, you work with digital video or need to mix audio, use a Mac. For anything else, buy a PC.

Vendor

The second decision is who to buy the machine from. The keyword here is reliable, reliable, reliable. If you buy a Mac, purchase straight from Apple. If you purchase a PC, make your purchase from Dell or one of the other big names in the business. You may be tempted to buy from a no-name supplier because the price is mouth watering. But it’s your eyes that will be watering when your computer breaks down at 1am when you’re at work on a project with a looming deadline. You want good support, and Dell has been rated as the best on this front many times.

Support

As we’re on the topic of support: buy the service contract. If you buy a Mac, that support contract is currently for three years of "Applecare". If you don’t buy straight from Apple, your reseller may try to convince you that their private support is as good as, or even better than Apple’s. To keep it short, they’re wrong! I am yet to find third party support that beats Apple’s: I’ve always found their support to be worth the money. As for a name brand PC, purchase three years of onsite support. If you can afford to be without your computer for a few days, you can save a little by opting for mail in support… but who can really afford to lose those days?

Configuration

Finally we’re left with the computer’s configuration. This was probably your first question, but for most of you it is probably the least important. For the most part computer power is far superior to the software that can run on it right now. Since new systems are constantly brought to the fore we can’t give specific numbers here. The best buy for your money is usually going to be a based on the supplier’s mid-level offering. The cheapest way to increase power in your system is to add RAM, but make sure the computer you purchase has at least 256mb to begin with. If you are a designer that minimum jumps to 512mb.

Your New Office

Once you’ve purchased all necessary items, move them on in and start your freelance business. I hope this article has helped you plan out and design your office. Good Luck!

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