The old 9-to-5 isn’t what it used to be. As more companies embrace flexible working schedules and telecommuting options, a growing number of employees are finding that, even in the professional realm, there’s no place like home. Working from home or working remotely can come with many benefits, not the least of which is the elimination of the dreaded morning and afternoon commute. Here’s how to set up your home office for success.
Commission floor plans. Whether you’re building a new home (and plan to work from it) or renovating an existing one, it’s a good idea to have plans drawn up by an architect so that you know how much space you have to work with. Knowing that exact square footage has tax savings implications: If your home office is your principal workplace, you may qualify for a home office tax deduction (for what the IRS calls “business use of your home”) based on the overall area of that space. Plus, an architect may be able to see beyond walls to find potential spatial configurations you might not have considered.
Define your workspace. One of the benefits of working from home is an escape from the monotony of walled-off cubicle land, but it’s no less important that you define your workspace. The surest way of delineating space is to turn an existing room into a home office. If your house doesn’t have empty or underutilized rooms, consider an uncluttered portion of your basement, attic, or garage. The tax deduction mentioned above applies only to space that is used exclusively as a home office, so simply putting a desk in your living room doesn’t make you eligible, nor does it keep you from getting easily distracted.
Get comfortable. How you work is just as important as where you work, so don’t just grab an extra dining room chair. Chairs run the full spectrum of traditional to modern, with designs that have improved thanks to ergonomic research over the last half century. You should choose one for your home office that will keep your posture vertical and your mind sharp for as many hours as you’d normally spend at work.
Get lit. When you’re creating the home version of a corner office, don’t forget to consider natural light. Ideally, your home office will have at least one window so your workday can follow diurnal routines and your workspace will benefit from natural light. But also invest in a swing-arm desk lamp to provide ample illumination for concentrated tasks.
Clear your clutter. There’s nothing as infuriating as knowing that you have the specific piece of information you need somewhere nearby, but having no idea where to find it within the toppling stacks accumulated on your desk. So start with an empty desk, and make it a goal to keep it as clear as possible. The recycle bin should be your new best friend, helping you reduce the number of papers that stack up.
Organize your information. For what you do choose to keep, keep it orderly. A small filing cabinet should be able to hold everything you need in terms of taxes and records, and many home furnishings can be repurposed to hold files if a filing cabinet feels more corporate than cozy. And don’t forget to organize your digital files, too. Sorting invoices, receipts, and documents by year can be a big time-saver during tax return season.
Grow something. Keeping plants in your home office will liven it up immensely. Not only are there health benefits associated with live plants indoors, the plants are there when you need to take a break from sitting: Grab a glass of water for yourself and give a few sips to the plants as well. A little gentle pruning now and again can prove meditative, and can be a good way to refocus.
Set a schedule (and keep it). It’s all too easy for the self-employed to get caught up in news feeds or day-to-day housework, but be sure you’re sticking to the schedule you set for yourself. If you approach working at home with the same level of professionalism you’d bring to an office setting, your work will speak for you. A good clock should be in plain view so you know how much time you’re devoting to each task; even a wall calendar can work wonders in terms of fulfilling your deadlines.
Communicate. Responding promptly to emails and calls lets your co-workers know that you’re reliable, even if you’re working remotely. If you’re self-employed, you know the importance of communicating ideas to collaborators and clients: That’s how you drum up business. Within the context of a larger company, you can substitute face-to-face time with FaceTime (or another video-enabled communication service). Thanks to technology available on even the most basic mobile device, you can share space with co-workers a continent away.
Take breaks. Anyone familiar with water cooler chatter or break room banter knows that office environments are also highly social. When you’re working from home, that’s an aspect of your day that can go missing. So step outside every few hours; wave to your neighbor, or walk to a coffee shop. You can break up the monotony of the work itself with short breaks that activate your sedentary limbs and your social life. And you may even meet a potential collaborator whose taste in coffee is equal to your own.
About the author: Deane Madsen, Assoc. AIA, is a writer and architectural photographer based in Washington, DC. He is the founder of Brutalist DC and the former associate editor of design for Architect Magazine.