Working from home offers many advantages, including the flexibility of setting your own schedule, saving time and money by eliminating your daily commute, and allowing you to start a business with minimal overhead. But being successful in a home office requires creating a space that promotes efficiency in a non-traditional work environment.
You'll want to define a professional work area that separates your business from your personal life whether you're self-employed or telecommuting. Its location, lighting, and confinement of clutter are all important.
Identify What You Need
What you'll need in your office will depend on the type of work you do. You might require both a small desk for your computer and a larger table or workspace for your artwork if you're a graphic artist. A consultant might require additional space for file cabinets or an area set aside for meeting with clients. A photographer might require an in-home studio or storage space for props and lighting equipment.
Your employer might have specific requirements about the equipment you must use if you're telecommuting, such as dedicated electronics or industry-specific equipment.
Create a detailed list of your needs for a home office and set up a space that meets those requirements before you arbitrarily claim a corner in one of your rooms and decide that it's "good enough."
Choose a Dedicated Area
Ideally, your office should be in a quiet area that allows you some privacy. This is especially important if you share the house with a spouse, children, or roommates.
You might find that a spare room with a door can reduce noise from the rest of the house if you'll be on the phone frequently. It could make sense to choose a room near the front entrance of the house if you'll be meeting with clients in your home office. You might need a dedicated studio that's separate from the rest of your home if you need space to spread out design or tech equipment.
Your employer might require that you have a door that closes and locks for reasons of confidentiality if you telecommute.
Consider the Light
Set up your home office so it has plenty of light. You'll do your best work if some of that includes natural light. Warm light, such as from firelight, promotes relaxation. Cold light, such as daylight, improves productivity and alertness. That's what you want in your home office. Windows and exposure to daylight can also impact your physical and mental well-being.
Working in a space with natural light can reduce headaches and eyestrain, allowing you to be more productive on a day-to-day basis and healthier in the long term.
You might want to keep a plant or two in your workspace as an added touch that can improve your well-being. Research has shown that having plants in an office can increase your productivity and make you happier while you work.
Use a Dedicated Phone
One of the many benefits of working from home is reduced overhead, but the initial savings you might realize by sharing a phone line between your home and business can ultimately cost you.
A shared voicemail can sound unprofessional or confuse clients who expect a message specific to your business, and if you use the same landline for your home and work, you risk having a child or other family member answer the phone.
Having a dedicated phone for your home office, including a cell phone or a VoIP—Internet-based—phone, can allow you to separate your work and personal life, maintaining boundaries that can help both you and your customers.
Set Aside a Place for Gadgets
It's easy to become distracted when you don't have a supervisor or manager looking over your shoulder all the time, and this is especially true if you keep your gadgets with you in your office.
Research published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research found that having their smartphones accessible reduces workers' productivity, especially if they're already prone to overusing their phones. This is the case even if the power is off so the phone isn't chirping, binging, or vibrating.
You probably can't afford those wasted hours if you're self-employed, and your employer will likely scrutinize your work carefully to make sure you aren't doing other tasks while you're being paid for working if you telecommute.
You might occasionally need to use your devices for work, but your home office will be a more productive space if you have a dedicated spot where you store your smartphone, tablet, and other gadgets when they're not in use.
Separate the Professional From the Personal
Keep your personal life from spilling over into your business life—and vice versa. Setting up a business bank account is the first step in helping you avoid mixing personal expenses with your business expenses.
Store personal checks, mail, client records, and financial records in a dedicated spot in your office, rather than with personal documents.
Fully segmenting your business from your personal records will help at tax time, too. The IRS tends to scrutinize tax deductions related to home offices, and the more you can prove that the office is a completely separate and dedicated area, the better you'll be able to meet the IRS definitions of a home office and avoid an audit.
The IRS says your office must:
- Be the principal place of your business
- Be used exclusively for work purposes
This means you can't simultaneously keep an eye on your kids as they watch TV on the other side of the room—at least not if you're going to claim a home office deduction for the whole room. And it's okay if you have to travel occasionally for work, visiting clients' or customers' locations, as long as you effectively run your business from your home office space.
Have a Way to Keep Time
Research has found that you'll be more productive if you get up and move around a bit throughout the day. These brief mental rest periods break up the workday and can improve your focus, but it's easy to forget about time when you're working from home. Before you know it, you've worked 14 hours for the third day in a row.
Workers in a home office are more likely to overwork than those in a traditional workspace. Have some way in place to track time in your office, whether it's a clock on the wall or the alarm on your phone.
Tracking time will encourage you to break up your workday effectively, and it will help you maintain regular work hours and a healthy work-life balance.