Tips for Setting Up Your Home Office

How to set up a home office for productivity and professionalism

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. However, being successful in a home office requires creating an office space that promotes efficiency in a non-traditional work environment.

Whether you are self-employed or telecommuting, take time to define a professional working space that separates your work from your personal life.

Identify What You Need

Overview of woman in her home office setting
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What you need will depend on the type of work you do.

If you are a graphic artist, for example, you may need both a small desk for your computer and a larger table or workspace for your artwork. A consultant could require additional space for file cabinets or space to meet with clients. A photographer may need an in-home studio or storage space for props and lighting equipment.

If you are telecommuting, rather than running your own business, your employer may have specific requirements about the equipment you need to have, such as dedicated electronics or industry-specific equipment.

Before claiming a corner in one of your rooms and calling it good enough, make a detailed list of your needs for a home office and set up a space that meets those requirements.

Choose a Dedicated Area

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Ideally, your office should be in a quiet area with some privacy. This is especially important if you share the house with a spouse, children, or roommates.

You may 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. Or, if you'll be meeting with clients in your home office, it could make sense to choose a room near the front entrance of the house. If you need space to spread out design or tech equipment, you might need a dedicated studio that is separate from the rest of your home.

If you telecommute, your employer may require you to have a dedicated area that you use for work, or even to have a door that closes and locks for reasons of confidentiality. But even if you are self-employed, consider having a dedicated area that you use just for work.

Consider the Light

Home office lighting
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Set up your home office with plenty of light for work; you'll do your best work if some of that includes natural light.

Windows and exposure to daylight can impact office workers' 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.

An added touch that can improve your work and well-being: Keep a plant or two in your workspace. Research has shown that having plants in an office can improve both your productivity and make you happier while your work.

Use a Dedicated Phone for Your Home Business

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One of the many benefits of working from home is having reduced overhead. However, the initial savings from 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 help both you and your customers.

Have a Place for Gadgets

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When you don't have a supervisor or manager looking over your shoulder, it can be easy to get distracted during the workday. This is especially true if you keep your gadgets with you in your home office.

Research has found that having smartphones accessible reduces workers' productivity, especially if they are already prone to overusing their phones. A survey by staffing firm Office Team found that workers can spend more than eight hours per week on their smartphones doing tasks unrelated to work.

When you are self-employed, you often can't afford those wasted hours. And if you telecommute, your employer will likely scrutinize your work carefully to make sure you aren't doing other tasks while getting paid for working.

You may occasionally need to use your devices for work. But when they're not in use, your home office will be a more productive space if you have a dedicated spot where you store your smartphone, tablet, and other gadgets.

Separate the Professional From the Personal

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When working from home, 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, and client records, and financial records in a dedicated spot in your home office, rather than with personal documents.

Fully segmenting your business from your personal records will help at tax time. Tax deductions related to home offices are increasingly scrutinized, 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.

Have a Way to Keep Time

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Research has found that you'll be more productive if you get up and move throughout the day. These brief mental rest periods break up the workday and improve your focus.

But when working from home, it's easy to forget about time. 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. Whether you choose to hang a clock on the wall or use the alarm on your phone, have some way to track time in your home office.

Tracking time won't just encourage you to break up your workday effectively. It will also help you maintain regular work hours. Even though your work is at home, there still comes a time when you have it to call it a day and shut the door to your office.