Setting up a small or home office isn't just a matter of lugging office equipment into a room and plugging it in. Because your home office space is first and foremost a working space, the most important element of your home office design is the infrastructure.
Commercial office facilities were originally designed to be office spaces; they have adequate power, lighting, and ventilation for office workspaces built into their design. It will probably not be the case with your house or other building that you've decided to use as a small or home office.
The Infrastructure Your New Office Needs
Commercial buildings designed for office use generally have a better quality electrical supply than residences and other non-commercial buildings. And setting up a home office means that you will be greatly increasing your power use in that location. For instance, even a small laser printer will consume 300 to 400 watts of electricity when it's running, and larger laser printers will consume much more.
Now think of the other office equipment you're about to install. Suppose you have a PC, a monitor, a laser printer, a scanner and a phone. Will the circuitry in your chosen home office location be up to the job?
Step one of home office design is assessing your power needs. Add up the wattage of your office equipment (and related features such as lighting). You may be able to cut down on your power needs by "combining" some of your office equipment needs. For example, instead of having a separate printer, fax, copier, and scanner, you could have one multifunction machine that performed all these functions.
Before you even spare a passing thought to the aesthetics of your home office design, plug in all your equipment and try to use it, as you would on a normal working day. If you experience electrical danger signs, such as breakers popping or lights dimming when various pieces of equipment are operating, have an electrician check your circuitry and see if any simple rewiring can be done. In my experience, houses, especially older houses, are often wired very eccentrically and need an electrical "cleanup" or updating.
Chances are extremely high that the existing lighting in the proposed location of your home office is inadequate for workspace needs. Few residences have rows of fluorescent lights installed, for example, as commercial office spaces do. While you don't need to go that far, you do need to incorporate strong overhead lighting in your design - and in many cases, that means purchasing and installing new or additional light fixtures. Various types of track lighting are easy to find and relatively easy to install.
When choosing the lighting for your home office, assess your needs first by sitting in your proposed workspace and determining how much illumination you need to work efficiently and where the light should be placed. An office with inadequate lighting is not only useless but can lead to all kinds of health problems from headaches through neck and shoulder pain. Remember, though, that adding lighting will increase your office's power loads. Once again, you'll need to be sure your existing circuitry can handle the increased electrical load.
Many people overlook the importance of ventilation in office design, but you and your office equipment both need it. First, the more office equipment you have operating, the more heat will be generated - and excessive heat can damage office equipment such as PCs. Secondly, if your office space isn't adequately ventilated, working there can be extremely uncomfortable for you. It is a particularly common problem when people choose small spaces for their home offices, such as ex-bedrooms. The room becomes a "hot box" and almost impossible to work in.
So consider the ventilation aspect of your office design carefully when you're choosing the spot for your small or home office. Is the room large enough for you and your equipment to work in comfortably? Consider cooling options such as purchasing a small air-conditioning unit or fans of adequate size to cool the room. Commercial office spaces usually have air-conditioning systems installed to protect both the equipment and people's health.
Now that you've got the basic infrastructure of your office design in place, it's time to give some thought to the utility and safety of your workspace.
Use this checklist to ensure that your small or home office is a safe, usable workspace:
Place Your Office Equipment for Maximum Ease of Use
Determine the best place for each piece of office equipment and furniture by running through a work test. Whatever you use frequently should be close to hand and easy to access. If it's not, move it.
Pay special attention to your work habits using computers and/or tablets. These ergonomic tips will help you avoid neck, shoulder and back pain.
For instance, if your work involves using the phone a lot, your phone should be in a position where you don't have to get up or reach awkwardly to use it. If your work involves handling and filing a lot of paper, your filing cabinet needs to be close enough that you can get to it with a few steps - or even better, have filing drawers within your desk that are close to hand. Run this work test for several days to be sure you have everything placed in the best position.
Protect Your Sensitive Office Equipment
I've already stressed the need for adequate ventilation as part of your office design. It's equally important to protect your office equipment, such as computers, from power surges and/or electrical outages. Invest in as many UPSs (Uninterrupted Power Supplies) as necessary to prevent loss of data or worse, expensive damage to your equipment.
Organize Those Cords and Wires
Just because you have a lot of office equipment doesn't mean your workspace has to look like a rattlesnake den. Plan your office to put as much of your telephone wire or CAT5 cable out of sight as possible. If you have long lengths of cable running from room to room (or down a hallway), consider drilling holes and lifting baseboards as necessary to get it out of sight. If you can't put cables and/or wires out of harm's way, make sure you tape or staple them down as necessary, close to walls, so people aren't in danger of tripping over them.
Examine the cords of your office equipment and take up the slack where possible, either using wire ties to tie up the excess, or using something like a Cable Turtle, which organizes cables. Neatly bundled cords help prevent accidents and will make your home office more aesthetically pleasing.
Going wireless is another way of tackling the cords and wires problem to consider. Many computer peripherals, such as printers and copiers, now have wireless capabilities.
Clear the Paths
Because they're situated in rooms that were originally designed for other uses, some small or home offices resemble obstacle courses. Just because that bed or plant stand has always been there, doesn't mean it has to stay there. You need to be able to get up from your desk and walk around without banging your shins. Get rid of all unnecessary furniture and clutter in your home office space. And don't forget to check the floor. Make sure all area rugs are securely tacked down, for instance.
Perform a Last Check of Your Work Needs
Make sure that you have all the office equipment and office furniture that you new to keep you organized and able to work productively and safely. For example, a speakerphone will allow you to speak on the phone hands-free, allowing you to make notes or work on other tasks. If you have manuals or books that you frequently consult, incorporating some built-in shelving into your home office design may be a real productivity booster.
Add Some Eye Candy
A well-placed painting or print or even a corkboard with some photos can add some visual punch to your home office and make it a more appealing space to work in. Your personal taste will determine what works best for you, but don't clutter up your workspace with too many visual distractions.
Voilà! You're Ready to Work
Infrastructure, utility, and safety - the keys to office design that will help you create an office that's both a functional workspace and a pleasant, productive place to work. Even if we sometimes have little choice as to where our office space will be, focusing on these three elements will help us design an office space that's usable and ultimately livable.