Whether you just need a landing spot for managing household paperwork like bills, calendars, insurance information, etc. or a room designated to running a small business, planning the ultimate home office requires a little more work than plopping a laptop on your kitchen table or shoving a desk and a chair into an available corner of your home.
You’ll probably spend at least an hour a day working on tasks, so a crumb-covered table won’t inspire much organization or motivation (neither will the kids screaming over who gets the last Oreo, for that matter).
Creating a space that not only makes you more productive, but also keeps you organized calls for careful planning. Yes, this means homework and a little math, but the end result will make you feel like you could be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company rather than just the signer of your kid’s field trip forms.
Here’s how to create the perfect home office:
1. What do you need to do?
The home improvement guru himself Bob Vila offers an overview of how to plan your office space. First, divide up your space by the types of tasks you need to complete.
Consider every possible use for the room:
- Will you need space for a computer?
- Open table space for hands-on work?
- Space to meet with customers and/or clients?
- Space for your kids to play or do homework?
- Storage space?
Architect and designer Neal Zimmerman told Inc magazine to use the acronym CAMP to help determine your needs:
Computers: How many will you need and how big are they?
Administrative storage: A place where you can make phone calls, but also sort through mail, bills, invoices, etc.
Meeting space: An area to share information with visitors (if you think you’ll have any on a regular basis).
Project station: An area to complete not paper-related tasks (for instance, if you’re an artist or you make gift baskets or handmade soap, here’s where that work is completed).
2. How much room do you need?
After determining what types of work areas you might need, the next step is to get out your measuring tape, a pencil and paper and start measuring the length, width and height of all the components you already have for your office: desks, work tables, chairs, lamps, computers, printers, scanners, filing cabinets, etc.
Then do the math for each work area. For instance, how much room will your desk chair, desk and computer need? How much room will a sofa and table take up for meetings with clients? (BobVila.com recommends bringing a friend or two over to act as models for your clients so you can figure out comfortable distances for seating to build into your plan).
Consider whether any of these areas can be doubled up, Zimmerman said. For instance, your administrative area could also serve as your meeting area.
3. Where should the office be located?
Once you’ve determined how much space you might need, then you have the difficult task of figuring out what space you actually have to put it in. If you live in a small studio apartment in the city, you might have limited options versus a house in the suburbs where a spare bedroom, finished basement or attic can be transformed into a home office. No matter how much space you have, it’s still important to designate a work area that won’t be impinged upon by the other activities you do in your home said Zimmerman.
4. What’s your plan?
Next you need to do some arts and crafts. Draw a model of your office to scale, cutting out and labeling paper squares and rectangles to represent the different pieces of furniture. Move the labeled items around the different areas of your office to see how they might fit best, keeping factors like power sources and phone jacks in mind. It might be wise to visit an office furniture store for advice on furniture that will help maximize your space. They can advise you on things like safely stacking computer equipment or using tables that can be folded to increase or reduce workspace as needed. Zimmerman recommends enlisting the help of a professional designer at this point to ensure you are considering everything you need to about the space and that it fits within your budget.
5. What’s the best design?
Traditionally, setting up your office in an L-shaped or U-shaped layout that keeps you within arms reach of all of your work. “Think of this space as a cockpit that enables you to move from task to task with a minimal amount of effort,” small business consultant Terry Lonier told Inc. Figure out what type of work you do the most of. If you’re on the computer all day, that should be the focal space. If, however, your work involves making models or putting together flower bouquets, your layout should change accordingly.
6. How can you make the space healthy?
Ergonomics aren’t just something your human resources representative came up with to torture you about your posture. Using the proper office furniture and equipment can save you from eye strain, repetitive strain injuries, back injuries and other potential problems related to a poor work environment. Position your computer so that the screen is at eye level and you’re not hunched over the computer. Use multiple sources of light to prevent glare.
Don’t skimp on your desk chair; select one that swivels and adjusts for seat height, tilt, armrest height and lumbar support. You might spend more time in the chair then you do your bed, Lonier said.
Also, make sure to take advantage of the natural light in your home, which studies have shown improves mood and productivity and is easier on your eyes.
7. How can you personalize the space?
When you work in an office building, chances are someone else has selected the furniture, color scheme, generic inoffensive artwork and sickly fern you sit by all day every day. Since you’re building a home office, make this the place to reflect your personal aesthetic. Use colors that inspire and calm you and pictures and artwork that make you happy. Create a space that gives you energy, rather than sucking the life force out of you.
Photo courtesy of Jeremy Levine Design/Flickr