Sunday, June 1, 2008

Set Up Your Home Office

Running your business from a home office saves money, spares you a daily commute, and gives you control over your work environment. A desire to work at home may even be the reason you're in business in the first place. The advantages are pretty obvious, but merging your office and home does present some challenges. You'll probably be spending a lot of time there, so careful planning will go a long way toward making it all work.

To create the ideal work space, you'll need to take into consideration the nature of your business, your own work style, and the other members of your household. Pay attention to the environmental factors that make your home office a healthy, safe, and pleasant work environment. The goal is to make your home office a place where you can be comfortable, organized, and productive.

Location: Your first consideration will probably be the right location for your office. It should be convenient, roomy enough for your furniture and equipment, and relatively private with minimal distractions. Taking over a spare room in your house is ideal, but if that's not an option choose a suitable area in your home, set it up permanently for your business activities, and declare it off limits to the rest of the household. Don't plan on working from your kitchen table -it's just too inconvenient and time consuming to clear it off every time you want to get some work done.

Access: If you expect to have clients and colleagues visiting, try to have a separate entrance so they won't have to walk through the living areas of your house to get to your office (and you won't have to feel embarrassed if your house is less than tidy!). Being able to see the street and driveway from your office is ideal, since you'll be able to see any visitors or delivery trucks as they arrive. Separate your home and business lives as much as possible, both for the sake of professionalism and the privacy of other household members.

Wiring and cabling: Another consideration is electrical wiring and cabling. You'll need to have enough outlets to accommodate your computer and all your peripheral devices, plus any lamps, clocks and other electronic devices. You may need to hire an electrician to do some additional wiring to accommodate all the electronic devices your office requires. You'll also need enough phone lines and jacks for your business phone, fax machine, and Internet access if you're using a dial-up connection. You'll need a DSL or cable connection if you want high speed Internet access.

Lighting and ventilation: Your office should should be climate controlled with adequate ventilation, both for your sake and your computer's (operating your computer at high temperatures can damage it). It should also be relatively clean and dust-free, since dust and dirt can also damage your electronic equipment. Natural light is easiest on the eyes, but you'll obviously need lighting fixtures after dark. Use more than one light source in different spots to balanced lighting and buy bulbs that provide a soft glow. Place the main lighting source above and behind you so light will come over your shoulder(s) onto your computer screen and desk without creating glare.

Desk or workstation: Your desk is the central piece of furniture in your office space and the most critical in terms of your productivity. You need a desk or table with room for your computer, monitor and peripheral devices, plus a work surface with room for your papers, notes and anything else you want to keep handy. Another option is a multi-purpose "workstation" that accommodates your computer system, printer, and phone along with some storage space for books and CDs. If space is very limited, using a simple computer stand that holds just your computer system may be the best option.

Other furnishings: Invest in a good desk chair that is comfortable, durable, and adjustable to be ergonomically correct for you. Choose one with arms and lower back support to prevent fatigue. Not only will you be far more productive in a chair that "fits", but it will help you avoid back strain and carpal tunnel syndrome. If you'll be using your office to meet with clients and colleagues, include a few guest chairs and a table where you can sit down together for meetings and consultations. A combination bulletin board and chalk board or write-on board give you a handy place to stash business cards and clippings and jot down notes to yourself.

Ambience: After you have all the essentials, add some personal touches to create a pleasant work environment. Decorate your office in a way that relects your taste and personality, creates an upbeat mood, and motivates you to do your best. Surround yourself with pictures and objects that relax, amuse or inspire you. Use color in your paint or wallcovering, fabrics and artwork to set the mood. Your work space can be soothing or energizing, depending on the color scheme you choose.

Personal touches: Some possibilities for personalizing your office are family photos, a globe, your kids' artwork, mementos and objects with sentimental value, framed quotes or motivational sayings, a table top fountain, small sculptures, a fish tank, photos from nature, a wall mural, a radio or sound system, or a small TV. One of the biggest perks of working at home is having the freedom to personalize your work space, so be creative in setting up the ideal work environment for you.

Safety and security: If your office has an outside door or a door that opens to the rest of the house, make sure they're securely locked when you're not in the office and consider an alarm system as well. Not only are your computer and other office equipment valuable, but lost data may be irreplaceable. Your home office may become a target for thieves, and it's worth the effort to protect both your investment and your personal safety. Installing a smoke detector is a must. Hopefully you'll never need it, but as they say, better safe than sorry.

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