by Art Piccio . June 27th, 2014
While a laptop and an internet connection is all some of us need to get work done these days, there’s obviously a lot more to setting up a home office. Most of us also need space to do all kinds offline and manual work. But the fact that it takes next to no effort to set up shop virtually anywhere in the world can cause many of us to get sloppy.
Personally, I feel standards have lowered when it comes to what freelancers feel makes a home office truly professional. While this will forever be a subjective matter, there are plenty of basic – often overlooked – improvements that will make your home office work for you.
Working comfortably – and effectively – would be next to unimaginable in a lot of places that experience extreme high, lows, and humidity. We often take air-conditioning and heating for granted, but these are the very things that made possible the urbanization and sustainable economic growth of population centers in places with extreme climates.
Las Vegas, Singapore, and Dubai wouldn’t be what they are without a/c. Where would most of Europe and East Asia be without heating?
More: Fascinating Mental Floss article on life before air-conditioning!
Regardless of where you plan to set up your home office, it’s best to if you could manage to find or build a space with adequate insulation. This will greatly reduce your heating and a/c costs. Some types of insulation also provide the added benefit of damping transmitted and reflected sounds in your workspace.
More: Winterize Your Enterprise – 9 Things You Can Do
There’s an ongoing movement today to allow pets in conventional offices, mostly because of their benefits to both employee morale and overall health. Pets can also keep things from getting too lonely, as can be the case for many sole proprietorships.
And let’s face it, many pets are much tidier than a lot of coworkers you’ve had.
More: Corporate Animals – The Pros and Cons of Workplace Pets
While this isn’t always practical, it’s best to have a dedicated space for work, and another for rest. The reason why many people opt not go the home office route permanently is that the lack of a separation between home and work life can be difficult to manage.
You probably don’t want wake up with work staring you right in the face on a daily basis, and you probably want to be able to take your mind off work on your me-time.
#1 also gives one more critical reason to separate both spaces.
More: Attack of The Killer Z’s – How Napping Helps Productivity
What you wear can have a profound effect not just on how others see you – but on how you see yourself. It’s fine to work in jammies and tanktops occasionally – that’s a huge plus about working at home by yourself. It’s a whole different thing to make it a habit.
It’s likely that eventually, you will have to interact with clients, suppliers, and colleagues either through a video call, or in person. Showing up under-dressed in either circumstance can will make you look unprofessional – no matter how competent you actually are.
At the very least, have a nice well-fitted blazer in a versatile color and material ready for these contingencies. A conservative messenger bag or briefcase might also be a wise investment if you have to meet clients in person — a trashed backpack can say the wrong things about you and your work.
How you look is your brand. Whether you’re at home or not.
More: Taking it at Face Value – Why Photo Headshots Matter For Entrepreneurs
Everything in your home office should have its place. If it doesn’t have an immediate purpose, it either shouldn’t be there or be hidden from view. Extraneous items can lead to a cluttered, potentially distracting workspace.
If you’re looking for storage solutions, make sure to make them as uniform as possible. Having different size plastic crates that won’t stack together or cabinets that won’t readily fit the same size items is a pretty annoying problem that’s dead simple to avoid if you spend a minute to think things over.
Milk crates are a cheap, uniform, and fun storage solution that might be right for you. Check out these ideas and see if any of them can work for your home office!
Bookcases with books (not trinkets) can provide a surprising amount of sound damping.
While you don’t have to turn your home office into a recording studio, at the very least it should be set-up in a way that you won’t be struggling to be understood though Skype and regular voice calls. Another advantage of installing soundproofing is that outside noises are attenuated, helping you concentrate on whatever you want done.
While you could install acoustic panels, or tear apart your wall to add insulation, there are plenty of other sound proofing (preventing sound transmission) and sound damping (preventing reverberation) solutions that might be up your alley:
Don’t even try egg cartons. While they might cut down on reflected sound, they lack sufficient mass to dampen most frequencies, and they can be a huge pain in the neck to install. You need mass to soak up the sound energy, and you’ll want something heavier than your run-of-the-mill egg cartons and apple trays.
Heavy drapes hanging away from the wall are a faster, better-looking, easily reversible solution. If you’re not concerned about space or looks, textured bedding foam can also work.
Schedule regular cleanups of your workspace. Put it on your recurring alarm if you have to. Dirty home offices are not only uninspiring, they can be vectors for disease and the occasional smelly scent.
Your home office should be at least presentable enough for the odd visitor who does show up.
If you don’t already have a kitchen (many apartment dwellers unfortunately don’t) you will want a convenient way of prepping meals so you won’t have to walk that far from home.
Whether or not you think you should eat at your desk is your own choice. The caveat is that any food prep area should be a dedicated space. Having a dedicated prep area minimizes the chances you’ll leave a mess on whatever you’re working on.
Studies demonstrate that exposure to natural light can help improve performance in the workplace. A workspace with plenty of natural light can also cut down on your energy consumption, provided the workspace is well insulated and won’t overheat – requiring you turn up the A/C.
More: Psychology Today – Exposure to Natural Light Boosts Workplace Performance
Natural light isn’t always an option for everyone. You can’t always choose where your home office will exactly be. But if you need lights, make sure to avoid harsh white fluorescent or LED lights and instead, spring for at least a few “warm” yellow tinted lights.
If you’ve been using nothing but white light all these years, you’ll be amazed at the huge difference a dash of warmer, more natural lighting can make for your home office.
More: Wikipedia – Color Temperature
As we recommended earlier, plants can dampen sound. But what you should be more interested in is their ability to reduce stress and even illnesses. Plus points if they’re herbs that you could actually use in your mini-kitchenette.
We might be able to solve the world’s untied shoelace problem if we tied our shoes with earphone cables. Cable management is something we don’t all think about seriously, up until the time our cables become a tangled, knotty mess. In my case, messy cables stress me out something fierce and excess cable nags the heck out of me.
While hiding the cables is one solution, the problem isn’t just about aesthetics. Tangled cables make for a more headache-inducing maintenance regime and can result in premature wear and tear on your equipment.
Plus you could trip on them, which can result in a face plant and expensive dental bills – as happened to a friend of mine.
Cable turtles are an effective off-the shelf cable organization solution, and I highly encourage all of you to go nuts on them. Binder clips are another great cheap cable management fix.
Reddit’s r/cableporn sub is a great place for cable management inspiration, and probably the only thing anyone needs to convince them that tidy cables are a beautiful thing.
In our post 14 Ways To Optimize Your Workspace we explained why multiple-monitor set-ups can make a huge difference.
When you add a monitor, you’re basically reducing the cognitive load on your brain and making it far more simple to work without being distracted by what other petty things you probably need to pay attention to, but shouldn’t bother with too much – such as 99% of your chat windows and emails.
If you need but only sporadically use your printers or fax machines, it might make sense to put them in a cabinet or at least keep them covered with a drop cloth. You’ll be surprised at how much neater things will look. A huge plus is that doing either will prevent dust from building up on them, thus saving you loads of clean up time.
Coffee is the world’s second most valuable traded commodity, behind only petroleum for a very good reason. Petroleum powers transportation and heavy industry, while coffee powers people – from CEOs and entreps all the way down to frontline employees and unpaid college interns.
If you buy from chain coffee shops like Starbucks regularly, that amounts to a lot of money spent on above-mediocre-to-middling coffee. With a small investment in equipment and knowledge, you can make far better coffee for far cheaper.
It takes surprisingly little money and effort to make a great cup better than you get in a coffee chain. Even if all you do is get a burr grinder and whole roasted beans, you will still end up with a better cup for far less money than you would if you bought Starbuck’s daily.
Here’re some links to get you started:
This will be difficult – if not downright impossible – to achieve if you live with other people. With everyone connected the way we are, even living alone isn’t a guarantee you’ll be left alone anymore.
If your family and friends don’t understand that you need to set aside time just for work, you will need to open up a serious conversation and lay down your ground rules (or meek requests, whatever) so that everyone knows why you need to be left alone to work.
It feels reassuring to have a supply of all the things you need ready. Plus, it keeps you from having to leave home in order to hunt down whatever it is you need.
If you’re like most people, you probably sit down to work. Many of us spend up to 12 hours a day just sitting down. Since you probably spend a lot of time on your chair, you owe it to your health to get the best chair possible for your back.
While ergonomic chairs can be expensive, it might turn out to be cheaper than the medical bills and physical therapy you’ll need a couple of years down the road if you choose a bad chair.
More: Why Chairs Can Be Bad For You
You might choose to do away with chairs altogether and go with a standing desk. You might prefer a small cube-type workspace to keep you focused. You might prefer to work this way. It doesn’t matter. What’s more important is that you have a desk that works for you not against you.
Taking a few cues from lean processes and kaizen, you may recognize what things are the most important for you, and arrange your desk accordingly.
While it’s great to have an efficient desk that inspires you to do your best, if you fail to see the bigger picture about your business, this is as close to rearranging chairs on the Titanic as you can get.
More: 14 Ways To Optimize Your Workspace
If it’s not something you’d find in a “regular” office, think long and hard whether it should be there. Personalization’s fine, and it’s a big perk of having a home office. Creatives may also get inspiration from having these around them. But you have to ask yourself if the distraction and the space those things occupy is worth the results.
Personally, I love having fun novelty items, provided I actually get to use them on a regular basis, not if they’re just there to be looked at. But that’s just me. Other people will have a totally opposite experience.
Will you be more inspired with cluttered desk full of novelty items you rarely even look at, or a clean desk and a sketch pad that you actually use? You decide.
One simple mistake a lot of work-from-home entreps and telecommuters make is to not segregate their work and and personal space and equipment enough to merit tax deductions.
While you might feel that it won’t matter all that much, the difference tax deductions make can very well mean the difference between closing shop and turning a profit.
How to do it can be a complex matter and depends on your jurisdiction. American readers can refer to the links below:
Illustrated by Patrick Ilagan
What other tips do you have for improving your home workspace? Comment below!
Arthur Piccio manages YouTheEntrepreneur and has managed content for major players in the online printing industry. He was previously BizSugar's contributor of the week. His work has appeared multiple times on The New York Times' You're the Boss Small Business Blog. He enjoys guitar maintenance and reading up on history and psychology in his spare time.