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Home Office Organization–21st Century Style

March 2nd, 2008

8 Essential Factors in Choosing Your Home Office Location

You’ve decided to work from a home office, whether you have your own business or are telecommuting. The next big question is where is the best place to put that office in your house?

This may not be an easy decision for many reasons:

  • Whether or not you see clients
  • Distractions
  • Security
  • Business Continuity
  • How much you plan to mix business and home life
  • Whether you need to shut yourself away to be productive
  • Space availability
  • Space for needed equipment and supplies

Space Availability and Seeing Clients at Home

This may dictate the location of your home office more than any other factor. You have to put the office where you have room, or you may have to clean out a space to make room.

This isn’t as hard when you have a large house, or even a garage you can turn into an office. I have an older house that has a formal dining room and living room in addition to a den and breakfast nook. My home office is in what was originally the formal dining room. I have a large dining room table, so I moved the table into the formal living room and put both leaves in it to use as a conference table. My office is right next to it off the kitchen. That’s great for those morning coffee refills:)

I occasionally see clients in my home and I do so at my dining room/conference table. Both rooms are directly in the front door, so clients don’t have to trek through other parts of the house or up any stairs. This is a big plus because I have less cleaning to do to get ready for a client visit. There is reduced liability by keeping the amount of movement of outsiders in your house to a minimum. Less walking around means less possibility of an accident or injury.

If you choose to see clients in your home office you must weigh the client’s perception of your business. Will clients see you as less professional if you work at home? Will you have a harder time marketing your business to your target customers?

If you have a small home, condominium or apartment, you will have to make some choices about clearing out a room or making due with a section of a room to set up as a home office. If a lack of space is a problem, try to look at it as an opportunity and approach it as a challenge with possibilities. You can find enough room to set up the essentials of your home office if you get creative. Remember, some of the biggest and best companies were started in someone’s garage (Apple Computer, Nike), or at a card table set up in the corner of the living room (Dave Ramsey’s Lampo Group).

Some folks want to do a serious amount of remodeling or add a room to the house for a home office. This is fine if you can afford to pay cash to do so. But if you have a fledgling business that isn’t proven, going into debt to make room isn’t a wise choice. It’s better to make due with what you have until you have lots of profits rolling in. Then you will be able to save up the cash to pay for an addition to the house from a position of success and not risk.

Productivity and Distractions

Some people require quiet and few distractions to be productive. A home office is considerably more chaotic than an office elsewhere if you have children, a spouse and pets, and you work at times when others are playing. If you live by yourself or you don’t have children and your spouse works outside of the home, you will have a lot more peace and quiet.

You must judge if you can handle the level of noise and chaos a family brings to your home office and your work at home. If you are easily distracted and get off track, you will have to choose a quiet location and perhaps have a space where you can close the door to keep disturbances to a minimum.

If you find you just can’t concentrate on business when you need to do so, you may need to find a quieter place outside your home to work, or you may have to work after you put children to bed for the night.

Don’t give up on a home office if you only have an hour or two of serious distractions a day. If you really need to get something done you can hire a babysitter for the day or afternoon, or have your spouse take the children out for some fun while you stay home and work.

If the chaos around your house is caused by older children and pets, you can pack up your laptop and head down to the nearest coffee house with free internet access. If you need to work on a physical project to make posters and displays, you can do that at your local library. Perhaps you can plan to work on the project while the kids are in story time at the library.

Clear rules firmly enforced can help a lot, too. Here are some examples:

  • No bothering Mom/Dad until a certain time or show is over on TV unless there is lots of blood, fire, flood or someone gets seriously hurt (i.e. a real emergency).
  • Knock on the door (or doorway) to the office and wait to be asked in.
  • Do not disturb while Mom/Dad is on the phone unless it’s a real emergency.
  • No matter what you want, the answer is always going to be no unless you follow the above rules to the letter.

Mixing Business with Family Life

One of the biggest reasons many of us choose to work at home is we want to blend our family and work lives to the benefit of both.

Please see my previous article, 8 Benefits of Working from Home, for a detailed discussion of this issue.

Security

I love the location of my home office because I can see who is at the back door and who is coming up the front walk from my desk. I feel more comfortable knowing who is coming toward the house and from where. It helps me keep track of my son and his friends, too.

One of the advantages of a home office is most people feel pretty secure in their own homes. But a downside is you’re usually alone or the only adult in the house. There is no security guard at the building entrance. If you live where few neighbors are at home during the day, you may think twice about how secure your home is to intruders.

An alarm system and keeping doors locked are important. A good smoke detector system and carbon monoxide detector system are also important because you don’t have the zoning regulations and OSHA rules that apply to commercial buildings. You have to provide those protections yourself.

You also need to have a lock box or safe on the premises for storing your business’s valuables, data backups and any money you receive to take to the bank.

Important papers can be stored in a bank safe deposit box with copies stored in your home office.

Business Continuity

You need a good business continuity plan for emergencies and extremely disruptive circumstances. My business continuity plan worked very well in the aftermaths of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Because of pre-planning, I was able to keep the business running at a level that allowed me to provide essential services to clients and keep adequate records for industry regulators.

You will need to examine your business and its needs to prepare a business continuity plan that will allow you to continue operations during prolonged power outages or if you must evacuate and operate from a location far from your home.

Once you have the plan together, it’s a good idea to provide a business continuity plan disclosure statement to customers so they will know what to expect if a disaster strikes your area.

Equipment and Supplies

Many home offices simply need a computer, telephone and all-in-one printer, scanner, copier, and fax machine. A storage cabinet for paper, supplies and books or manuals may also be needed. These don’t take up much room and could be placed on a small desk or table and printer stand in the corner of a bedroom if necessary.

If your business is a craft or you produce some type of tangible product that requires space for inventory, you have to take that requirement into consideration. Can you make the craft in one area and store the supplies and finished products in another?

When thinking about a home office you must ask yourself about all the above. You would ask similar questions if you were looking for an office to rent, so ask them of yourself when planning an office at home.

I hope this article helps you to decide where to put your office in your home. I’d love to hear your comments and ideas about where you put, or would put, your home office.

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9 Responses to “8 Essential Factors in Choosing Your Home Office Location”

  1. These are great points to consider when you set up your home office. Something that I’ve been thinking about is making space to have someone come in and help me. I’m glad I still have my other office chair. :)

  2. This is the most complete guide to setting up a home office. I especially appreciated the comments on security and safety if you see clients at home as I do.

    The only thing I would like to add is that your friends and relatives have to be trained also. Somehow, when you work at home, they feel you can take time off to chat or can’t understand why you just can’t take off for for a three martini lunch!

  3. JoLynn, thanks for writing! I appreciate the feedback. I didn’t discuss what one might do if one were considering bringing in outside help. Maybe that’s a topic for another post.

    Corinne, you are absolutely right. Sometimes friends and relatives don’t respect that you’re working even though you’re at home. I’m fortunate in that I don’t have any nearby relatives (sometimes that’s unfortunate, though) and all my close friends work. They’re not available during the day just like I’m not. I guess that’s why it didn’t occur to me to address that issue. Other bloggers have brought that up and for some it’s a big problem. I’ll have add that to my list of ideas for a future post. It is important to many people and solving it is crucial. Thanks for commenting!

  4. Hi Joubess,

    Thanks for sharing that. I didn’t know that there are so many things to consider in choosing a home office.

    I just simply choose my location without considering all the factors above. :)

  5. Some great pointers to consider when creating a work at home office.

    When I first started I pretty much had everything to myself. As the kids got older, we needed another computer. I considered putting them or me somewhere else, but truth be told, my office is where we spend the most time together (and they play some good tunes!) so they are staying put, although my productivity does suffer if I am working evenings, anything heavy duty is pretty much out at night anymore. They are at school during the day so I have some flexibility through the day.

    But that’s what working at home with kids is all about, balance and priorities.

  6. I think you did a great job laying out the priorities. Our partners will benefit from this article so I’m going to write about it on my blog at http://epaper.communityserver.com

    The chair is a big thing as well as figuring out a way to create a situation that suitable for a clutter-free environment. For me and I’m sure many others, creating a situation that you can manage your activities is really important. For example, I stick literally everything that I consider low priority in an open plastic box. It really helps. I know I have to get into the box when its full. That’s my trigger to get rid of things and reprioritize the things that are in it. I have made a rule that at least 90% of what is in that box is gone – out the door.

  7. @John: Wow! Thanks for the link and the comment. I’m heading over after moderating comments here to check out your site.

    The catch all box is a great idea. I’m guilty of letting everything that would go in a box like this to stack up on my desk. A box for it would solve the problem. I’ve got a medium-sized plastic tote bin that I’ll start using for this.

  8. it is convenient to live in a Condominium if you are in a big city but i like big lawns and backyard gardens.,;`

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