Design your home office
1. PLANNING YOUR PROJECT
There is no denying that the environment in which we work can either help or hinder our productivity and concentration. To encourage work efficiency and office functionality, it is vital to plan your home office carefully. Before starting the work:
- Choose the appropriate location;
- Establish the household’s needsby thinking about everyone’s activities and how frequently they use the room;
- Set a budgetand plan the work that will need to be carried out.
Choose the location
Where you situate the office will obviously depend on your home and the space available. It may be set up in a part of the basement, the garage or on the ground floor, or it could be located upstairs or in the attic. It all depends on the family’s needs and how the office is to be used.
If you will be seeing clients in your office:
- A closed room, not far from the entrance and near a washroom is best, so that clients don’t have to wander through the house.
- Organize an area for coats and with comfortable seating while clients wait to see you.
If clients do not come to your office:
- Any room or area of a room can be transformed into an office, but avoid areas which are unsuitable for professional activities; the guest bedroom may be a good location, whereas the children’s playroom is probably not.
- If you work from home full time, it is important to devote a specific area to the office so that you can effectively “leave the office” at the end of the work day. For example, in the kitchen or living room, movable partitions can be used to hide the office space.
Wherever you choose to locate the office, make sure the area is well lit. If the office is in the basement, make sure that, for comfort’s sake, the air exchanger and heating are sufficient.
The needs of household members
There are several aspects to consider in this regard:
– The number of people using the office and their specific needs: If the office is used mainly by a self-employed or teleworking member of the household, the organizational needs are greater than if the office is used less frequently. If school-age children use the computer, it is important to be able to keep an eye on them from time to time. Bills, important paperwork and schedule planners are just some of the items that require processing, filing, or keeping in sight so that nothing is forgotten.
– Activities and lifestyle habits: If other members of the family are at home during working hours, it may be necessary to soundproof the office or, at least, set up the office where there are no distractions from daily household activities. If the office is also used by the children for schoolwork, arrange a suitable worktop for them.
– Home office equipment: Internet connections, telephones, faxes, printers, storage space, filing systems, shredders, etc. – all this hardware requires space, not to mention the tangle of cables to conceal and the power outlets required for all the office technology.
The budget and specialized work
Even if your office requires merely the basic items, certain elements are indispensable:
- Telecommunications outlets: Internet, telephone, fax, etc.
- Storage, filing systems, etc.
- Furniture, work surfaces
Some major or specialized work, such as wiring cables and installing outlets for Internet and telephone connections, may need to be done by a qualified professional, which can increase costs considerably. Now is the time to budget for such work.
2. THE FLOOR PLAN
To design a functional home office that meets all your needs, it is useful to divide the space into separate areas for specific activities or tasks:
- A working area, with a desk surface large enough to do paperwork comfortably and to hold the monitor and keyboard, mouse, printer and telephone. Keep all the things you use every day, such as reference material, pens, pencils, paper, paper clips, etc. close by. Keep the work surface clear of any non-essential objects. An uncluttered work top aids concentration.
- A filing area that includes a good filing system and shelves for files that need to be easily accessed. If required, bookcases for books and less frequently used items can be added. Store smaller objects – CDs, diskettes, connection cables and so on – in boxes.
- Other areascan be envisaged, depending on whether clients come to the office and if meetings are held there, and depending generally on any other working habits of the office users. For example, a round table with two or more chairs is good for team discussion. You may want a comfortable seat and lamp for reading, a closet for coats or a waiting room next to the office, seating for clients while they are waiting to see you, etc.
The lighting must obviously be sufficiently strong to prevent eye strain while working. It should provide good contrast so as to facilitate on-screen reading and working at the computer for sustained periods. Also:
- Avoid placing the computer screen in front of a window or light source. The screen should be at a 45° or 90° angle with the window or light source.
- As well as general lighting from adjustable spotlights or from recessed ceiling lights, add task lighting in specific places, e.g. in a reading corner, over the surface where writing is done or where documents are read from a document holder.
The working patterns or the activities of the office users will typically dictate the office layout:
Place the desk so that you can see and welcome clients as they enter the office.
If the room is small, exploit all storage possibilities, including vertically, with floor-to-ceiling shelves, wall-mounted filing systems, etc.
If several members of the family share the office, keep active files out of reach but readily accessible for working on the next day. Organize an overnight or short-term filing system.
To avoid any unnecessary new wiring work, consider the current position of electrical outlets and telephone and Internet jacks. Arrange the furniture according to their location.
Once you have decided on your layout, draw a scale plan showing the windows, the door, the receptacles and telephone/Internet jacks. Arrange the furniture and office hardware accordingly.
3. CHOOSING MATERIALS, FURNITURE AND EQUIPMENT
The organization of your office will be based primarily on personal tastes and working habits. Bear in mind, however, that some materials are more appropriate than others.
Almost all types of floor coverings are suitable for the office, but if the room is in frequent use, choose a material that’s easy to clean.
- Woodand laminate create a warm feeling and team up well with all decors. The drawback of this type of flooring is that it tends to scratch easily, so it is important to protect the area under chair casters or where chair legs are likely to scrape frequently.
- Ceramic tilesare hard-wearing and low-maintenance. They accommodate any office design and all tastes.
- Vinyl and linoleum come in a variety of shades and patterns. Some emulate noble materials such as wood and stone. Better still, they are budget-friendly.
Ultimately, the best flooring choice is one that requires little upkeep and which can withstand the harsh treatment of an office chair or the scraping of chair legs.
When it comes to choosing furniture, stay focused on what you actually need rather than what looks good.
The desk needs to be sufficiently spacious to spread out papers and books, and to write comfortably. The larger the documents or material you handle, the larger the desktop required. Don’t forget your posture and comfort at the desk:
- The computer screen should be at eye level.
- While working at the computer, elbows and wrists should be at the same height, and forearms should be well supported by the chair’s arm rests.
If storage space is at a premium, opt for a desk with drawers and/or built-in shelves, to keep the work surface clear.
If you just can’t find your ideal office desk, a sufficiently wide laminate counter installed over shelves or on metal legs is cheap to construct and makes an original work surface. A cabinetmaker will also be able to custom-design an item of furniture according to your specifications and budget.
The office chair should be adjustable (height, arm rest, back, etc.) for maximum comfort.
Well-ordered storage is an essential feature of a well-organized office. Keep the following in mind:
- Shelves above the work stationfor active files, frequently referenced material, etc.;
- Compartments(trays/boxes/holders) for pencils, paper clips, sticky notes, etc.;
- A filing system for organizing important documents and client files;
- Bookcases for books and anything else which is used fairly frequently, but perhaps not daily;
- A closet for records or files.
Check out the various modular storage solutions available, which can be configured according to need. If you have opted for closed cabinets, the ones with height-adjustable shelving are best.
4. LET THE WORK COMMENCE: THE MAIN STEPS
Ready to get started? Yes, but where? Some crucial steps:
Electricity and telephone/ Internet jacks
It is important to first work out where to locate the outlets for the electricity, lighting and the telecommunications hardware. Call in a qualified professional if your current electrical distribution set-up needs modifying or if additional outlets are required. A professional will do the work in accordance with safety standards and respecting your home office plan.
Paintwork and flooring
Take the opportunity to do paintwork before walls are furnished and new flooring is installed. Then lay the floor.
Furniture and hardware
Bring in the furniture and office hardware. Make the necessary electrical hook-ups and run tests to make sure that everything is working perfectly. If there are wall cabinets to mount, now is the time. All that then remains to do is to put up any shelving and install filing units and other minor wall storage modules.
5. DECORATING YOUR NEW ROOM
Add personal finishing touches with accessories that inspire you and which – ideally – add to the functional aspect of the office.
Storage space can be increased by adding a few organizers that combine practicality with style, such as:
- Decorative boxes and baskets placed on bookshelves for those hard-to-store items that are used less frequently;
- A notice board for important reminders and for keeping random bits of paper up together;
- An attractive pen/pencil holder, boxes or trays for paper clips and sticky notes, etc.;
- Trays for keeping active files organized and close to hand, in-trays for mail received and out-trays for what needs mailing;
- Carefully chosen filing organizers and sorters.
Window dressing is more than just decoration. Opt for window coverings that are sheer enough to take full advantage of natural light yet do not cause reflected glare on the computer screen.
When it comes to accessorizing, avoid cluttering the work surfaces. Clear surfaces enhance concentration and efficiency. A few pictures or photos, one or two plants or a couple of ornaments are all it takes to add an attractive flourish to a utilitarian space.