Innovative Ways to Double-Up Space When There’s No Room for a Dedicated Home Office
By Gregory Grabowski, PE, LEED AP
According to the US Department of Labor Statistics, of the 13.7 million wage and salary workers who usually did some work at home in 2004, about 3.3 million, or 1 in 4, had a formal arrangement with their employer to be paid for the time they put in at home. Whether you have your own business and work from home or work outside the home, or both, almost everyone can benefit by having a home office.
In a perfect world, you would have an extra, unused room in your home that you could use as your work oasis. It would have plenty of space, a breathtaking view, exceptional lighting, and a door that could shut out any distractions. If you have that kind of space, that’s great — read on to find out how you can make it even better, and if you don’t have that kind of space, there are ways to work with what you have to create an environment that will work for you. It just takes planning and a little creativity.
When starting something new, try to remember Alan Lakein’s famous quote, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” It’s simple, and yet widely applicable. Planning for your space will help to ensure that you are maximizing the pros, while minimizing the cons. The first part of planning for your space is in knowing what you need versus what you want. It may be helpful to take a few minutes to write down what you absolutely must have,and then make a separate list of things that you would like to have. Just knowing the difference between the two can help make the most of the space you choose. If you need a desk, a computer, and a reading light, look for spaces that can accommodate those things, regardless of whether or not you initially see that space as an office. You may be surprised at what you find.
Considering Your Options
As you walk around your home, start with the main rooms and think critically about the way you are using the space you have. Does it make sense to have an entire room set aside for guests that visit you once or twice a year, when you could be using that space more regularly as an office? Does your family spends most of their time in the den instead of the living room, and if so, is there extra space that goes unused as a formality? Do you have a dining room that no one uses because there everyone likes to sit at the small table or island in the kitchen? Can you move the china cabinet that no one ever uses and replace it with a desk? Do you really need all that empty floor space in the den, or could you move the furniture in a little to make room for a workspace along the wall?
Just asking yourself these questions can help you to assess the space you have that you may not have initially thought of as available.
Thinking Outside the Box
If you don’t find a space in any of the main rooms that will work for you as a home office, consider an alternate space such as the laundry room. While your initial reaction may be that the laundry room will be too loud and thus, too distracting, ask yourself how many hours a day you do laundry. If there is space and noise is the main deterrent, can you do your laundry at a time when you wouldn’t be working?
Basements, attics, and garages may be other sources of home office space. Thinking about spending hours in a creepy old attic, a dark cold basement or a cluttered garage may make you cringe, but if the space is available and the environment is what is keeping you from capitalizing on the available space, think about what you can do to make it work. You may need to have a garage sale, buy a heater, and install a window, but every room has potential. If the space is available, the possibilities of making it work are almost limitless as long as you are flexible and think creatively.
You may not think of your bedroom as a relaxing getaway as well as an office space, but the two do not have to be mutually exclusive. There may be benefits to working in your own room, such as good lighting and an already peaceful environment. The temptation to take a nap may be one drawback, but this can be addressed by using a divider to separate your work area from the rest of the room. Setting (and sticking to) time a time schedule for your work is also helpful in helping to maintain a work mind-set and blocking out distractions in the room.
The kitchen table can also be alternative workplace, as long as your resolve to work is greater than your temptation to snack. When you are flexible and open to new ideas, you may be surprised at how many options are available to you.
Once you have narrowed down the possibilities, make sure the space will work for you logistically. Aside from the basics (desk, chair, lamp, etc.), you will probably need access to a power outlet, a phone jack for a landline and/or fax machine, and a place to plug into your DSL line or cable connection. If you are not close to a power outlet or phone jack, get creative. You may be able to solve the problem by using an extension cord or power bar, or you may be able to hire a contractor to install a jack or an outlet for you. Or, go wireless with WiFi and forget about cords and cables. There are always options.
Know what you need. What makes logistical sense for one person may not make logistical sense for someone else. There is no one-size-fits-all plan for your home office. Only you can decide what will work best for you. Your workspace is logistically sound when it is comfortable for you and meets your own personal needs for a work space, whatever they may be. If you have a need for silence, communicate that to others in the house by telling them that you are not to be disturbed. Or, you may want to put a sign on the door and turn off your cell phone. Your workspace is only working for you if it enables you to do your work.
A good home office is more than available square footage and power outlet availability. Your work space should be reflective of your individual preferences and should be aesthetically pleasing to you. Forget what you think your office should look like, and take time to visualize what you want it to look like. It’s all about customization — have fun with it. Surround your workspace with things that inspire and motivate you. You may want to hang a corkboard by your desk to pin up pictures or motivational quotes, etc. Or you may prefer the minimalist, less-is-more look. Do what works for you. Create a place where you want to spend your time. And don’t forget that tidiness is a part of aesthetics. You work most efficiently when you are well organized, so invest in file folders, labels, organizing desktop containers/holders, etc. You will never be frustrated by knowing exactly where to find something when you need it.
If All Else Fails
If all else fails and you are unable to find a place to do your work at home, take your laptop, etc. to the library or to a nearby coffee shop. The library is free, and if you know their hours of operation, you can schedule and set aside time to work in a nice, quiet atmosphere. Or, for a few dollars, you can enjoy the ambiance of a coffee shop and work while having a nice latte. Whichever you choose, once you have made up your mind to create a space to work, there is always a way to do it. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. HBM
Gregory Grabowski, a registered Professional Engineer and reserve Naval Officer, focuses his Project Management talents to design and build facilities for corporate and government clients worldwide. His professional experiences have taken him to six of the seven continents. He resides in Southern California and enjoys adventure sailing.