By Gregory Grabowski, PE, LEED AP
Finding an appropriate space for your home-office can be tough to balance with your home-life. Your home was designed and built with a family in mind — YOUR family.
Carving out a work sanctuary may alter that balance and result in a compromise between family life and work life. However, if you’re reading this you’re already thinking about blending the two when you decide to work from home. It makes sense — cutting the costs of leased space for you and your team may save you thousands of dollars in hard costs a month. This is no joke — you’ve already made a good decision; so let’s take a look at some of the strategies you will need to save those thousands and maintain that precious balance in your home.
First, some questions: Do you maintain supplies and files? What about inventory? Does your business require you to host clients? What about calls — are you on the phone all day? The answers to these questions create the boundaries within which you can plan your home office space. I use the word “plan” because like everything else you do in your business to be successful — it all starts with a plan. Plan your office space well, and you will work well in your office — make it into a productive and creative space to provide you with a professional, cost-effective, and low-stress working environment.
Save Space with Wireless Mobility
Technology today provides many small footprint alternatives for the home office including high power/low cost workstations, external disk drives (I am a fan of these as they facilitate offsite archival of important files), flat panel monitors, and high quality-high speed printers as well as Bluetooth™ and WiFi connectivity — eliminating the cable mess inherent in yesterday’s office environments. If you use a desktop, you can leverage Bluetooth™ for your Keyboard, mouse, and printer.
These wireless options can provide you with an efficient workspace allowing you to move about, work with documents and drawings, as well as take notes on a convenient whiteboard while holding your calls with either a Bluetooth™ enabled ear-bud or desk-speakerphone.
Wireless technologies are reliable and mature — providing you with “mobility options” for your workspace that we simply did not have a few years ago. All of this technology is more powerful, more reliable and cheaper than it was in real dollars, so make an investment in what will bring the most value to your personal productivity.
Nice to Haves
The modern home office needs the basics: decent lighting, high speed Internet access, temperature control, a good work surface, and a comfortable work chair or stool. To make a good space into a great space, though, you’ve got to add a couple of “nice to haves” including good file space, reference and supply areas for your daily needs, plus a consistent level of sound segregation from the non-working areas (and family members) of the house for calls, inspiration and business focus. Most available rooms within the walls of your home can provide all of the basics, but that’s not going to make the most of the space that you have.
Making the most out of the space that you have may require some imaginative thinking. You’re often limited in the amount of horizontal work space you have so you will have to think vertically. Selections available today include deep open shelving that can support modern office equipment, such as a printer/fax, shredders, and scanners. Newer office equipment designs have significantly smaller footprints and less cabling requirements than just a few years ago. When using vertical shelving of any kind, try to stay with open shelving (no doors), and be especially careful to secure it directly to the wall studs to mitigate accidents. Make sure that you place heavier items (including bulk paper supplies) on the lower shelves. Office supply catalogues are full of creative work space saving furnishings and shelving to make the most of your vertical “work space.”
Most people also have the option to use vertical shelving above or adjacent to your work surface for general materials and references books. I mounted a large magnetic white board next to my desk to take notes, task-list items, and to sketch out quick ideas.
Making the most of the vertical space around you will free up the valuable horizontal space that is always at a premium.
Discard the Box
That box you think in? Throw it out! Make the most of the space you have with creativity. Select either a separate room or a suitable area within a larger room that will allow you to see more than just the wall in front of you. Be selective when it comes to lighting. Finding an office space with windows is best but should be supplemented with both ambient and task lighting to avoid eyestrain. Light should come from above or from either side of your computer. Use semi-transparent windows coverings, decorative blinds, or sheers to provide relief from window glare and eyestrain.
Since you’ll likely be spending about a third of your waking hours in your office, it’s important that your work environment be tranquil and inviting. Studies have shown that cheerful colors, particularly warm hues, contribute to activity and mental sharpness. Too much color in a small room can make it feel confined. It may be better to add dashes of color (photos, flowering plants and fabrics) if your office is smaller.
Segregate it — Don’t Separate It
It is not the easiest thing in the world to separate work from family when you have a home office; however, it’s vital to design your workspace to be supportive of your personal efficiency with the discipline of a separate room with a door or closed space in the house for your business needs. If you must host clients, a location near the entry is ideal to avoid disruption to other family members and protect your family’s privacy.
Sound segregation for your office work space will have a significant impact on your productivity. Take the steps to pinpoint office noises, and create a space plan that locates noisy office equipment away from the walls; add carpeting, office dividers, or wall and window treatments to reduce noise; add living plants for a fresh feeling as well as noise control. The same is true for keeping family noises away from your office. Everyday house distractions rob you of your concentration and your time. No one on the other end of your conference call needs to hear your dogs barking or the sound of a television set on the other side of your wall. Think about it — they’re probably in an office and they don’t need to know you’re at home.
Most commuters have an easy time making the transition from home to work and back every day. Everything is different. There’s a quantifiable benefit to that in terms of distractions and concentration. For your home office, you may find it beneficial to select designs and décor that is diverse from your home. The design should be an extension of your work and career, not an extension of your family’s home.
Gain Space and Save Money
With the careful selection of wireless technologies that increase your personal mobility, clever use of the vertical spaces you have, choosing from the variety of space-efficient furnishings and office equipment, as well as keeping a creative eye toward sound control and décor, your home office can be a productive and creative sanctuary that will replace your rented or leased commercial space and drop thousands of dollars a month to your bottom line.
It takes a plan and a dedication to making that plan work with the resources and spaces that you have.
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.