Setting up an inspired and productive home office you’ll actually use

A space-saving home office can fit just about anywhere—even under the stairs. Image: Sitazine.com

A space-saving home office can fit just about anywhere—even under the stairs.
Image: Sitazine.com

You’ve been given the green light from your manager to work from home. Whether it’s a few hours a week or full time, you are going to need a dedicated space that supports you, both mentally and physically.

Although a hotly debated topic in the current business world with the recent decision by Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer to bring their “work at home” employees back in to the office, flexible work arrangements are becoming the norm. This is especially true as businesses strive to attract and retain employees and younger generations penetrate the work force asking for arrangements outside of the typical 9 to 5. “The number of people who work remotely rose 73 percent from 2005 to 2011. Today, 20 million to 30 million Americans work from home at least once a week” (source: the Telework Research network, an independent employment research firm).

What’s wonderful about a home office is you finally have control of your space. You can chose furniture and colors that compliment your own taste and style (and comfort) rather than these decisions being made for you in a traditional office setting. Go ahead and make it comfortable and homey but also streamlined and functional so you can get some serious work done. Resist the urge to plop your laptop on the kitchen table or to lay on the couch or your bed. You need to be set up to succeed in getting that to-do list done, not taking a nap. That leads me to my first piece of advice:

Tip #1: Location, location, location: I think this is the most important item for consideration–find a work space that is away from the distractions of daily life. If your family is like mine and may be home when you’re working, you need to be out of their sight to be out of their minds. You don’t want to be able to hear “Mom/Dad/Honey, I need…” or a battle over who toppled the Lego tower while you’re on a conference call. Likewise, position yourself away from inanimate distractions as well, like the piles of laundry waiting for your attention in the basement. Sometimes a good option, if you don’t have a whole room to dedicate to an office, is to clear a corner of your bedroom where you can set up a small desk and close (and sometimes lock) the door. That gives us a perfect lead-in to Tip #2…

Tip #2: Choose the right furniture. Now that you have your space, you’ll need furniture. You don’t need much but it needs to be right. Remember the old saying to “measure twice, cut once?” Do that! Don’t come home with a huge, heavy desk only to find out it won’t fit in the space you eyed up. Think about what you need carefully–this is likely only a small work surface wide enough for your laptop/PC and one pile of paper or a notebook. I encourage you to store work electronically rather than accumulate paper so you always have your information with you, rather than toting papers back and forth to the office.

All you need is a small work surface and a good chair. Image: Freshome.com

All you need is a small work surface and a good chair.
Image: Freshome.com

The chair is the other critical item. Invest something in this rather than dragging a folding chair up from the basement. Your chair needs to support you ergonomically so you can sit and work comfortably for hours at a time. A comfortable workspace starts with the chair and your local office supply store or many sites online sell chairs with important features such as a pneumatic lift that raises the chair up and down, a back cushion separate from the seat cushion so you can adjust it to fit in to the lumbar region, or small of your back. I’ve included a few ergonomic tips below before we move on to Tip #3.

Image: the Occupational Safety and Health Administration

Image: the Occupational Safety and Health Administration

An ergonomic set up includes:

    • • Chair positioned at a height so your thighs and calves are at a 90 degree angle and feet are planted flat on the floor.

 

    • • Worksurface is at a height so when hands are on the keyboard, the elbows are in a 90 degree (or larger) angle. Wrists should be straight, not flexed up or down. Shoulders are relaxed and elbows are close to your sides (no chicken wings).

 

    • • Position monitor(s) an arm’s length away from your body with the top of the monitor about even with your eyes so your head and neck position can stay relaxed.

 

    • • Put all frequently accessed items (like your

TDS

    phone) within easy reach.

Tip #3: Make it a space you’ll enjoy. Make your home office a place you’ll want to come and work. Add personal touches. This is a benefit of having it in your own home, after all. An ideal situation allows for some natural light. Studies do show that workers exposed to natural light during the day are more productive and happy in their work environment. This is often lacking in our traditional world of tall-walled office cubicles so take advantage of a view out of a window if you can. If you don’t have access to a window in your home office space, hang a piece of art that you love or a vacation photo that you can stare at when you need to take a break. Letting your mind wander for a minute can often break down a mental block.

My last piece of advice is to keep your workspace clean. Because I’m a neat-freak this seems like a no brainer, but even for the organizationally challenged, this point is worth paying attention to. Clutter around you affects your focus, even if you swear you don’t notice it. Spend a few minutes picking up before you sit down to work and you will be more productive.

Take advantage of a window if you can. Image: Honey We're Home

Take advantage of a window if you can.
Image: Honey We’re Home

Are you ready to get to work? Remember that to function effectively from home you’ll need the right equipment and tools as well. TDS offers the reliable and affordable phone and Internet services that will help you do that. And fantastic TDS TV packages to enjoy when the work is done!

Your guest blogger: Shannon Page is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, with a Bachelor of Science in Interior Design. She has been a Facility Planner (office design) at TDS for 16 years working on projects such as cubicle layouts and reconfiguration for existing and new TDS locations, large and small scale employee and office moves, reception area design and remodel, training center design and improvements, employee ergonomics and most recently, real estate strategy. Mother of two who takes advantage of the flexibility of working from home up to several hours a week.

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