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Details Make Home Offices Work

These days, more and more people are taking the bold step of doing at least part of their job at home. A 30-second commute has a lot of appeal, but increasingly, people are opting to work at home in order to create a more humane schedule that allows for more flexibility to attend to family joys and responsibilities.

But as anyone who has been down this road can tell you, working at home has its down sides as well. The kids, the refrigerator, the bed, the newspaper and other accomplices all conspire to distract you from your work.

In addition, no matter how adorable your daughter might be, she may not always be the best person to handle calls from your boss or a client. It can also be pretty tough to impress a client when he has to walk by the morning dishes to get to your home office.

Fortunately, most of these problems can be addressed by designing your home office space carefully. Here are some key issues to focus on:

Separation of Space

It is very important to separate your work area from your living area: Attics, basements and rooms over detached garages are ideal places to locate a home office.

If your office must be in the main part of the house, try to locate the workspace where it will be least impacted by the domestic distractions. For example, placing it at the end of a long hall is good, but carving out a niche in the kitchen usually doesn’t work.

Choose a location that makes it easy to control the flow of distracting children, noise and even scents. If your workspace has to be near the house’s hub, consider taking steps to soundproof the area.

While it is important to protect your workspace from distractions, it is also important to separate your family, rest and play spaces from work. For example, if you have a desk set up in a corner of your bedroom, your work may follow you to bed and haunt you all night long!

The Right Environment for You

This is the part of home office design that everyone likes. You have a real chance to make a workspace that supports the way you think, feel and work. For one person, that might mean a plush easy chair in the middle of a circle of tables. For another, it might mean a simple desk overlooking a peaceful garden.

For once you have nearly complete freedom in setting up your workspace. Warning: resist the temptation to make it too peaceful or comfortable or you may find yourself doing more napping than working!

The Right Environment for Visitors

If there is any chance that you will have visits from colleagues, your boss, vendors, subordinates, partners, clients or others, you must pay special attention to the kind of statement your work environment makes.

Whenever possible, have a separate outside entrance so that visitors don’t have to traipse through private family spaces to get to your office. It is very difficult to project a sense of professionalism when you have to pick up toys or laundry en route to your meeting.

In most traditional office environments, you have the use of a conference room for meetings. At home, you don’t have that luxury, so you have to make alternative arrangements.

If your work area stays neat and has room for another table, you can create a mini-conference area right in your home office. But if your office is normally untidy, you may want set up another room as your public room. You can decorate it to the nines and put plaques and credentials on the wall—and your visitors will never know how your real office looks!

Sooner or later, visitors will need to use a restroom. Ideally, the office area should have its own bathroom that is off limits to family members. This makes it easy to keep it especially clean and free of the clutter that inhabits the typical domestic bathroom.

If you can’t swing a separate bathroom, consider designating one of the family bathrooms for office use. You might want to add additional storage in the bathroom to minimize clutter and make it easier to keep clean.

Communications and Power Infrastructure

It usually makes sense to have at least one separate phone line exclusively for the home office. If you use the Internet, faxes or E-mail extensively, additional lines are a good idea.

A separate business line allows you to use a professional sounding voice mail or answering machine message. It also gives you the option of using call forwarding if you occasionally work from another location.

A designated business line makes it easier to keep youngsters from intercepting your important business calls. And, at the end of the day, you can leave the business line to the answering machine or voice mail without missing calls from friends and family. Another infrastructure issue is electrical power. Copiers, laser printers and computers use a lot of juice. Check with an electrician about adding a couple of circuits so that you don’t have to worry about a tripping the circuit-breaker every time you make a photocopy.

Don’t Forget the Ground Rules!

No matter how well designed your workspace is, you will have to establish basic ground rules for you, your family and even visitors. In general, the ground rules should support the above issues.

For example, if you find yourself making continual raids on the refrigerator, you may need to establish a rule for yourself that limits trips to the kitchen to meal times. A separate business phone line isn’t much use if family members routinely turn to it when the main family line is tied up. And your “public” room won’t serve its purpose if it becomes a hide-away for empty boxes, half-finished puzzles and spare camping equipment.

Done correctly, a home office can support a healthy, family-oriented lifestyle that leaves you with more time and money to enjoy a fuller lifestyle.

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