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How Setting Up a Home Office Works

The Basics

Working from home can be a joy or a terror, (just like some two-year-olds you may know.) You may love the idea of the freedom, the flexibility, and the relaxed atmosphere your home office will have. You may relish the idea of working in your bunny slippers and bath robe.

Note that I said the "idea" of. In reality, working from home can be great, but it can also be just as frustrating as working in a traditional office and commuting. You have to set it up right and set some rules for yourself. The rules you set must be based on your situation, what works for you personally, and the type of work you are doing. Here are some guidelines that will get you started:

  • Set aside a special space for your office, especially if you hope to claim a home-office deduction on your taxes!
  • If you have a door, close it.
  • Try to minimize the number of distractions that are in your immediate work space (for example, TV, Gameboy, Nintendo, children).
  • If you have small children at home, don't look at those magazine photos of the home-based working mom talking on the phone and studying a spreadsheet while a delightful nine-month-old plays at her feet. That's a fantasy world. It really doesn't work that way! Get an in-home caregiver or family member, anyone, to help out. Your nerves, and your children, will thank you.
  • Make your workstation as comfortable as possible -- you may be spending a lot of time there!
  • Get organized. This means buying file cabinets, file folders, labels, and then putting them to use.
  • Try to set a work schedule that suits your own high productivity cycles. Everyone has a time of day that they work at their best. Find yours and make that your prime working time. (Assuming, of course, you have control over your schedule.)
  • Set some rules for yourself like... a break every hour, a set time every day that you leave your home (even if it's just to walk around the block), no surfing the net except for business-related surfing (and then don't cheat!). Your rules should address your own weaknesses. If you know you'll have a problem with the refrigerator always calling your name then make a "no food at the computer" rule.
  • Set a limit to your after-hours work. While you may have clients that call you at 9 pm, that doesn't mean you have to "always" be available then. Let your answering machine pick up calls unless you know there is a tight deadline and are willing to do it. On the other hand, additional hours of availability may be just the advantage you need to give your business (or job-security) a boost. Just keep in mind that workaholism is high among those who work from home.
  • Working from home can also be very isolating. Make a point to pick up the phone and call someone, or visit a neighbor, or something just to make contact with a live person occasionally. If you find yourself working for 10 hours straight without speaking a word, you may not last long in your new home office.

With that said, let's move on to the hardware you'll need to set up your home office. We're starting with hardware rather than furniture because it's quite possible you don't need a desk or designated office area. You may be fine working from your kitchen table or porch swing. Of course, you may not even need a computer, but... we're going to cover it anyway.