5 Must-haves for a Home Office

By: Sara Elliott

The dog is optional, but there are five things you really should have in your home office. See more pictures of home office decor.
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So you get up on Monday morning, shower and head out to the garage for the ubiquitous morning commute, right? Well, maybe not. According to a 2007 benefits survey conducted by the Society of Human Resources Management, 56 percent of U.S. companies offer some type of telecommuting program. That means that you may be headed down the hall to start your workday, instead of down the interstate [source: Reuters].

The widespread availability of computers and high-speed Internet access may have contributed to your change in work venue, or it could be the result, in part, to fallout from the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, which started a national dialogue about the strategic advantages of a less centralized workforce. If the work you do allows you to dial in, e-mail, teleconference or instant message your efforts to your employer, you may be sitting in your fuzzy slippers right now, eating a toaster pastry and wondering how long it's going to take to slog through your inbox.


While you're waiting for your latest file attachment to load, think about your workspace for a second. Do you have everything you need? If you don't, what would you run out and pick up if you could? Your work area may be a dedicated home office or a TV tray in a corner of the dining room, but wherever your virtual cubby happens to be, there are some must-haves that will make it more functional, efficient and comfortable.

On the next few pages, we'll look at five essentials for working from your home. First up, space.

5. Space - Carving Out a Workspace

Ah, the joys of having enough room to keep everything in order. Although this is a dream for many, a little judicious organization can make a small space seem larger. Even if your home office is more like a home shoebox, making the most of what you've got is the key to a more productive workday.

Try these tips for maximizing the space you have and streamlining your workflow:


  • Stack electronic equipment that doesn't vent through the top.
  • Label cords to help keep them sorted and easy to identify.
  • Invest in file storage.
  • Keep track of the stuff you can pitch by tagging files, brochures and reference materials with a colored expiration sticker.
  • Exploit the wall space.
  • Organize your space to complement the way you work.

If you don't have a whole room to yourself, you can still make your space feel like a distinct and separate spot by creating a barrier between you and the rest of the room. You can do this with plants, furniture or a screen. The goal here is to define the space you do have. Once you've established a boundary, it will be easier to treat the space as a home office instead of a haphazard work area. Marking your territory will also come in handy when you don't want to be disturbed.

On the next page, we'll look at shredders, one of the watchdogs of privacy for the modern age.

4. Shredders - Keeping it Confidential

According to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates, about nine million Americans have their identities stolen every year. When you work from home, it isn't just your personal information you need to worry about either. Customer lists and other proprietary materials may be exposed to prying eyes if you don't take steps to keep them secure. If you have nightmares about identity thieves rooting through your garbage for personal information, a shredder can give you some security and peace of mind [source: FTC].

Older style shredders separate paper into thin ribbons. Although these strip-cut shredders are still on the market, they aren't as secure as shredders that cross cut the strips into confetti. Strip cuts can be pasted back together by enterprising thieves. (Yes, some take the time to do just that.)


When you shop for a shredder, have a general idea of how much paper you'll be processing at one time. Shredders are rated for a maximum capacity, and trying to feed 200 sheets through an eight-page capacity shredder can be time consuming and frustrating. If you can afford it, err on the high side. The average office worker uses about 10,000 sheets of paper a year, so you'll probably be using that shredder more than you think [source: LBL].

3. The Right Chair

Comfortable equals productive.
Comfortable equals productive.
Todd Warnock/Lifesize/Getty Images

Your desk chair is important to your back and your productivity. Don't fool yourself into thinking that getting up frequently will solve the problem. Besides the lost productivity, you'll still feel some of the adverse affects, like stiffness, numbness, irritability and loss of concentration.

Your ride, even if it's only a slight swivel and a couple of wheelies around the desk, needs to fit your body and your workspace. The term to remember here is ergonomic, or in the words of the American Heritage Dictionary, "designs intended to maximize productivity by minimizing operator fatigue and discomfort."


When shopping for an ergonomic office chair, keep these things in mind:

  • The chair seat should be 16 to 21 inches (40.64 to 53.34 centimeters) high and preferably adjustable. When you're sitting, you should be able to keep your feet comfortably on the floor.
  • When your back is touching the backrest, there should be a two to four inch (5.08 to 10.16 centimeter) gap between the front edge of the seat and the back of your knees.
  • The chair should have lumbar support that molds to the curve of your lower back.
  • The armrest height should allow your shoulders to relax without tension.
  • Look for a chair that's upholstered with a breathable mesh fabric. Mesh will help dissipate heat and wick moisture away from your body.
  • To reduce instances of neck strain, consider a chair with a tilt adjustment.
  • Choose a chair that sits on a five-wheel base. It will be more stable and have a longer useful life.
  • All-steel construction is a great feature, too.

In the next section, let's take a look at printers and all-in-ones.

2. Printer Hub

A printer can serve so many functions; make sure your printer works for you.
A printer can serve so many functions; make sure your printer works for you.
Geroge Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Although you may have dreamed about a paperless office at one time or another, chances are you use your share of the white stuff. U.S. businesses consume about four million tons of copy paper every year. Creating all those reports, memos and spreadsheets takes paper and plenty of ink, too. If you've ever had to make a formal presentation, you probably know that powering up the presses means turning on your trusty printer and loading your spreadsheet or graphics handling software [source: EPA].

Printers for the home office come in three main types: inkjets, laser printers and all-in-ones. Printer costs have been coming down steadily for the last decade in all categories, but there are some tradeoffs you need to consider when buying and using a printer.


Inkjets are usually the least expensive printers to buy but one of the most expensive to use. That's because ink cartridges are so pricey.

Laser printers, on the other hand, can be inexpensive to use, but cost a lot to buy.

The third printer variety is affectionately called an all-in-one, or sometimes a four-in-one. This is an ingenious printer and scanner combination. It also has onboard controls that allow you to use it without the computer, like a copy machine. Most all-in-ones also have faxing capability.

Coming up, let's take a look at the big kahuna of the home office: the computer.

1. Computer

If you have a home office, you might have a shredder, probably have a printer and almost certainly have a computer. You may love or hate it, but there's no doubt that having access to a computer is one of the key reasons that people are doing more work remotely.

Computers and their electronic brethren have opened up new avenues of communication that make it immaterial whether the person on the other end of a discussion is in the next room or another hemisphere. Not only that, computers offer a wealth of tools in the form of software that help us create, collaborate, control, monitor and analyze.


In 1943, Thomas Watson, the chairman of IBM, said, "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." In the intervening years, we've seen changes that would have astonished Mr. Watson and still astonish a generation of folks who thought that the invention of the television set was a neat trick [source: Behar].

The world of computers and related peripherals is always changing. Look at how quickly technology went from the floppy to the thumb drive. Consider the popularity of online software solutions or the potential for video communication. Today, you probably work with a desktop, notebook or netbook, but tomorrow, who knows?

For more useful home office information, visit the next page.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links

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