From finding ways to keep the kids out of your briefcase to clearing a flat and reasonably stable surface on which to spread out your work files, working from home presents some interesting challenges. If you've finally decided to move your casual at-home office space from the kitchen table to someplace a little more private, a spare bedroom is an excellent choice. It's a finished space with a door you can close against interruptions and -- maybe -- complete one phone call without a cacophony of embarrassing background noises.
Annexing a dedicated work space in your home has other advantages, too. A dedicated office space can be a tax write-off, and knowing it's there waiting for you provides a little extra incentive to develop a consistent work routine.
Although turning a bedroom into an office has advantages, giving up the guestroom can still be a sacrifice. With some planning, though, there are a couple of solutions that will allow one room to do double-duty. It all comes down to strategic planning.
Let's take a look at some useful ways to transform four walls -- and maybe a closet -- into a functioning office you'll feel comfortable spending time in. It probably doesn't have a high-rise, corner-office view and it isn't hooked up to the lobby switchboard, but a home office can still be a functional and comfortable place to draft an e-mail, conduct a video conference or compose a sales presentation in peace.
Home Office Design
Efficiency is probably on the short list of goals you have in mind for turning a bedroom into an office. The more efficient you can make your office tasks, the less stress you'll feel when you're looking for that receipt, bank statement or insurance policy. The process of getting organized can be painful, but in the end, it's liberating, too.
The best approach by far is to empty the room and start from scratch. Take rough measurements to determine the best place to locate large items like desks, file cabinets and work tables. Make a drawing of the room, noting the location of electrical outlets, door swings and furnace vents. If you have interior design software or feel comfortable using online design sites to structure a virtual office layout, you can save yourself time (and physical labor) auditioning different furniture arrangements before you settle on one that works.
Bedrooms can be small, so using the space creatively will help you make the most of the area you do have. Put wire shelving in the closet to hold office supplies, and take advantage of the room's vertical space with wall shelving to hold catalogues and lightweight equipment. Consider using other space saving measures, too, like adding a desk with a dedicated hutch for vertical storage or lateral files that open from the side instead of pulling out lengthwise.
Since corners are often underutilized spaces, think about installing a dedicated corner desk unit instead of a standard desk. If you need a long table to assemble pamphlets or do other tasks, a corner desk could be just right for you. It may also work as a second desk for a spouse who only uses the office for household accounting a couple of times a month.
Your office should be comfortable as well as functional. Lose the kitchen chair in favor of a dedicated office chair with lumbar support. A chair that will support your back and neck and adjust to allow your feet to rest flat on the floor is a necessity, not a luxury. Invest in task lighting with desk, table or track lights that provide good illumination for all of the workstations you use regularly. You shouldn't have to squint to see the label on a file folder or to make out the instructions on an operating manual.
When you evaluate common office functions, define short- and long-term tasks. If you focus on a few customer files for weeks at a time and then only revisit them occasionally, consider filing solutions like rolling carts or organizers that let you keep current information nearby. Together with standard file cabinets, you can set up a system where you can rotate files from an easy-access location to long-term storage without making a big production of it. It's one way to avoid file bloat around your desk and maintain a more streamlined workspace.
On the next page, we'll take a look at some specific tips that will help you turn a bedroom into an office.
Tips for Turning a Bedroom Into an Office
You'll get the biggest benefit from your bedroom to office conversion if you pay attention to the details. These tips will help:
- Make a clean break - If your home office doubles as an exercise or game room when you aren't using it, the space may suffer from a conflict of interest. If you don't embrace the idea of having to clean your office before using it (as in pitching the paper plates decorated with last night's pizza), push for a dedicated office space. You may want to keep items on hand to convert the space into an occasional (very occasional) guest bedroom, but that should probably be it. If you want to convert your office to a temporary guest room, outfit it with a Murphy bed, daybed or futon. A daybed or futon (if you have the space) will give you extra seating for office visitors, too.
- Respect the electronics - Your computer, printers, scanners and other office electronics are important resources, so take good care of them. Keep them out of direct sunlight, away from drafts and heat sources, and up off the floor. Make sure there's good air flow around your equipment, too. Oh, and avoid munching or drinking liquids when you're using your computer. Accidentally spilling a latte in your computer is a mistake you'll only make once before you institute a no food or beverage rule.
- Protect the carpet - A rolling office chair can get you from the file cabinet to your desk in a second, but if your home office is carpeted, that trip will reduce the life of your carpet -- and could turn out to be a bumpy ride. Install a chair pad for smoother sailing and carpet protection.
- Keep it green - If you're working from home, you're probably already saving gasoline and reducing your carbon footprint. Keep up the good work by turning off electronic equipment when you aren't using it. Connect ancillary equipment to a power strip you can switch off to eliminate any standby (vampire) power drain. When you buy new equipment, look for the Energy Star (energy efficient) label. If you do a lot of printing, use recycled copy paper, and make use of both sides of the paper by reusing the back of printed sheets or taking advantage of your printer's duplexing function.
- Design an attractive backdrop- If you anticipate any video conferencing in your future, consider the space the viewer will see from your webcam. If it's a wall full of sticky notes and electrical cords, make it more visually appealing to your virtual visitors with a nice print, poster or wall shelf.
Now that you have a dedicated work space, don't be afraid to hang a "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door. If fact, that little warning dangling from the knob may turn out to be the best home office investment you make this year.
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