Are you wasting more than one month each year working in an inefficient home office? If you waste just one hour a day, five days a week, at the end of the year, you'll have wasted more than 32 eight-hour days. Whether you've just recently opened your homebased business or have spent many years working from home, an inefficient home office can waste your time, stunt your business growth and reduce your cash flow. Before you spend one more day (or month) looking for lost items, fighting with an office arrangement that you've outgrown or adding more unread magazines to an already towering stack, stop what you're doing and consider making a few changes.
Perhaps you started your homebased business in any old spot in your home, just to get going. Now it's time to settle into a more strategic location. Designate an area in your home, whether it's a spare bedroom, a room above your garage or space in your dining room, that can best be used as your office. Keep the area clear of nonbusiness-related items and handle only work-related tasks in this area. Although a particular room may seem ideal for your office at first glance, consider whether it's a place where you can maintain your productivity, keep track of papers related to your business and, more important, work with minimal interruptions.
Decide whether a particular room is worth spending the money necessary to convert it to a home office. For example, you may want to install phone lines or hire a contractor to set up better lighting and ventilation. Think long-term. It's better to invest in improving the right location than to settle for a space that costs less but will no longer suit your needs in a year or two.
One advantage to working from home is that your furniture options are limited only by your budget, rather than by corporate tradition. Space within a home office is often confined, making the choice of a huge, traditional desk impossible. Fortunately, there are several ways to furnish your office and design it for maximum efficiency.
Take a close look at the furniture you already own, and determine what's missing. Do you have enough filing space, drawer space or room to spread out while working? If not, decide which parts of your current setup aren't working and add more shelves, work surfaces or additional drawers.
Is your computer equipment resting on an old dining room table or a computer desk that no longer accommodates all the technology you've since acquired? A good option is a computer stand with a hutch to hold all your equipment that also leaves you with surface room for writing or temporarily storing information you need to enter in your computer.
If you need to keep your work space compact and unobtrusive, use an armoire to store your computer and other electronic equipment. Then when you're finished working for the day, close your "office doors."
Before you buy any piece of furniture, check it carefully for quality. Look for sturdy pieces with reliable hinges and drawer glides. You may be tempted to buy "bargain" items, but be aware, you may end up replacing that same item several times because it falls apart easily. When shopping, remember the old proverb "You get what you pay for." Homebased business owners now have the option of purchasing high-quality, affordable furniture that comes already assembled (a big plus for those of us with limited assembly skills). On the other hand, don't spend thousands of dollars on furniture that looks impressive, yet lacks enough storage and work space. Keep in mind that function is more crucial than appearance.
When setting up your office, consider three basic layouts: the U shape, the L shape and the parallel layout. The U-shaped work area, the ideal of the three, allows you to keep everything within reach on three surfaces. The L-shaped work area offers the important advantage of getting equipment off your desk and onto a secondary surface, without taking up as much room as the U. With the parallel layout, one surface is placed opposite the other, still giving you two surfaces of work space.
The arrangement you choose depends primarily on the size of your office, the type of furniture you have and how much work surface you need. Keep in mind that if someone else is sharing your office, you may be limited in the type of arrangement you can use.
Don't place your computer in front of a window. The glare will be hard on your eyes. Make sure your computer screen is either facing a wall without a window or at a right angle to a window.
If you must place your computer in front of a window, make sure you have curtains or blinds that will block the outside light while you're looking at your monitor.
Remember to allow space for opening a file cabinet drawer--about an additional 24 inches. The cabinet itself may fit in a convenient space next to your shelves, but it will be useless if you can't open the drawer all the way.
Brother home office expert Lisa Kanarek advises corporations and individuals on all aspects of working from home and writes the blog Working Naked. She is the author of several books, including Working Naked: A guide to the bare essentials of home office life.