Establishing Your Home Workspace

Selecting Your Workspace
The type of business that you will be operating from home is key to determining the type, size, and location of the workspace you need. You must also carefully consider day-to-day living as well as special occasions, seasonal activities, and guests.

If you have a family and will be operating a business primarily from within your home, you will want to incorporate as many of the following ideas as possible to help achieve the best business-family balance:

  • If available, choose a separate room as dedicated workspace. Then you can close the door to keep business in and family, friends, and pets out.
  • Pick a room or other space where you can minimize distractions, far away from kitchen, laundry room, and PlayStation noises.
  • Select a workspace that is large enough to operate your business. Working out of two or three separate areas of the home is far less productive than working from one area, although you can certainly use another part of the house, such as your basement or garage, for storage, if necessary.
  • If clients will be coming to your home, the ideal is a workspace with a separate outside door or very close to an outside door.
  • If you will be operating a business that creates noise or generates byproducts (dust, mess, fumes), consider the garage or an outside structure for your workspace.

Your Workspace Options
Your workspace options range from a corner of the home to a separate outside structure. This will depend on the size of your home and available rooms, the type of business you are running, and any other residents. Obviously, someone who is living alone has different options than someone whose home reminds visitors of the movie Cheaper by the Dozen.

Spare Corner
Though by far the least expensive way to set up a home workspace, using a spare corner of the house can have some disadvantages. If you are not alone, you will have to deal with a lack of privacy and noise. However, if all your budget allows is a secondhand desk in the corner of your living room to serve as the head office location for your new business, then go for it! Many successful business people have started with far less. Lillian Vernon started her massive catalog empire from her kitchen table.

Dining Room
Believe it or not, the dining room is the most popular room of the house to convert into a home business workspace, mainly because it is cheap and quick to do and because the dining room is an area that is often used only on occasion. Unfortunately, most dining rooms do not have doors that close, so that room may not be very appropriate for client visits. Again, this will depend on any other residents and the type of home business you are running. For example, a part-time seasonal homebased business doing income tax returns can work very well from the dining room table, where all paperwork can be spread out after dinner while the kids are doing homework.

Desks in kitchens are not that uncommon now. If you need a place to pay the bills, make phone calls, handle paperwork, and run a part-time business, this scenario can work out fine. You can use a foldout desk, with a filing cabinet below and a hutch above. The lighting is probably appropriate and the atmosphere is usually cheery, so if you live alone or any other residents are away at work or in school, doing business from your kitchen can be fine.

In one loft apartment, the homeowner simply extended the kitchen counter several feet and added onto the cabinets with shelving made of the same wood. Sliding wooden doors were then installed on the counter top to hide the computer; in fact, a visitor would not know if behind the closed doors was a computer station or a breadbox. In fact, the only hint of an office in the kitchen was the computer chair, which could easily be wheeled out of sight.

However, if you require full-time office space, any portion of the kitchen will likely afford too many distractions. In most households, the kitchen is a busy room. In addition, the ever-present temptation to snack may make the kitchen a bad choice.

Extra Bedroom
A spare bedroom is the second-most popular choice for almost any type of homebased business that has no or few client visitors. Here, you can create the full office experience or use as much or as little space as you need. In addition, since this is a dedicated workspace, you can decorate as you choose and take care of all functional needs, such as installing an extra phone jack, stronger, insulated windows to keep out the cold of winter, and so forth.

Converted Garage
The garage can be a great place for a business, especially if it is attached to the home, has a separate entrance, requires few alterations, and is large enough to meet your needs. The downside is the large amount of money that is required to make the transformation from a typical garage to a fully functioning home workspace complete with electricity, heat, water, sewer, and communications. Recently, an associate converted his double attached garage to home business use, leaving one side for storage, shipping, and receiving, basically unchanged, while renovating the other into a very elaborate office that would rival any in a high-rise, high-rent downtown office district. The other downside to using your garage is that you may need to park your car outside, which may be inconvenient if you are living where it snows a lot.

Basements provide yet another good, and increasingly popular, option for home business space, if they have been altered for your climate and have good access, improved lighting, and adequate headroom. Many people have built offices into finished basements, often taking up only a portion of the area, leaving other sections for storage or family use. One concern with basement workspaces is moisture, especially at certain times of the year. So, if you are considering this option, think carefully about the conditions, especially if you plan to store inventory, paper, or documents that can be easily ruined or computer equipment that can be affected by heat, cold, or dampness.

Attic Space
Attics can also work, providing they have been altered to suit the climate and have good access. The downside is that there is almost no chance of having a separate outside entrance for client visits. Also, if the attic space is the third floor, walking up and down two flights of steps with documents, mail, products, and job files can be very tiring. In addition, most attics are shaped oddly, with low or slanted roofs that can reduce use of much of the space. Attics are also usually subject to great changes in temperature, as well as unwanted visitors (bats, squirrels, mice, bugs, etc.), and many are not equipped with electrical outlets and phone jacks or even solid flooring to support your technical equipment.

New Addition
The much more costly option for workspace is to build an addition onto your home. On average, you can count on spending $30,000 to $50,000 just on the addition, before you spend one dime on business equipment, inventory, marketing, or any other aspect of setting up and getting your business rolling. You will also have to comply with building codes, zoning regulations, and other rules associated with adding square footage to your home.

The positive aspect is that you can design this addition exactly as you wish. Also, if you decide to sell your house, the extra space can be used as a family room or for some other reason, making your home that much more valuable when you put it on the market. Typically, such additions are more common for high-income professionals who need a large and well designed separate area, such as doctors, dentists, or physical therapists.

Outside Structures
Outbuildings on your property, such as tool sheds, enclosed cabanas, and freestanding workshops, are another option, if the structure is suitable and large enough to meet your needs. The downside to outbuildings is that most do not have water or sewer connections and only basic electrical services, lacking proper heat and light. By the time you renovate and upgrade the mechanicals, you will be talking about a substantial amount of money that might be better spent renovating another space that does not require as many alterations, such as the attic or basement. Outbuildings are generally in the backyard, so you would have to address issues of client parking and access as well as access for deliveries and pickups. However, if you plan on operating a manufacturing or repair business, a renovated or new outbuilding on your property may be your only logical or legal option.

Other Workspace Issues
The type of home business you will be starting also greatly influences your needs in terms of where in the house the workspace is established and, in many cases, even if you can operate your business legally from home. Here are a few additional workspace issues to consider prior to starting up.

1. Will you have clients visiting your home office? If so:

  • Do you have the space to accommodate visits?
  • Do you have suitable parking for clients and good access?
  • Will you be able to separate your workspace from your living space in order to provide visiting clients with privacy?
  • Is the appearance of your home suitable for client visits? Broken porch boards, peeling paint, and worn carpets can send potential clients the wrong signals about your business.
  • Can you provide clients easy and private access to washroom facilities in your home?

2. Will you have employees working from your home? If so:

  • Can employees or outside contractors legally work from your home?
  • Do you have the space required for employees to work?
  • Can you provide employees working from your home with enough privacy to do their work and offer your family enough privacy from your employees?
  • Can you provide employees separate and easy access to your home workspace and can you provide them with suitable parking?
  • Can you provide employees with the basic necessities, such as washroom facilities, space for breaks and lunch, and closet space for coats?

3. Will you be manufacturing or assembling products at home? If so:

  • Do local zoning regulations allow homebased manufacturing businesses?
  • Will you have to upgrade or install new mechanical services such as heating, cooling, electrical, and plumbing to accommodate your business?
  • Will you need to install ventilation systems? If so, will the exhaust pollute? Will the noise bother your neighbors?
  • Do you have adequate access for parking, shipping, receiving, and storage?
  • Will you have to upgrade your home to meet fire safety standards because of your business or the product you manufacture?

4. Do you need storage space? If so:

  • Do you have enough room in your home to store inventory, equipment, business records, and client files?
  • Is your storage space accessed easily and safely?
  • Is your storage space suitable for the things you need to store? Consider dampness, heat, critters, and cold.
  • Is your storage space secure so that valuable business equipment, inventory, and records are not at risk of being stolen?
  • If you do not have suitable storage space, is there a suitable self-storage facility close by with easy access? If so, how much does it cost?

5. Do you have the communications connectivity you require?

  • Are there phone jacks for landlines? Does your cell phone work clearly from your chosen location?
  • Can you connect your wireless routers from your workspace? There's nothing worse than realizing your wireless router, wireless phone, and wireless computer do not work reliably.
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