Outfitting the Home Office

by Lane Baldwin, 2003

The Home Office market continues to grow, and will probably continue to do so for the next several years. Many of our clients work out of their homes, as do their employees. This "virtual corporation" concept requires a well-equipped office to maximize potential. The following tips are general in nature; no one can tell you exactly how to outfit your office without knowing something about your business.

Office Location
Most people find it best to put the office in a room that no one else will use during business hours, such as a spare bedroom. It's rather difficult to work in the corner of the kitchen when your daughter's entire soccer team comes over for an after-practice snack. Each person will have to assess their own space to determine the best room to use, but try to give yourself an area that is controllable.

Furniture
Budget restraints notwithstanding, this is an important part of outfitting your office. If you're going to spend a lot of time at your desk, your environment should make you feel good about being at work. So don't shove a desk between the washing machine and the dryer, OK?

First, you need a high-quality, comfortable chair. My favorite is the Aeron by Herman-Miller, because of its amazing support and comfort, and the option to choose from among three sizes depending on height /weight of the user. The desk itself should accommodate your space needs; design and quality will depend largely on budget. Beyond that, each office will differ in its furniture needs.

Some offices will require lots of filing space, while others can get by with a single small file cabinet. Others need lots of shelf space. Sit with pad and pencil; visualize your needs and how you will accommodate them in your space. Once you know what furniture you need, and what your budget will allow, you can shop for appropriate pieces.

Decorating Your Space
Regardless of the furniture you choose, try to decorate your space in a pleasing manner, so you'll enjoy being there, and do your best work. Furniture, paint, curtains, artwork, and everything else should be purchased and placed so as to maximize your comfort in your office, and your ability to do your best work. Because each of us has different requirements, the best I can offer here is to think carefully and try not to scrimp.

Communications
First things first: Get a separate phone line for business, and answer it in a professional manner every time. Never let your children answer this phone. If you are out of the office, check your voice mail regularly, getting back to callers as soon as possible. If you spend a lot of time out-of-pocket, get a cell phone.

If you will ever have a need to fax a paper document (as opposed to an electronic file), you'll need a fax machine. You'd be surprised how many people never think of that invoice they have to sign before returning until it's in their hands. I prefer an all-in-one that faxes, copies, scans and prints. I do very little scanning, so I don't need a top-end product. Most all-in-ones will do just fine. The copier function helps a great deal, while the print and fax modes are back-ups to my computer fax program and normal printer.

Internet access is a requirement, not an option. If at all possible, get a broadband connection, either DSL or Cable. While it is more expensive than a dial-up account, when you factor in the cost of a separate phone line for the computer, they're about the same. Both offer always-on capability and far faster access to the Web when searching/browsing. Keep your account up at all times and set your e-mail client to check mail every ten minutes.

If you find yourself being interrupted by several short calls every day, consider setting up an Instant Messaging account as a great way to ask - and answer - questions very quickly. If you do this, set up your options so that only those who already know your IM name can access you. Again, leave this on at all times. This way, people can IM you instead of calling. In general, this will save you time.

The Computer
More and more people are electing to replace their desktop with a laptop computer, instead of having both. However, if you need blazing speed, or can't afford the higher price of the laptops, a desktop will probably be better for you. For years, I had one of each, as well as a work station at the corporate offices. And it drove me nuts. I eventually switched over to using the laptop exclusively by setting up two docking stations. With most models, you can continue to use the flat screen even when connected to the dock. But most people will appreciate a full-sized keyboard and a mouse. Then, when you hit the road, you unlock the laptop from the dock and take all your files and software with you.

Regardless of model, there are certain things you need to consider, such as speed, memory storage, and more. Look for a future article focusing on this one piece of equipment.

Supplies
I can't tell you how many people forget about the simple things until they need them. That's why I recommend you make a list now of every supply you'll ever need for your Home Office. Pens, pencils, paper clips (and a holder), stapler and staples, writing pads, printer/copier paper, toner/ink cartridges, tacks, tape, pencil sharpener, highlighters, rolodex, have I made my point? Make a list, and make it as complete and detailed as possible. You may not buy everything on your first trip to the store, but you should keep that list until you've purchased everything on it. To save storage space, you can keep your supplies in a small box or two on the floor of your closet.

In Conclusion
This list points out the general needs of most Home Offices. By using it as a guide, you should be able to create a comfortable space that will help you maintain productivity and relieve office stress. Remember, you may be at home, but you're still at work!