It wasn't long ago that bringing your work home with you was considered unhealthy. Work was for the workplace, and home was where you focused on your family and friends.
Times have changed, and for many people the home office has gone from a peculiarity to a necessity. With advancements in technology and a listless economy, telecommuting is no longer a dirty word.
While you might not have to worry about your lunch being stolen from the fridge or the office gossip popping in to chew up your time and your ear, it's important to create a distraction-free space that puts you in the right frame of mind for work.
Location, location, location. That's what they say about a successful business, and it is imperative that the space you choose be comfortable, as free from distraction as possible, and offer the opportunity for success.
Rafael M. Kalichstein. owner and principal designer, FORM Interior Design
Picking the Space for Your Workplace
Not everyone who has chosen — or has been forced by circumstances — to work from home has the space to allocate an entire room as an office. Carving out a functional, comfortable area is important, and you don't want to set up shop on the sofa, where you're surrounded by myriad distractions.
"Location, location, location. That's what they say about a successful business, and it is imperative that the space you choose be comfortable, as free from distraction as possible, and offer the opportunity for success," said Rafael M. Kalichstein, owner and principal designer of FORM Interior Design. "Choose a spot that is quiet enough to make business phone calls but that gets enough light that you don't feel like you have to go spelunking to get there."
If you have a spare bedroom that you can convert, or even a large closet, your location decision is an easy one. A garage can also be a great option, because you get the world's fastest commute and over time that short walk across the driveway will get your brain thinking "work" before you reach the garage door. For most people, however, space is at a premium, so it's important that your office be as separated as possible from the rest of your home.
"A space that can be closed is ideal — privacy for most of us when we're working is best — but use what you have," said Kalichstein. "Most importantly, make sure that it is a space that can be in some way entirely delineated, at least from an energetic standpoint. Your kitchen table, in other words, is a bad idea."
Avoiding the high-traffic areas of your home, especially in an apartment, might seem impossible, but more often than not, that easily separated space is right under your nose. It's not "where" you look, but "how" you look.
"People live in all sorts and sizes of places, so you have to work with what you have and be creative," Kalichstein said. "You can take over what might have been an underutilized breakfast nook, or some hallways have enough space, and a lot of people will have living rooms or dens with a corner that can easily be delineated."
Lighting is also a key factor when settling on a space. A basement office might afford you privacy, but you're not going to want to go to work if your office feels like a dungeon.
"Some of the advantages of working from home," said Los Angeles-based interior designer Estee Stanley, "are avoiding the omnipresent buzz of fluorescent light bulbs, and you get to give yourself an office with the best view in the building. So use that to your advantage. Position your office by a window if you can; the view can be soothing, and the natural light will help you stay more focused."
Appointing Your Home Office: Form and Function
You have picked out where your office will be, so now it's time to set it up.
"Make sure to get a 'tall' desk, one that uses space to its full capacity, with plenty of storage space; this utilizes the wall space but doesn't encroach on the floor space in the rest of the room," Stanley said. "This way you're saving space and avoiding clutter, because it gives you a place for all of your appliances and files."
Set up your work area with a flexible floor plan that takes into account the three needs of an office.
"You should always have a work station, a reference center and an area for supply storage," Stanley advised. "Your work station should be free of clutter, with your computer and space to write, with the basic supplies that you use regularly — like a pen or pencil, a notepad, and maybe a stapler. All the rest of the supplies, like extra reams of paper or boxes of pens, should be kept in a different area for easy access."
A balance of function and form can be helpful.
"Find things that you really love: a chair, or a desk, even a lamp," Kalichstein said. "These things don't have to be expensive, but they should inspire you to want to be with them."
And they don't have to come from an office furniture superstore. Looking for that perfect desk at a thrift store or flea market could save you money and make the space less sterile and more your own.
"Ikea is a great place, and it is very budget-friendly, but do you wake up in the morning and feel inspired to go sit at your Ikea desk?" Kalichstein asked. "Be certain there is enough of a draw to that space that you are enticed to go there because — in some small or large way — you think it's a great space in which to be."
Just because it's the part of your home that is dedicated to work doesn't mean it has to be drab or boring, so get creative in a way that's comforting to you and not distracting.
"You can do something as simple as painting a wall in a bold color, which both separates the space and gives you a shot of energy when you walk into the room," Stanley said. "Or small things, like using vintage trays to hold things like paper clips and other office supplies. You're still organized, but it's much prettier than a container from your local office supply store."
Even if you're short on room, there are ways to make the space appealing even when you're not working.
"Try some curtains hung from the ceiling, or maybe just some cut yardage of a heavyweight fabric, or even some variation of a shoji screen — any material, any style that works for you," Kalichstein offered. "If none of these things is possible, just make sure that the overall aesthetic of the things there is cohesive enough to look like its own space."
To get you and your workspace started off on the best possible terms, don't be afraid to indulge yourself a bit. Giving it some little perks will ease the "commute" and help the workday go by faster.
"Make a checklist of all the things you need to have in your home office," said Kalichstein. "Then make a list of all the things you want to have in your home office. Buy some things that make you feel spoiled, and make it like back-to-school for grown-ups. Figure out what you feel is the cool new lunchbox equivalent for you in your office, and pick things that are different from what is in your house, things whose personality makes you feel like the king of the hill.
"You will be more confident and productive if you are surrounded by things that remind you of success."
Pitfalls of the Home Office
The benefits of a home office are more or less obvious: flexibility, accessibility and a pants-optional workplace. Distractions, however, can pop up everywhere. You may not have a boss and co-worker poking their heads into your office, but you may have a pet or a child who is blissfully unaware that something like work even exists.
A working mother herself, Los Angeles-based designer Estee Stanley offered these basic tenets for avoiding the common pitfalls of working from home:
Know how to turn it on. "Avoid having the TV on while you're working. You're at home, so you can be relaxed, but you still need to be focused. You shouldn't work on the couch or in bed, because that just leads to bad habits. You should still have a desk, and especially a good comfortable but sturdy chair that makes you sit up."
Know when to turn it off. "It's easy to keep work and play separate when you get to leave the office and come home, but when your office is your home, you need to know how to shut it off. Try to separate your work life from your home life even though you're steps away from the office."
Avoid overstocking your kitchen. "It's easy when you just can't focus to get up and go to the kitchen for a light snack. But if you do that every time your brain needs a little break, you'll be eating mindlessly. Try taking a five-minute stretch or walk break instead."