Most people who work in an office from, say, nine to five, spend between one and three hours every day commuting. That is time that could be spent at the gym, strolling on the beach, shopping, doing chores, cooking delicious meals, walking the dog, or playing with the kids.
Commuting – along with the increasing cost of fuel, the undeniable effect of carbon emissions, and the acknowledged dangers of extended periods of sitting – has made working from home very desirable, and the decreasing cost of technology and the development of fibre to the home (FTTH) has made it feasible.
While some employers are reluctant to let their staff out of their sight, most recognise that people are much more productive when they can work within their comfort zones – and that’s not just spatial. Let’s face it: no one who spends eight hours in an office actually does a full eight hours of productive work. It’s just not possible. And the time that is not productive is wasted – daydreaming, dozing, taking smoke breaks, making tea, checking Facebook, or just staring blankly at a screen with nothing happening in your brain. People who work from home, on the other hand, use those ‘unproductive’ moments constructively because nothing improves mental concentration more than a short burst of physical activity, and it doesn’t have to be intense. Many freelancers pop in a load of laundry, work until they feel their minds wandering, whereupon they hang up the laundry, and return to their desks mentally refreshed. You can substitute any domestic chore for laundry – dead-heading a few roses, doing some weeding, washing the breakfast dishes, unpacking the dishwasher, prepping vegetables for supper, and so on. An on-site worker would have to deal with all this after spending the whole day in the office and upward of an hour in the car. Really, a home workspace is a no-brainer.
But how to incorporate that workspace into your home is a tad more complicated. The simplest – and least efficient – is to simply work on the dining-room table, but that’s not really sustainable. You need a dedicated space for two reasons: firstly, so that you can work while others use that space and you can leave files or reference material out if you need to; and secondly, so that you are mentally ‘at work’. Novelist Patricia Schonstein dresses in a smart skirt and blouse and puts on make-up every morning before walking into her home office, so that she knows she is ‘at work’. I confess I am the opposite. Sometimes I leap out of bed with a brilliant idea and dash off to my desk to implement it before the inspiration fades. And then, later – much later – I’ll shower and dress. But, even though I am in my pyjamas, I know that I am ‘at work’ because I have a dedicated home office. So how do you create that home office, and how exactly do you want it to work?
There are basically three strategies when it comes to setting aside space for a home office. The first is a dedicated room that is somehow isolated – even if only by a door – and is off limits to the rest of the family during work hours. The second is a more open space where other family members may have a desk or table so, for example, you can work while your kids do their homework, and maybe help out with the odd question – or even brainstorm a tricky work issue with your 12-year-old. Even if you’re going for the more open option, a dedicated room is always best, but you would be amazed at how many people choose the darkest, coldest, pokiest room in the house for a study.
Rather choose the sunniest room, and the one with the best view so that it’s a room you will want to spend time in, and you can work without eye strain during the day and don’t need to turn on the lights.
The third option – if you are really pressed for space –is an ‘office in a cupboard’, which can be neatly built against one wall of the lounge or dining room, and which is surprisingly effective. This works really well if you only do occasional work at home, or you need only a laptop and not much in the way of paper. Having decided on which room you are going to use, you need to plan it all very carefully. Make sure you have a place for everything and keep everything in its place.
You will, obviously, need a desk. This is the nerve centre of your office space so design it around your work style. It could be just a table, or even a board across two two-drawer filing cabinets, or chests of drawers – surprisingly convenient and cost-effective. It’s also a good option to integrate a workspace surface into a shelf unit. You will also need a comfortable desk chair, and perhaps a couple of nice visitors’ chairs for small meetings. Depending on the look you’re going for, it may be nice to use old chairs that you can paint in a cheerful colour and re-upholster in bright fabric.
To have and to hold
You will need shelves and space for filing. Resist the temptation to store all your documents going back years. Do a good sort. Get rid of what you don’t need to keep, and archive what you need to keep but will probably never look at – like finished projects, client files, tax records, and so on – in neat, protective archive boxes or a filing cabinet. These can even be in the garage or some other little-used space.
Let there be light
Place your desk in the best position to take advantage of natural lighting, which is the very, very best and by far the cheapest. If you are right-handed, it’s best to have light coming over your left shoulder, or from the left in the case of windows. And, obviously, vice versa. Install good-quality LED lighting, and also a bright, adjustable desk lamp that you can focus on your work rather than in your face.
There’s no such thing as wireless
We have this fantasy of working under a palm tree with nothing but a laptop, but it is just that – a fantasy. We actually need to plug in so many things – modems, chargers for phones, power banks and possibly other things, desk lights, and, of course, your laptop. If the existing power points are inconveniently located, you have two basic choices: getting an electrician to wire in a new one, or using extension cords. Either way, you will need a good, conveniently placed multi-plug with both two- and three-prong outlets. If you do use extension cords, keep them invisible and neat by fixing them to the skirting boards and/or running them behind shelves, or along the bottom surface of your desk. You don’t want to look like a kitten in a knitting basket.
Colour your world
White is always a safe choice, and it is reflective so it contributes to good lighting, but you can get so much more exciting than that. You probably have a favourite colour that just cheers you up, so – whether it’s lime green, shocking pink or buttercup yellow – make your workspace work for you.