Setting up a home office

Setting up a home office

As vast numbers of British workers strive to create a more equal work/life balance, setting up shop at home has become an increasingly attractive and viable option. While more people are choosing to work from home as self-employed agents, seven in ten large employers and a growing proportion of smaller businesses are now also providing their staff with home working opportunities.

For those just starting out, setting up a home office can be a rather daunting prospect, particularly if you do not have an employer at hand to offer support and advice. There are few resources available on the internet for what, at first glance, could be considered a relatively straightforward process. However, this guide will navigate new and existing home workers around the various pitfalls that can beset even the most well intentioned workers without the proper planning and consideration.

Location, location, location

Companies put a lot of thought into choosing the ideal location for their offices, as a proper working environment can massively boost productivity. While people working from home won't have to worry about accommodating two hundred employees into one office, choosing the right space for their needs is still a vital process.

  • Try and find a dedicated workspace - If possible, it is a good idea to set up a space permanently dedicated to business, such as a study, computer room, attic or spare room. This will minimise the risk of distractions from other people living in the house and other things shared rooms, such as the TV. You will also be able to keep your business affairs separated from your personal life at the end of the day.
  • Consider how much space you will need - While an artist will need room for easels, canvases and supplies, a writer may only require enough space for a desk and chair. Make sure you have enough room to work at home. Don't cramp yourself in.
  • Choose an area of the house that is well lit - Nothing is worse than working in gloomy conditions or under false light. Choose a space with windows that will provide natural light and keep the air circulating if it becomes too hot and stuffy.
  • Avoid the noise - Try and set up away from noisy and distracting areas of the house such as the front door, kitchen or bathroom. If you have loud neighbours, try to work away from a shared wall.
  • Project a professional image to visiting clients - If you will be holding meetings with customers, it is better not to have to give them a tour of your home to get to your office. A ground-floor working space is the best bet in this situation. Also, consider parking options, and access to your house.

Do I need to pay Business rates if I work from home?

This was a brilliant question posed to us from a reader, and an important one, too.

If you plan to simply use an office / space at home to work or sell goods by post, then you will not have to pay business rates on top of your council tax bill.

If however you will be selling goods or services, converting any space into a working environment (a salon / garage for example) or you will be employing others, you will have to pay business rates.

For further information, please visit Gov.uk

Mapping out your home office

Once you have designated a space for a home office, it is a good idea to take measurements so you know exactly how much space you have to play with. Sketch a layout of the room and map out where all the furniture and equipment will go.

  • Cast an eye over your kingdom – It is a good idea to place your desk so that you can see the entranceway to your work area and are not startled by visitors. This will also create a more professional environment for clients than if you have your back to them when they enter.
  • Set out the space logically – If you will be making a lot of phone calls, it is a good idea to keep the phone close to your desk or primary work-area. Similarly, keep important documents close to hand. The aim is to create a layout that maximises efficiency and work flow. Most importantly, make sure you know where everything is kept. Labels can be priceless!
  • Keep it tidy – Design the space in a way that will maintain an air of organisation and minimise clutter. It is a good idea to keep a rubbish bin handy so that unwanted mess does not build up. Put away supplies that you do not need every day.
  • Use multi-purpose equipment to save space – If space is an issue, try to find furniture and equipment that can perform different purposes, such as an all-in-one printer, scanner and copier, or a storage cabinet that also provides a work surface. Furniture that can be rolled out of the way is also useful in a tight fix.
  • Light the way – Think carefully about lighting your home office. Poor illumination can cause headaches, eyestrain and fatigue. If working for long periods, choose a light source that is both long-lasting and energy efficient. Lighting the wall behind a computer monitor can reduce eyestrain, while a quality adjustable desk lamp can provide the flexibility needed to ensure the best illumination in different situations.
  • Don't forget storage – One thing often overlooked by people working from home is the need for storage space. Remember to use the whole area at your disposal. Shelves mounted on the wall provide useful storage for home office supplies and do not take up any floor space.
  • Keep it lean – Your home office is a place of business and it is important to keep it as just that. Unless they are required for work, you don't need to include televisions, games consoles or other distractions that will only take up unnecessary space.

Furnishing your home office

Striking the right balance of home office equipment is one of the tasks that you would not have to think about in the office. However, it is also part of the fun of working from home – everything can be exactly as you want it to be. Don't get carried away populating your office with gadgets that you won't have any use for though. If specialised equipment such as high quality printers are required, it can be cheaper to use local services.

Basic requirements for a functional office

Almost every home worker will require at least several basic things to get started: a decent chair, a desk, probably a computer and some way of communicating with clients/employers.

  • The first and most crucial step is to get a decent chair. Possibly the most underappreciated of piece of office furniture, a chair can become your best friend or worst enemy!
  • Choose an adjustable seat that provides lumbar support, wheels for mobility, and armrests to ensure that working at a desk is as comfortable and healthy as possible. Make sure you sit with good posture to avoid backaches, neck aches and fatigue.
  • A good quality desk is another sound investment. There are many all-purpose desks that provide storage, a large workspace, compartments for computer towers and printers, and stands for monitors, without taking too much room.
  • If you will be spending a lot of time typing, choose a desk with a retractable keyboard tray, for maximum comfort. Make sure it is large enough for both a mouse and keyboard.

Computer systems

Most people will now need to use a computer system when working from home. If you are travelling a lot then it makes sense to purchase a laptop instead of a desktop computer.

  • It is important to think about what you will be using it for before purchasing a system. Video editors will need expensive graphics cards and processors that people just writing letters and spreadsheets will not.
  • Make sure you have more than enough hard disk space so that you don't run out of digital storage. Also, regularly backup data on removable storage, such as CD or DVD (you will need to purchase a CD or DVD writer, or ensure your computer comes with one).
  • In terms of software, Microsoft Office is a good place to start for general use. It contains an excellent word processor, spreadsheets, databases an email manager with integrated calendar and address book and tools to create basic websites.
  • Invest in a well-known security package that includes a virus scanner, firewall and junk mail filter. Norton Internet Security and ZoneAlarm's AntiVirus Suite are both good packages. If you have an employer, they might be able to provide you with specialist software that you may require.
  • Printers, fax machines and photocopiers can be useful tools in the office but they are large and expensive to purchase and maintain. These days, there are a number of relatively cheap all-in-one printer/scanner/copy/fax machines tailored for consumers that will be able to cope with the needs of most.

Internet connections

If you wish to contact people via email and make use of the internet, it is worth investing in a broadband connection. It is much faster than dial-up and allows users to stay constantly connected, without taking up the phone line.

There are a number of cheap broadband suppliers (ISPs) that offer monthly subscriptions catered to business needs, although a standard consumer package will be sufficient for most people.

Home office phone systems

A telephone with voice mail or an answering machine is crucial for homeworkers as it provides a means of communication with the outside world. Even if email and the internet will be the primary means of contact, it is good to have a phone for backup.

Most providers offer special business deals that are good value for money. A cordless phone, or Bluetooth head-set could be useful if you will be moving around a great deal. Consider using a dedicated line or personal mobile if you will be sharing the house during your office hours, for a greater air of professionalism.

N.B. Once you have all your electrical equipment in place, you should invest in a quality surge protector that guards telephone and broadband cables, as well as electrical lines. This will reduce the risk of losing critical data stored on a computer hard disk or suffering damaged equipment to an electrical spike.

Concentration is key

Anyone setting up a home office with the intention of looking after the kids or pets while working is destined to fail. A firm's offices can be hectic places, but the hustle and bustle is work related (usually!). Procrastination can be a real danger to people working from home. It is important to remain focused and keep concentration throughout the day.

  • Take a break - Just like any job, it is important to take a break for lunch, as this will help keep productivity levels high in the afternoon.
  • Set up some ground rules - If you are working in a shared space such as a kitchen or living room, try to come to an agreement with others that they will give you space while you are at work and avoid distracting you unnecessarily.
  • Listen to the music - Some people find it easier to work with background music. Choose something that won't distract you. Ambient and classical music will likely work better than heavy rock music, but remember to turn it off if you are taking a phone call!
  • Stay on track - Act as you would if you were under supervision in a regular office. Don't take overly long coffee breaks or spend hours browsing the internet because you think you can get away with it. Chances are you'll be left rushing your work during the rest of the day.
  • Remember you are at work - Arrange for someone else to look after the children during your office hours. Make use of a babysitter or family and friends if necessary. If your children will be in the house with you, explain to them that they must not disturb you while you're at work, unless it is important. It will be almost impossible to juggle work and the kids without neglecting one or the other.

Make sure home working is right for you

At the end of the day, home working requires a strong will and large amounts of discipline. Although most people like the idea of avoiding arduous journeys and annoying colleagues, working from home can also leave you feeling isolated if you do not see many people in your personal time. Despite the allure of not having to work in an office from 9am to 5pm, home working will not suit everyone.

It is important to consider your home office as part of a business like any regular office. Although working from home is a lifestyle decision, it is also a business one. Consider if it is the best option for you and if it will actually help you to create a more balanced work/life divide. While some may find they do less work at home, others may find it hard to put down their papers at the end of the day.

If you have the self-discipline to make it work and are happy enough in your own company throughout the day then the positives of working from home far outweigh the negatives. There is nothing better than using your lunch time to potter in the garden on a sunny day, or discover a good book in the comfort of your own living room.

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