Five Things to Make Your Home Office Work for You
by Erin McDermott.
Nick Loper is a mover and shaker at his home office. Actually, these days, mostly a mover.
Back in December, he found a treadmill on Craigslist, and with a little DIY derring-do, he rigged his workspace to it. Now the CEO of ShoeSniper.com is walking 8 to 10 miles a day while he runs the shoe-shopping website from his place near San Francisco.
He’s had to learn to steady himself while walking and typing, got a bigger computer monitor that was easier to see at the top tier of his desk setup, and admits it’s been a bit tough to ignore the numbers on the exercise device’s panel. Even so, he’s hooked. “It’s kind of addictive to watch the amount of calories you burn as you go,” he says. But overall, it’s working for him, and Loper even recently punched another hole in his belt—on the good side. “There have been times since, when I’ve been away, working in a hotel, and I feel like I should be doing more, and being up and moving.”
It’s never easy to get your workspace just right, more so for anyone who regularly works from home. With the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimating there are now some 18.3 million home-based businesses, more people than ever are out there trying to project the professionalism of the office onto their home base.
“The recession has made more companies open their minds to the cost-savings that can come from working with telecommuters,” says Sara Sutton Fell, chief executive and founder of FlexJobs.com, an online job-service site dedicated to flexible work situations. Sutton Fell walks the walk, too: She’s worked from home for almost six years. From a loft above her detached garage in Boulder, Colorado, she manages a staff of 24 other home-office dwellers, half of whom she’s yet to meet face to face. “My kids know I’m up here, but they know not to interfere,” she says, “It’s still a better alternative for me.”
What works best for these home-based entrepreneurs? Below are a few suggestions to make your home office hum:
A backup system…and a backup for your backup
It’s every computer user’s worst nightmare. Last year, Sutton Fell’s hard drive crashed. Unbeknownst to her, her data-backup system wasn’t working properly either. “It’s embarrassing to even admit this,” she says. She ended up losing a good amount of data. Now, in addition to her crucial two monitors she uses to accommodate all of her open tabs and her website, she also has two backup systems for her data.
But what if your home and home office are destroyed? First, make sure that your home insurance is up to date and get a rider that covers your work setup. Then consider something similar to Binary Formations’ Home Inventory. This software helps you catalog everything in your home and home office—information that’s crucial if the unthinkable happens. “Most people think ahead to get riders on jewelry, but not many think about their home-business equipment,” says Diane Hamilton, Binary Formations’ managing partner, who, along with husband Kevin, runs the company from their Virginia home office. “You should think about the coverage for your workspace whether you work for yourself or work from home for someone else.”
If you deal with a lot of paperwork, you’ll need plenty of things like tabbed folders and file cabinets. But if you’re trying to go paperless, several small business owners recommend taking a look at the products from Neat. That company’s mobile scanner and software products can build a searchable directory of receipts, business cards, and important documents. And if you’re a really big thinker, unleash your creativity and surround yourself with one gigantic big dry-erase board, using new whiteboard paint products to turn your office walls into a wraparound notepad.
PQ_Homeoffice.jpgA map of your day, week, month
Psychotherapist and relationship coach Toni Coleman says it’s critical to establish a structure—with your routine, with your schedule, and with your family and friends. “To be really good at working from home, you have to be really good at getting into ‘the zone,’” she says. “However you set that up physically, you have to be able to do it mentally. And you have to clarify that with everyone around you.”
The mother of four operates her practice out of her home in McLean, Virginia, and says she sees clients get into trouble all the time as gadgets blur the line between business and life. She advises her clients to create a schedule and a routine and stick to it—shower, dress to get into the professional mind-set, grab your coffee, and then get into your office and go to work. Good planning is everything, Coleman says. “If you’re disorganized and you go to sit down and realize you’re out of ink, and want to run to Staples, it will throw off your whole schedule. You have to resist that urge and stay focused.”
For nine years, Lori Karpman ran her management consultancy from an area off the kitchen in her Montreal home. She had all of the professional trappings, but she lacked the ability to shut herself off physically from the rest of her household. Though she says she’s always been very disciplined about her hours, there was no stopping her kids or other sirens of domesticity from testing her concentration. Karpman moved to a new home with a dedicated workspace about a year ago, and raves about the mental break that the door on her new home office provides. “When my day is over, I turn off the lights, shut off the ringer on the phone, and close the door—I’m not at work anymore and I’m really home,” she says. “It’s important to say that space is your workspace—not your living space. Psychologically, it makes it seem so much more professional.”
Got a picture on your desk to remind you of your work/life balance? Or a window that provides an inspirational view? Or iTunes cued up for a five-minute Motown session to recharge during the 2 p.m. doldrums? The isolation of remote work has its own set of stresses. John Paul Engel, marketing consultant and chief executive of Knowledge Capital Consulting, says he overcomes the pressure of 24/7-availability by going for a run outside his Sioux City, Iowa, home office to clear his head—and to engage both sides of his brain to sort out a problem. Others swear by sitting on exercise balls to physically vent and stay fit in the process.
The key is to make whatever works work for you, like Nick Loper and his treadmill desk. And now that he’s on his feet all day, does he test his wares on it? “No,” he says, before adding, “but I guess that could be a good writeoff.”