Exactly where to place your home office in the midst of a bustling household can be the greatest challenge for the self-employed worker with a home-based business.
I lucked out.
I live in a suburban, single-family home with my family of six, but every weekday I commute 15 to 30 minutes (depending on traffic) to my urban condo in downtown San Jose where a large, private, sunny bedroom has been transformed into a fully-furnished, high-tech office now known as the "News Room".
Used solely as an office, the News Room is separated from the rest of the condo by a door (soon to be emblazoned with "News Room"), a door which establishes physical boundaries to help me meet the Internal Revenue's home office exclusive-use requirements.
I didn't have to carve out a space in the single-family home to separate my work from family chaos, I'm never interrupted when the kids come home from school and when I interview sources they are more open and candid in the spacious, airy atmosphere. The only interruptions are occasional motorists on the two-block, residential side street, business deliveries and, once-a-week, leaf blowers from hell.
Unlike the single-family home, the condo is near enough to the phone company for the fastest possible DSL line and the News Room provides a workspace that spans two full walls. The space is more than enough for two work stations comprised of vintage steel furniture -- much like that used by journalists in the 1950s. When I slam the phone, bang on the furniture and swear at sources I can't reach as a deadline approaches, there's no one within ear shot to complain. The former bedroom's closets provide ample storage space for office supplies, business records, archives, old business equipment and an earthquake survival kit for me and two neighbors.
When it's break time, I retreat to "The Lounge" -- the living room, dining area and kitchen, which remain non-business portions of the condo. In The Lounge, I can take in DVD movie scenes, jump to jazz, nap, lunch or dance a naked jig when the checks arrive -- provided I'm disciplined enough not to overdo it.
I've managed to create what's considered optimal home-based business working conditions -- you should be able to live with the placement of your home office, your office hours and the amount of home and work overlap you experience, according to Home-Based Business For Dummies (IDG Books, $19.99), by work-at-home gurus Paul and Sarah Edwards and business management mogul Peter Economy.
Most people, however, don't have the luxury of transforming some or all of a second home into an office and are stuck with carving out a work place in their primary residence.
Follow these simple rules from Home-Based Business For Dummies and then get to work.
- Get some privacy. How insulated must you be from your household? Is there a room or a wing away from household traffic? If clients will come to your office, you'll need a space where you won't be interrupted. Pick a spare bedroom, den or finished garage with a door that can close off the area from the rest of the home. Avoid putting your office next to the rec room, kitchen, family room or other heavily used areas. Buy a "Do Not Disturb" sign and use it.
- Get rid of distractions. Unless you need a TV to do your job, don't put one in your office. It's a distraction.
- Get some sleep. Never use your bedroom as a home office or you'll never get away from work. If clients visit, they will enter the most intimate room in your home. Either your ability to relax or your personal space -- or both -- will be compromised.
- Get some space. Rooms with large windows provide an open airy atmosphere, but you'll need real space for storage and working. Unless you have a large work space and wide access spaces, avoid commercial furniture. Instead buy home office furniture sized to more easily arranged and move through the typically narrow halls and doorways of a house.
- Get wired. Be sure your work area can be wired for a dedicated business line, fax, Net access, broadband and any other high-tech connection you'll likely need for today's work-at-home office.
- Get focused. Don't get sidetracked into doing household chores during work hours, don't stock junk food and don't allow your kids to use your office as an extra play room or you'll create habits that are hard to break.
- Get out. Take time to leave the office once in a while. Visit clients, go to lunch or walk to the park for a change of scene.
To determine if you are really ready to set-up a home-based business, take the Are You Ready To Move? test while perusing the first chapter of "Home-Based Business For Dummies."