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February 1999 Issue
Being at Home at Work
by Jenny Wojcik
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All of us work. Life just doesn’t happen unless everyone works. But where, when and how we work are as uniquely different as we are. Some of us drive a car to work, some take mass transit over-ground or under-ground. Some of us walk to work, and for a growing number of us, we walk there without ever going outdoors.

Whether you occasionally telecommute or maintain regular "office" hours from home, you need a space dedicated to that work. For the vast majority of us, it’s the once-upon-a-time guest bedroom. With a growing number of people who need office space in their homes, architects and builders are designing and incorporating home offices in their floor plans. But for those of us who "convert" a room that was designed for one purpose and used for another, a little design help can go a long way.

But before we design anything, let’s take stock of what your home office will be used for. If you use the room for business only, then you won’t have to worry about a sleeping area in the space. If, on the other hand it is necessary to have a dual function room, then your design plans must be different.

STRICTLY BUSINESS

If you’re in this category, you have the ability to devote an entire room to your work, and to make yourself productive and comfortable at the same time. If this room is dedicated to your career and used solely for that purpose, you may also have a tax advantage. (Check with your accountant or income tax preparer for eligibility and specific requirements.)

If the room was designed originally as a bedroom, it’s probably dimensionally 8 feet by 10 feet or something close to that. You probably have either a walk-in closet or a closet that runs the length of one wall. First, remove everything from the closet that does not pertain to your work. With space at a premium, convert the closet by adding bookshelves and two or four drawer filing cabinets. The closet is an ideal place for files, office supplies, scanners, printers, and fax machines. When your day is done, or if a client comes for a meeting, the closet door closes off the workday clutter. This will mean adding electrical outlets and perhaps a phone line, but the payoff is great.

ROOM TO WORK

If you must maintain a sleeping space in your home office, your needs are different. First determine the "proportional use" of the room. If you use the room 75% of the time as an office and 25% of the time as a sleeping room, then dedicate your space accordingly. Give your home office at least 75% of the space and surroundings by downplaying the "sleeping" aspect of the room. How do you do that? You can rid the room of the traditional bed and invest in either a sleeper sofa or a futon that can be incorporated into your home office décor.

If you situation is reversed, you may want to reconfigure the room’s closet, adding a built in desk or computer workstation. While that means you sacrifice storage space, you have maintained the integrity of your sleeping area. Organization is paramount in this scenario. You must find a place for everything, and be willing to return everything to that place when your work is finished.

FOR EVERYONE

If you purchase a desk, make sure it is an appropriate size for the space and the tasks at hand. If you build your own desk (and I know some of you will use a core door laid across two filing cabinets) make sure that the height is comfortable -- usually about 28 - 30 inches off the floor. Invest in a comfortable chair with appropriate back support and keep your surroundings orderly. Clutter will only inhibit your productivity.

Adequate task lighting is critical for any office situation, and normally the one element lacking in the home office. Bedrooms are usually designed with either a single overhead light or a wall switch that operates an outlet. In either case, the light is totally inefficient for an office environment. Invest in lamps that provide lighting to your entire work area, not just one spot on your desk. Task lighting means just that -- the light is used to illuminate the task -- so please do not skimp here.

One of the dilemmas that we face as home office people is that if we aren’t careful, we can get caught up in the home part of that statement and neglect the office part. My suggestion here is simple, but has worked well for me over the years. Dress for work. I don’t mean a suit and tie or a dress complete with heels, but please, leave the bunny slippers in the bedroom. That’s it -- dress for work and be at work. When I walk into my home office, my attitude changes. I come here to work -- to write - to contribute to my career as a writer.

Your career may require special furniture, like a drafting table or craft station. Whatever your need, make your home office work for you. Invest in the necessary equipment and furnishings that provide you the greatest chance to succeed. Make sure your office equipment is conveniently located to your work station, your lighting adequate and stay organized to make the most of the space you have. Your success will be sweet.

DÉCOR DATA:

    One of the best-kept decorating secrets is the versatile built-in. For home office environments, a wall that’s converted into bookshelves becomes instant storage and takes up very little floor space. If you can’t afford custom built-in cabinetry, purchase unfinished wooden shelves and paint them the same color as your wall. They’ll visually take up very little space, but give you much in return!


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