How to Set Up an Effective Office Space in Your Home

I’ve worked full-time from my home since 1992 and can’t imagine doing it any other way. Whether you work full time out of your home, occasionally telecommute, catch up on work in the evening, or run a household, you need some sort of dedicated “office” space in your home. Offices can serve as the family computer center, a place to do paperwork, and the occasional work-at-home office.

The first big question is where to locate your home office. Until the last few years, most builders didn’t catch on to the popularity of a built-in home office. If you have a computer, you probably need more than an antique writing desk in the living room. But if you only use your “office” to pay bills, write letters, and return phone calls, you can get away with a corner of the kitchen.

In most homes, extra space is difficult to come by, so you’ll need to get creative. I’ve seen people attempt to use a hallway, part of a bedroom, and even a closet. However, it’s difficult to work while children are running around you, you see your bed and think about napping, or when it’s too cramped. So I’ve always commandeered the “formal” dining room or living room—no one ever used it anyway—so it’s wasted space. Or perhaps you can steal the guest room.

Set yourself up for success. If you are going to be working from your home full-time, use this checklist to ensure you’re set up for success and maximum productivity:
• Where will you set up your home office?
• How will you modify the space to meet your needs?
• Can you lock the door? Can you lock the windows?
• Do you have sufficient lighting for that area?
• What office supplies you will need?
• Where are the electrical sockets located? Will you need additional power sources?
• Do you have enough storage space, such as a file cabinet, bookcases, credenza, closets, etc.?
• Where you will store back-up disks? Is the storage area safe from fire, flooding, etc.?
• If your home office is in the basement, and if the basement tends to get damp, do you have a de-humidifier?
• Do you have a personal computer that you already use at home? Will you need different software or upgrade the RAM? Will others need to stop using it for personal purposes?
• Do you have sufficient office equipment for your home office?
• Do you have a desk? Is it large enough to do office work?
• Do you need to have a modem installed on your home computer?
• Are there sufficient phone jacks in the area you’ve designated for your home office?
• Do you need a separate fax line, Internet line, and business line?
• Do you have voice mail or an answering machine?
• Do you have a smoke detector in your home office area?
• Do you have a fire extinguisher located hear your home office?

Regardless of whether you work full-time from home or a few times each month, your home office has some common requirements:

Furniture and storage
• A professional office desk and worktable
• Sturdy filing cabinets and drawer space for files. Invest in quality pieces that won’t fall apart.
• An ergonomically correct chair
• Bookcases or shelves to hold binders, trays, phone books, and reference manuals
• Stackable storage units that maximize your space vertically
• Large garbage can
• Supply caddy/accessories
• Stackable trays for “in” and “out” boxes
• A large, standing document sorter with slots for envelopes, fax paper, letterhead, etc., that fits under your desk for easy access.

Computer and peripherals
• A computer with lots of RAM, a large hard drive, and a DVD burner
• External back-up system (like or an external drive)
• DSL or cable or satellite Internet connection (no dial-up)
• High-security remote access to your offsite office computer (like
• USB hub such as Linksys 2.0, which has seven easy access ports to plug in your keyboard, iPod, PDA docking station, digital camera, USB flash drive, etc.

• Spam filter, such as
• Internet security and virus protection, such as
• Integrated contact management, such as ACT (my favorite) or Goldmine
• Fax within the computer, such as WinFax Pro
• Postage, such as, Pitney Bowes Postage Meters, or
• Accounting, such as QuickBooks Pro for business or Quicken for home only
• Email software, such as Microsoft Outlook
• Calendar, such as Microsoft Outlook, or a paper planner

Other technology and equipment for people who work at home
• A separate business phone line and fax line if you conduct business from home so your clients don’t get voice mail saying, “You’ve reached the Smith residence.”
• Wireless headset (I use GN Netcom plus receiver lift)
• Cell phone and PDA, which can be separate, but optimally a SmartPhone, which includes PDA and email access
• Pager or text pager (only if you’re required to carry one)
• High-quality laser printer, copy machine, and scanner (separately or all-in-one)
• Telephone with voice mail

Who knows…setting up a clean, organized, productive office space at home might allow you to consider more work-at-home or other home-based business opportunities.

© 2008 Laura Stack.  All rights reserved.  Laura Stack is a personal productivity expert, author, and professional speaker who helps busy workers Leave the Office Earlier® with Maximum Results in Minimum Time®.  She is the president of The Productivity Pro®, Inc., a time management training firm specializing in productivity improvement in high-stress organizations.  Since 1992, Laura has presented keynotes and seminars on improving output, lowering stress, and saving time in today’s workplaces.  She is the bestselling author of three works published by Broadway Books: The Exhaustion Cure (2008), Find More Time (2006) and Leave the Office Earlier (2004).  Laura is a spokesperson for Microsoft, 3M, and Day-Timers®, Inc and has been featured on the CBS Early Show, CNN, and the New York Times. Her clients include Cisco Systems, Sunoco, KPMG, Nationwide, and 3M.  To have Laura speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401.

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  1. Sometimes the best thing to do is to just man-up and buy some sufficient storage pieces. I got the Eames Lifework Portfolio grouping from of a desk and file cabinet to store my documents and such. Plus there’s a little cork part that lets me hang pictures of my beautiful children and dogs.

  2. I agree that each home/flat should have an office/corner, but sometimes it is a bit hard to find that space if you are living in a one bedroom flat..

    Still the challenge is to find a proper place to put all your things together while working at least, therefore, I think if you have a small flat, you can always use the dining table, and store all your stationary in a box aside so you can pull your stationary from the box, and easily place them on the dining table while you are working, then you can store them back again into the box when you are done.

  3. Another postage solution is Dymo Stamps. There’s no monthly fee, unlike