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Home Office Layouts: Make Your Workspace Work for You

by Margot Carmichael Lester, Staples® Contributing Writer

“I just saw a woman who was working on a picnic table in an old bedroom,” says Steve Meagher, a physical therapist and ergonomics expert. “She was happy to be working at home although it seemed to be a little less comfortable than a formal office.” When people work from home, they are often piecing together an office in a random space rather than creating a productive home office layout.

Unfortunately, many home-based business owners don’t give too much thought to their home office. But an effective workspace is vital to productivity and longevity. You’re going to be spending a lot of time in that space, so you need the best office layout and furniture possible. Hint: It’s probably not a picnic table in a spare room.

Know Your Requirements

Begin plotting your home office floor plan by thinking about what you really need to be comfortable and focused.

Robert Ellis Smith, publisher of The Privacy Journal, determined what was most important for him when designing the home office space he’s occupied for 40 years: “A decent view, a good doorbell/intercom so I don't have to go to the door, and a businesslike place to interview visitors.”

What are your key requirements for your workspace? Do you need complete privacy and serenity? A lot of space to spread out? Extra-cool temps to protect equipment? Do you want your back to the door?

“Confirm that the area is large enough to accommodate all your needs for work — space, equipment and storage,” says interior designer Heather Higgins, principal of Higgins Design Studio in New York. “The most common mistake is under-assessing equipment and storage needs, which has a profoundly negative effect on both the function and appearance of a space.”

And don’t forget power. Ask an electrician to verify you have enough power to accommodate necessary equipment and technology. “This can be an issue, especially in older spaces,” says Higgins.

Choose the Right Office Furniture

Start with your office chair. “If it’s not comfortable, nothing else will be,” says Meagher, whose company, Site Solutions, helps individuals and companies design ergonomic workspaces. It’s your base of support, and its height will determine keyboard and monitor positions. “Your chair needs to adjust to support different postures throughout the day. We aren’t statues and can’t be expected to sit like one all day.”

Next, choose a work desk at the right height. “Most desks are 30 inches high,” Meagher explains. “If this is too high or low, you may need a tray to position the keyboard and mouse at elbow level. And remember, glass desks will not accommodate keyboard trays.”

Want a standing desk in your home office? “Spring-tension desks or electric desks are better than cranks,” Meagher says. “Cranking can increase the risk of injury, and it takes too long and is too hard.” You may be able to fashion your own standing desk from a bookcase, placing the monitor at eye level and the keyboard at elbow level. Or if you’re trying to squeeze in a workout during the day, maybe a treadmill desk is for you?

Design for Function & Personality

Some business owners incorporate a home office into a guest room or living room. “There are tricks, like enclosing equipment in cabinets or closets with doors, that will help to camouflage more office-like elements,” Higgins says. “Selecting furniture that’s compatible with the existing style and feeling of the room is of key importance in helping an office space blend in.”

And if you can swing a dedicated space? “One of the great joys of working in a home office is the freedom to create a space that’s personal and inspiring,” Higgins says. “However, it’s not the place to experiment with your wildest decorating fantasies. Your surroundings still need to look businesslike and organized, and encourage concentration and productivity.”

With this advice, you are on your way to creating — or redesigning — the best office layout for you and your home.

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