As adult education instructors who have worked at home and taught careers to be worked from home, we are frequently asked how to set up an office to have the best work flow and ergonomics. We’re also asked what should someone spend a lot of money on and what is less important to invest in.
Setting up your work-at-home office in the most efficient way possible is very important to your overall success and organization. Knowing where to find things when you need them, and having backup equipment is crucial to your overall success in your home-based business.
If you’re considering a work-at-home career, here’s a look at the 10 most critical things you’ll need to know before setting up your home office for the first time.
We recommend your computer be your largest expenditure. Depending on your business, this is probably going to be your primary tool and one you’ll use day in and day out. To start with, your most efficient purchase would be a refurbished computer. Refurbished computers are usually great buys. In fact, many vendors and some manufacturers (such as Dell) have refurbished computers that come with many of the same software (and sometimes warranties) included with the original.
We suggest having a desktop with a large hard drive (at least 500 GB), fast processor, and at least 12 GB memory, although less is certainly acceptable. If you’re going to be doing graphics at home, you’ll want a computer that handles graphics quickly and efficiently, like a Mac. If you’re doing a lot of office-type work, you’ll probably want a PC.
When you can afford it, it’s always a good idea to have two computers, as you never know when a computer will one day stop working. You may also want a duplicate of any other electronic equipment you use on a daily basis, such as a mouse. This will protect you from missing a deadline in the event your equipment stops working for any reason.
We also suggest at least a 19” monitor (although you can get one at 23”, 34” and 55” if you desire!) If you’re doing office work like medical transcription, usually a 23” monitor is a perfect size. For a backup computer, we like to see our students have a laptop with all the programs they use most on both systems. That way if one system crashes you can still get your work done with the backup. If your backup is not a laptop, however, we recommend having another (usually smaller and cheaper) computer monitor on hand so your work isn’t interrupted in case your monitor stops working.
You also need a universal power supply (UPS) on your main computer. A UPS comes in many different sizes and plugs in between your wall and your electronic equipment, such as a computer or printer. This protects your equipment from power surges and blackouts that occur during storms and even sometimes for no reason at all. In the case of a sudden loss of electricity from a storm, your UPS acts as a backup battery and will shut down your programs carefully, preventing the loss your data. In the case of a large power surge, such as a lightning strike, your UPS may keep your electronics from getting burned up although there is no real guarantee of protection against direct lightning strikes. However, most power surges aren’t direct lightning strikes, and for these, the USP works just as it should to protect your valuable electronic equipment. For the correct size UPS, you’ll want to read the specifications that come with it to make sure it’s enough power to handle the job; for large computers and monitors you’ll need a large enough UPS to handle the job. If you don’t have power-hungry equipment, an average-sized UPS may work just fine. Just be sure to read the fine print before purchasing so you know you’ll have enough power to protect and shut down your equipment correctly.
For keyboards, you may want to use an ergonomic keyboard. Some of the ergonomic keyboards, like the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic 4000, which is about $30 from Amazon.com, are very popular with those who work from home. If your backup computer is not a laptop, you’ll want to invest in a second keyboard to keep on hand just in case the first one stops working when you least expect it.
For a printer, you only need a high-end printer if you will need to print extensively for your job. If you need to print or copy for your job but not extensively, then you should invest in a good printer, BUT make sure the ink is AFFORDABLE for you. Do your research as different printers have different uses, and the ink for each varies in price. (The Canon printers are usually a good buy as far as ink prices go.) We suggest Googling printers before purchasing to research the different printer types as well as the reviews on them, since new printers are being developed all the time.
Computer software can range from a few dollars to hundreds, even thousands, for high-end software that large corporations use. If you’re doing office-type work from home, you might want to consider open-source software for this purpose. Open-source software is software that is made available to the general public at little or no cost. Some popular ones will do just about the same thing as the expensive software.
For example, if you want word processing software very similar to Microsoft Word, called OpenOffice available here. Instead of purchasing Microsoft Office, try Google Docs. If you’re using something that needs Photoshop, consider downloading Gimp instead, which offers similar image-editing capabilities.
There are actually many different types of open source software; just Google the software you’re looking for plus the words “open source” after it to see what might be available.
Your office telephone does not need to be expensive. In fact, most home offices probably don’t even need a separate phone line unless you plan to do some of your work using the telephone or if you have your own clients who contact you. Even then, sometimes just a cell phone would work just fine as long as you can get a cell phone signal from your home office.
If you have a lot of clients calling you and you’d like to maintain professionalism, as in owning your own business, you would want a telephone that has your business message on it for answering automatically after hours. It doesn’t portray a serious venture when your 3-year-old answers the phone, so if this is important to you, be sure you have a separate phone line set up with a professional message for after hours.
For a good phone line, you’d probably want to have call waiting, call forwarding, and 3-way calling options, depending on your business. Even an Internet phone like Vonage would work well for you. You need a phone that you can hear well on and is dependable. Most small home businesses do not need multiple phone lines.
If you are doing work that is covered by confidentiality laws (HIPAA), you should have a decent shredder to shred any confidential papers or items that that you no longer need. However, one does not need the most expensive or top-of-the-line shredder. Take care when using your shredder as most will tend to “burn up” if you do a lot of shredding at once — most office shredders aren’t intended for heavy shredding use such as when you clean out your office. They’re mostly intended for the occasional 2-6 sheets of papers being discarded at a time.
As for a fax machine or copier, if you need these items in your business, then it is advisable to buy “moderate” end ones meaning not the least nor most expensive. There are large ones available for heavy usage as well as small ones for less usage. Many fax machines nowadays have multiple functions and can be used as a printer and a copier as well as a fax. Of course, if you use it as a fax, you’ll need a phone line coming in to your office. You might be interested to know that many businesses are doing away with faxes now and going paperless. This means everything is digital and is stored in a digital format instead of printed out and stored in a physical file folder.
Of course, every office should have good shelving units to store books, supplies, etc. Organize papers into file folders that are labeled and have a shelf or filing cabinet for them. Everything should have its own place so that you know where things are. For example, file folders that you use several times a day could go next to your monitor in a vertical file. File folders that you use only once or twice a year could be located across the room or in a remote storage location. Let the amount of usage of an item determine where it’s placed within your office.
Have reference books that you use frequently close by and within easy reach. Have staplers, paper clips, extra printer paper, pens, etc. all organized in a place where you can access them quickly. Of course, you’ll want to have extra ink for your printer or fax/copier on hand at all times as well as copy paper, so you never have to worry about running out.
If you work full time in your home office, you should invest in a very comfortable, ergonomic office chair. It should be able to move up and down, the arms should be movable, and the seat should be very cushioned with a support for your lower back. Office Star sells some very nice 5” padded fully ergonomic office chairs for around $250.00. The pain it will save in your back, hips, shoulders, legs, and neck is worth spending as much as you can possibly afford on a good office chair. We suggest you try several of them out next time you’re near an office supply store. Take note of the different types of chairs and what features you like best.
An office desk is one of the more personal items in an office. There are many different types of desks such as corner desks, desks with hutches, large executive desks, L-shaped desks, etc. What type of desk you need will depend on the type of work you’re doing from home. If you’re doing a lot of paperwork with accounting, filing, and other administrative-type duties, you might want to look at the very efficient L-shaped desk with a hutch. Some have space for a printer until the desk as well as a built-in keyboard tray.
You may want to consider the appearance of the other furniture in your office as well. Is your other furniture modern or is it very informal? Make sure your desk fits in with the appearance of your other items as well as reflects a part of YOU.
Since we’re on the subject of desks, there is another thing we’d like to mention – sunlight. For many people, having the desk in front of a window provides occasional relief from the stress of the day (especially if the view outside is nice!) For others, having a desk in front of a window would serve as too much of a distraction. Be aware of what type of environment you need to be your most creative or efficient, and set your home office up the way YOU need it to be.
Speaking of being creative and efficient, what are the best office wall colors to bring out these traits? A study by the University of Texas in 2014 showed that bland gray, beige, and plain white offices created feelings of sadness and depression, especially in women. On the other hand, men experienced these feelings with purple and orange. Many different studies have shown the effects of colors on our moods and our mental health; however, most agree that low-wavelength colors like the calming colors of green and blue improve efficiency and focus while yellow helps develop creativity. In any event, be sure the colors you choose for your office are a good fit for YOU regardless of what anybody else says.
Setting up your home office can be both fun and rewarding. Remember to spend your money where it counts the most, and go with lesser expensive items when and where you can for maximum efficiency. Make sure your office has enough shelving and space to organize your papers, files, and office supplies. Have the items you use the most easily accessible, and be sure the arrangement of your desk as well as the wall color is satisfying to you.
Overall, being organized and efficient with your office environment when working from home leaves you more time to spend with your family and to do the things you enjoy the most. Taking a few minutes to plan before putting it together can be well worth the effort in the long run in terms of increased creativity and efficiency.