When you decide to work from home, deciding exactly what you will be doing, and where, is a big part of getting the setup right. Here are some issues to bear in mind.
We are often asked, "What is the ideal set-up for a home office?" - an almost impossible question to answer as home businesses come in so many different shapes and sizes, and offer an incredible variety of products and services. What we can do, is offer some suggestions which you can adapt to suit your own environment and needs.
Where will you do most of your work?
The first consideration is whether the type of work you do takes you out of your home office, for example onto clients' premises, requires a specialised facility, for example a workshop, or whether the majority of your work will be done from the area you set aside as your home office.
The mobile office
If much of what you do takes you away from your home office, especially if your service is mobile or you are travelling for extended periods or substantial distances, or you wish to be "on call" to your customers even when out of the office, you will probably want to consider some kind of "mobile" office. The nature of this will vary depending on whether you are offering a mobile service, in which case it could perhaps take the shape of a van, kitted out with equipment and perhaps a work surface and chair, necessary telecommunications facilities and any other specialised adaptations required. Alternately, it could be as simple as having a mobile phone handy, but if the nature of your business is more sophisticated and you work away from home a lot, it is likely these days to include a mobile device and connection. In some cases, Internet access from Internet cafés, libraries or other locations will also help you keep in touch with your business.
A dedicated, customised, workspace
On the other hand, many home-based business operators are trades people or crafters, whose work requires a dedicated work area with specific requirements. A curtain-maker, for instance, would need a large, clean flat area to lay out and cut the fabric, and one or more sewing machines permanently set up. A cabinet maker would need a workshop with space to work, and a range of woodworking tools. An antique watch repairer may require only a small workspace, but excellent lighting and specialised equipment to be able to see the intricate details he works with. A food-oriented service may use some existing kitchen space (but regulations in this respect are stringent).
Such customised workspaces vary significantly depending on the type of product or service offered but the general considerations are the same: the area must offer sufficient space and light for both work and storage; sufficient specialised equipment must be on hand for the owner to work efficiently and to the standard expected by his or her customers; and health, safety, the family and neighbours must be taken into account in terms of equipment usage, smell, noise, dust, chemicals, and so on. You may be able to use a spare room, rumpus or garage, but the layout of the workspace should allow for efficient workflow, the health and comfort of the operator, storage of equipment and supplies, and any other specific needs of the business operation. If you are working with equipment, chemicals or food, there are likely to be council, health, safety or industry regulations you will be required to follow.
The home office itself
If the work you do revolves around your specialised knowledge, a service-oriented business, computer skills, small volume product sales or sales in which the product is virtual or drop-shipped, you are likely to be based, for at least a significant proportion of your time, in your home office. Even if you work away from home or in a specialised workspace, you are likely to want some dedicated office space at home, although in the scenario outlined above it may form part of your customised work area.
What part of your home you set aside as your office and how you equip it will vary depending on the kind of business you operate. Overriding considerations are likely to be finding an area that allows you space to work efficiently with minimum disturbance to your family, good light, sufficient storage, the right mix of technology and telecommunications options and an ergonomic layout.
No matter what kind of home business you operate, storage is likely to be an issue - and the longer you have been operating, the more you are likely to have to store! Businesses handling product will probably need much more storage space than those providing services, and it's important that product is stored so it reaches the customer in perfect condition. Depending on the kind of product, this may include preventing it from getting damp, hot, cold, tatty, dusty, exposed to sunlight, or damaged in any other way. Investing in proper storage facilities - even if this amounts to a second-hand steel cabinet in the garage - makes good sense. It should also be stored in such a way that it's easy to find, pack and despatch (it's not so easy to extract a particular item from a carton stacked with others on the top rack of the cupboard!) Some forethought and regular housekeeping goes a long way in this regard.
Even if your business does not handle product, you will have books, software, files, envelopes, documents, receipts, promotional material and general office paraphernalia to keep on hand. It is worth spending some time looking at the variety of storage options available, before deciding what will work for you. It's also worth going through your office regularly, throwing out what you no longer need. And a little prevention could be in order too. The paperless office may be a bit of a pipe dream - but you can cut down significantly on the amount of paper you need to find space for by storing documents and conducting as much of your business as possible, electronically.
Whether, like Harry Potter, you occupy the cupboard under the stairs, or are lucky enough to have a large, dedicated workspace, you will be able to work more efficiently - and more profitably - if you create a workspace which facilitates workflow, is suited to your own particular needs, in which you are comfortable, which complies with regulations and where everything you need is on hand.
- Home business