Home Office: A Question of the Circumstances

Home office: to the disillusioned commuter or open-plan office worker, it may sound like an option that provides an instant boost in quality of life. However, a home office can also have the exact opposite effect. Weigh your options carefully before you decide to work from home. Of course, working at home can increase productivity because it provides an environment in which you feel comfortable. Nevertheless, beware the distractions that lie on the path to a successful home office. We have put together a little guide to help you on your way.

The Origin and Advantages of Working from Home

A cool breeze rises from the depths of Silicon Valley and heralds a challenge to the idea of the home office. The fact that many of the world’s leading enterprises have not adopted the idea of the home office appears to be strong evidence against it. Indeed, Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo, has stridently ordered all employees back to the search engine provider’s headquarters. She stated that working for Yahoo is more than just a job that can be completed in isolation from day to day. Instead, Mayer considers working at Yahoo a collective endeavour, and that this collectivity has made Yahoo so successful. It is noteworthy the innovations of Marissa Mayer’s company were largely responsible for enabling programmers, journalists and other professionals to work from home.

The advances in the field of broadband internet and associated software have paved the way for the home office. Professionals can work from home without direct customer contact on either a part time or full time basis. The limits of the traditional ‘home’ office have also expanded. Creative employers, technology start-ups and programmers now live in a kind of working wonderland: young, hip bosses of countless start-ups let their employers work in places that inspire their creativity, including trendy cafes, beaches and even mountain peaks.

However, you do not have to be the head of a radical start-up to support the idea of the home office. Its advantages—even for large companies—are often associated with the steady rise in global rental prices. If a company has a reliable contingent of home office workers, it will not need to construct or hire new office space even during the busiest times of the working year. Companies will sometimes be able to save on the cost of new company branches. The home office also allows experienced employees suffering from temporary or permanent injury, for example, to continue to be integrated as part of the company in a meaningful way.

Employees also reap rewards from a home office environment. First, there are the little things, such as the pleasure of spending a workday at your own desk. Then there are more tangible benefits: parents who work at home are better able to take care of sick children, for example. Home office workers also do not need to give up a day off when the electrician comes by or when it’s time to take the car to get serviced. And of course, the home office saves both time and money because home office workers no longer have to commute to work.

However, after a few years of video conferences rather than meeting rooms, distances of metres rather than kilometres of rush hour traffic and working in socks rather than shoes, most people know whether or not the home office is really for them. They come to realise that the home office is only an improvement under certain conditions. Apart from Marissa Mayer’s concerns about teamwork, there are a lot of things that can go wrong in the home office if you are not careful.

All a Question of the Circumstances

How ‘dangerous’ a home office is depends on your profession. Aside from this, there is a big difference in the purpose of each home office: is your home office there to enable you to catch up on a few hours of work after eight hours at the company office? Or is it a permanent set-up that allows you to connect to work only through the occasional videoconference? It is another question entirely if you are the owner of a small business (i.e. a self-employed) who conducts all business from home.

Point One: The Person in the Office Chair

The first and biggest problem with the home office is the person sitting on the office chair—you. The manifold distractions of the home are distinctly more difficult to avoid in the home office than at the company office. For example, take that book you are reading. It sure does look inviting over there on the couch, significantly more inviting than the paperwork on your desk. So does that brand-new camera drone, which you could be flying outside instead of trying to calculate tax returns in the office.

However, not all distractions would be considered so pleasant. Housework is a proven cause of procrastination, for even housework is more alluring than tax returns. Most people are familiar with this phenomenon because they experienced it as a student: you may recall that your room was tidiest when you had the most important assignments to do or when you needed to be studying for exams. Finally, even the smallest distractions can keep you from your most important work, that is, the work you are most likely to procrastinate over. Such distractions include short articles in a lifestyle magazine, a spontaneous chat with a neighbour or an endless session of internet surfing. The panacea: focus and discipline.

Point Two: Office Chair, Desk and Paperwork

Ergonomics is important at the company office, and the home office is no different. Of course, the home environment invites more comfortable lighting and a few personal items or family heirlooms to make your workspace more appealing. However, spending eight hours a day on a rickety wooden chair does your back no good even if the chair is one of your favourite heirlooms. A trendy designer table that is too high is not ideal for the office because it is simply too high. As such, an adjustable desk and office chair form the cornerstone of any home office. Unlike in the past, ergonomics and style are now easily compatible: the ‘lounge’ and ‘lifestyle’ office chair collections of most retailers now look less like functional furniture than stylish club or lounge accessories.

When positioning your office chair in your home office, your chief consideration should be good lighting. The table should be positioned 90 degrees to a window, and most natural light should fall onto your monitor from the side in order to avoid reflections as much as possible. Do not save on the cost of blinds to regulate the amount of light that enters the office, even if curtains may seem more stylish.

When choosing an office chair, it is best to rely on the expert opinion of an office chair retailer. The chair should at least be height-adjustable and allow adjustment so that the soles of your feet, hips and elbows are parallel to one another. Your desktop should ideally allow a diagonal tilt, and it should definitely be height-adjustable. Your desk should be at least 72 centimetres high. Your desk should be 150x80 in length and width respectively. Put your printer, scanner and back-up devices on a separate ‘tech-table’.

Point Three: The Right Technology

If your desk and office chair are the core components of the home office, then your computer, printer, internet router and telephone are indispensable support. Wireless internet connection and appropriate hardware has become the benchmark for every functioning home office. A separate telephone line can also be a valuable addition because it directs all business calls to your home office. A separate telephone line is particularly useful when your teenage kids have a monopoly on the family phone, for example. Like the company office, the home office is subject to professional standards.

In light of this need for professionalism, make sure to choose a suitable monitor that fulfils professional standards in terms of contrast, brightness and definition. Lighting is another crucial area; it is an area in which you should make as few compromises as possible. The ideal lighting for work is bright but not glaring. Avoid glare and invest in a good desk lamp. Set up your monitor approximately 50-70cm from your eyes. Finally, spare yourself the feeling of having lost valuable data and documents to a hard drive error by considering professional back-up devices to back up your data.

Your choice of keyboard and mouse should place less weight on design than on ergonomics. Also, do not save on storage space in the home office; sufficient storage space gives you access to the most important documents when you most need them. Find out about your employer’s data protection standards, and also take out an appropriate insurance policy. Would you be insured in the event that you broke your leg on your way from desk to printer in your home office?

Point Four: A Separate Room, a Sacred Space

Your office chair, desk, computer and all associated office accessories should ideally be in a room separate to the rest of your home. The greatest benefit of a separate room is a door, which is an important means of keeping your workspace separate from your leisure space. If you have family or housemates, a separate workspace affords you the peace and quiet you need to work and take telephone calls. Even if you live alone, a separate workspace still has clear benefits. You build an association of work with your office, and this association differentiates the office from the rest of your home. The office thus becomes a place of work and stands in contrast to your private life. On the contrary, people who can see their desk from their couch find it difficult to switch off completely from work.

Even if you do not have a whole room available for your home office, you can use a room divider or partition wall to separate your workspace from your private life. If you do have a spare room available, ensure that your home office remains free of the distractions of your private life. In other words, your record, book, CD or DVD collection is only allowed to move into your office if there is already enough space for your office essentials.

With that said, do add some personal touches to your home office; people who enjoy going to work experience greater long-term happiness than those who don’t. Whilst a functional office space is more important than style, a bit of thought should enable you to make a good compromise between practicality and comfort. According to the experts, the optimal room temperature for an office space is 22 degrees Celsius and the average humidity should be 50 per cent (office plants are helpful in regulating temperature and humidity).

Point Five: Keeping to the Rules in a Family Environment

First outline the rules of the home office to your family. What does a closed door mean? What about an open one? An alternative to the clear message of a closed door is to make yourself available only at fixed times throughout the day. Should the kids be allowed into the office at all in the morning? Under what circumstances should they be allowed to enter, and will there be a signal for something along the lines of ‘Do no disturb under any circumstances!’ According to most home office workers, your partner is likely to prove the biggest distraction from your work. Your partner may well charge you with hanging up the washing while they pick up the kids from school. But if small domestic tasks become mowing the lawn, doing the shopping and vacuum cleaning in succession, then your work day is likely to be reduced from eight hours to only five or six.

State your terms to your partner from the very beginning of your transition to a home office. These conditions should include always keeping to fixed work hours as well as the separation of your work from your private life. This separation does not mean that you should not enjoy the benefits of the proximity of your work and home. For example, there is no problem with using your lunch break to do housework for which you would not otherwise have time. However, from the moment your private life begins to encroach on your work hours, your dream of a successful home office is threatened or has already died. Talk to your partner about the option of working from home, and be sure to make the need to separate your work and private life abundantly clear. Anyone who has consulted the internet with regard to working from home will stumble upon countless cases of people whose home office led to relationship problems with their partner.

Testimonies state that the biggest problem with the home office is the misconception about ‘time off’ that many partners hold. Since a worker who works from home will naturally spend more time at home, their partner will be liable to think that they are always available to do housework for which the worker does not reasonably have time. Speak openly to your partner and try to come to the agreement that you will manage your time in the home office as strictly as you would have at the company office. In summary, it is clear that working from home is not as idyllic as it is made out to be. However, if you follow our guide to avoiding the pitfalls on the path to a successful home office, your home office is more than likely to provide a boost in your quality of life.