Creating the perfect home office
More people are working from home than ever before as our career and lifestyle habits continue to change year-by-year.
The concept of home-working has become increasingly popular with businesses across the UK too - research by PowWowNow found that 58% of workers were offered the flexibility of working from home in 2017 (though it’s worth noting that 67% of employees still wish they were given the opportunity).
The number is expected to continue to grow, according to research from OddsMonkey, as half of the UK workforce are expected to work remotely by 2020.
And let’s not forget the rapid growth of self-employment. Last year, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported an increase from 3.3 million self-employed people (12% of the labour force in 2001) to 4.8 million (15.1% of the labour force in 2017).
Working from home has its benefits:
better work-life balance
But it doesn’t come without its pitfalls either:
interruptions (from children, pets, postman, etc)
distractions (TV, social media, etc)
can be lonely
If you find that your work suffers when you work from home, take a look at your surroundings and your work base.
Do you ‘camp’ at the kitchen table or are you cooped up in the corner of a room which is the hub of the home? If so, this needs addressing. It doesn’t have to involve splurging out on extensive modifications. And, if you don’t have a spare room in which to create a separate office, there are ways around it, as Lizzie Liebenhals, director of her own events and PR firm Halls & Halls, discovered.
“There’s of plenty of light coming through the garden doors and I like the fact that I’m part of the family, but I have the ability to be cut off when I need to be.”
Due to the nature of her work, Lizzie says one of her most essential office requirements is a TV: “It’s nice to have a large screen to work off occasionally, as opposed to being on my laptop all the time.”
She recognises the importance of being able to close the door and walk away from your work at the end of the day - something that’s echoed by interior designer Jane Berry of Jane Berry Interiors, who had the opportunity to factor in her office requirements when she and her husband built their own home a few years ago.
Separating work-life from home-life
“Right at the start of the project, I was able to claim an area in which I could set up office, complete with all the storage I need for samples, fabric books, client files, and mood boards. I like to work in a neat and organised environment, so it was essential to have closed and open storage for convenience and tidiness.”
Her office, which has a large southerly window pouring light in, has been cleverly split into work on the right and home on the left, with reversible sliding boards - one side for family notices and information - the other for displaying samples on.
Being situated just off the family kitchen-living area, she has the option to keep the sliding doors open when she wants to be part of family life or closed when she needs privacy.
Jane believes this enables her to balance work and personal life, which is perhaps the hardest thing to strike when your headquarters is your home and you’re your own boss.
Work-life balance aside, the importance of being organised when working from home shouldn’t be underestimated. One woman who produces tools to help, is Vicci Butler, the founder of Organise-Us. Her stylish stationery (diaries, notebooks, wallets, and even handbags) in a range of colours and luxurious finishes is designed to keep busy women in check and in control of their day-to-day lives.
Flexibility and availability for her young family were the reasons for starting up her business. Keen to create a quiet and light office space away from the family, a modest two-storey barn attached to their traditional country home was the obvious place. As everything was in good working order, no renovation work was needed.
With its vaulted ceiling and picture window, through which she has an idyllic view of the garden, all she needed was a minimal desk area and fitted shelving which she added once she started using the office.
Together with ample room upstairs to store away records, stock samples, and clutter (which she needs on hand but out of sight), the perfect environment for running a business - at which organisation is at the heart of - was complete.
“I don’t get distracted too much by the family as I mostly work in my office during the day when they’re not at home. It’s more challenging during school holidays but I find it less stressful juggling from close proximity than if I were working away from home.”
When it comes to self-discipline and separating work from home life, she says it’s tricky during peak periods, such as in the run up to Christmas. “Then, the balance is way out of whack. January is a time to regroup and restore that. And, when a day is not going to plan I’ll take the dogs for a walk.”
Speaking to another entrepreneur, Tracy Francis - who specialises in marketing and event management with her company Charlie Apple - tidiness is also on her list of priorities.
Utilising existing space, in what was once a playroom for the previous occupants, she made the best of what was there. “I introduced a few new items, such as a lovely two-seater sofa, but it suits me perfectly as it is.”
Leaning away from the desire to be tucked away from all the action, her office (like Jane’s) is immediately off the kitchen-breakfast room. She too prefers to be in close proximity to the home and family, giving her the ability to maximise her working time.
“I find I can easily zone into my work and be efficient without being distracted. As long as I have a desk and my computer, I can function. If I need to take a phone call or have a meeting, then I just close the door.”
For Tracy, work and personal life are completely entwined. “As a freelancer, it can be feast or famine. In times of feast you have to put in all the hours to meet your deadlines and In times of famine, you need to put in the hours to chase more work lest your pipeline could dry up for too long.”
Consequently, she struggles to maintain a good work-life balance, working through most days, breaking only to make lunch and then family dinner, during the preparation of which she’s on and off the computer. After dinner, she tends to return to her office again and it’s not unusual to carry on until midnight or even later during busy times.
She describes weekends as: “Being a good opportunity to do more domestics and have some me-time. However, I may also have to catch up on graphic or website designing which gets interrupted by the flow of emails during normal office hours.”
Tips to get the most from working from home
Whether you work from home part-time, full-time, or simply the odd day now and again, everyone’s approach and family demands are different. But one common thread is that having your own designated space, secluded or not, is a vital ingredient to increasing your productivity.
We asked our homeworkers for their work-from-home tips:
Arrange your chair, desk, and computer as ergonomically as possible to remain comfortable throughout the day.
Keep your work space organised and tidy to to ensure a positive state of mind.
Structure your day and define your working and non-working hours. For work-at-home parents with babies or very young children, you can’t be in a separate room from them, but you can plan around their nap times and get more work done in the evenings when they’re in bed.
Be self-disciplined and draw the line between home and work, resisting the urge to engage in household matters during working hours.
Get involved in networking groups to ensure you continue to learn new skills you might have traditionally used working in an office.
Get out the house and change your working environment every now and again to remain fresh - there are plenty of great working places with WiFi.
Focus on the work you enjoy - accept both your strengths and weaknesses, bringing in support for the matters you don’t enjoy.
Take regular screen breaks: exercise, walk the dog or meet a friend for coffee.
This article was written by Philippa Hennessy, an award-winning lifestyle and travel writer and blogger.