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How to set up your home office

For more and more people these days, going to the office means simply heading down to the basement or into a converted bedroom.

An estimated quarter of today’s workforce work from home at least some of the time. In the fast-expanding gig economy, that number is only expected to rise.

For the last several years, I’ve been a part of this growing army of at-home workers. I’ve learned some lessons along the way, but recently decided to do some research to make sure I was making the most of my home office set–up. What I found led me make some refinements to enhance my work-at-home experience, and offers some key tips to help anyone who is ditching the commute for a home office.

Make the most of tax advantages

It’s not just saving on commuting costs that can benefit you financially when you work from home. Setting up a home office can, in some circumstances, save you money in the long run. That’s why it makes sense to consider how you will set up your home office to potentially maximize your tax advantages.

If you don’t use your home office for any other purpose but your business, according to the IRS, you may qualify for a home-office deduction on your taxes. Working with a good accountant who is familiar with home-based businesses can help ensure that you are getting full tax advantages, while staying within the law.

On a related note, make sure you keep good records. You can take either a simplified deduction—up to $5 per each square foot of your home that you use up to $1,500—or a more complicated calculation, where the IRS will measure your business expenses against your residential expenses. Either way, whether you own or rent, you may be eligible.

Pick a prime location

Ideally, your home office should blend productivity with comfort. If possible, find a room that has good sunlight and a view of the great outdoors. Research has found that workers exposed to sunlight and natural elements in the workplace report better moods, higher satisfaction, and more commitment to their work.

Beyond that, consider a spot that is away from the main traffic flow of your home to reduce potential distractions.

If you’re destined to be a basement dweller, add some art, good lighting, low-light plants, and some pictures of the outdoors to make it, well, less like a basement.

Make the most of your space

With two kids off at college, I’ve had the luxury of options for where I set up my office space. Yet if you’re living in tight quarters, or have a family that consumes the majority of the space, there are ways to maximize your square footage so you can focus on work.

For instance, you can use your file cabinet as a desktop so it serves a dual purpose. Also, there are reasonably priced portable desktops that allow you to use a space as an office by day and living space by night.

Spending some money on built-in or portable storage can also help you make the most of the space without your work constantly spilling over into your personal life.

Make sure you’re well equipped

For years, I worked in office environments where everything I needed was at my fingertips. Need pens or notepads? Just head to the supply closet. Want to print? Have at it. So it took a bit of adjustment, and a decent outlay of cash, to recreate that situation in my own home.

For home–office newbies to work as efficiently as possible, it’s a good idea to do some planning and develop an “office supplies shopping list” that will assure you are productive right out of the gate. This will help you identify necessary supplies and equipment, as well as what you’ll need to create the ideal office space.

Comfort and ergonomics are key

There’s a comfy couch in my family room that often beckons me during the workday. Yet, from an ergonomic standpoint—and from a shoulder that starts aching by mid-day—I know it’s not my best option.

A key perk of a home office is the ability to set it up just for you: This means you’re in charge of making sure your set-up is a healthy one.

Start by choosing a comfortable, ergonomically designed chair. In addition, your computer should be at eye-level or below while you work, and your thighs should be parallel to the floor. If your feet don’t rest flat on the ground, use a foot rest or booster. If you want to have an option other than sitting behind a desk, find a chair that offers good support so you’re not sacrificing health for comfort.

Plant some ‘healthy’ distractions

While flexibility is a key benefit of remote working, from a day–to–day perspective it’s good idea to establish a schedule and routine. This not only puts you in position to be more productive, but also helps limit distractions by activities that don’t make you money.

No doubt, your laundry beckons, the dishes are in the sink and your dog needs a walk. Having a set schedule allows you to set aside time to tackle some of those tasks so they’re not gnawing at you while you’re supposed to be focused on your job.

One way to take a proactive approach to avoid time-sucking distractions is to plant some healthy distractions that will keep you focused and efficient. For instance, make sure a set of weights or an exercise ball is handy for a quick exercise break. Or keep some sneakers under your desk and schedule time in your calendar so you can take a walk to recharge and give your eyes a rest.

Most work-from-home veterans, myself included, also caution against the cliché working-in-my-pajamas approach. It’s tempting to work in sweatpants and skip a shower, but getting up, getting dressed, and heading to your now–optimized space like it’s your job (because it is) will best position you for a productive day.

Set clear parameters

While you no longer need to deal with the pesky co-worker sauntering up to your desk with a lengthy debriefing of his weekend exploits, there are still significant potential for human distractions.

Your spouse, kids, friendly neighbors can all pull you away from work that needs to be done. Setting some simple ground rules can help make sure you can get work done without straining the most important relationships in your life. For instance, if your office door is closed, that means do-not-disturb unless it’s an emergency.

Also try to establish a set quitting time. If you’re able to stick to it, your family will soon learn when you ‘are at the office’ and when it’s quality family time.

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