The Ultimate Guide to Setting Up a Home Office

Welcome to the most comprehensive and in-depth guide to setting up a home office you could possibly find. Whether you are running a small business, setting up for a future empire, or just have a little extra work to do when you come home, this guide and the rest of the content on this site is going to be essential to your success. Having a great setup for your home office is one of the keys to being successful in your business as it will decrease distractions and increase productivity.

Long before I came up with the idea of a website for making Home Offices successful, my husband Greg and I were in the process of finishing his detached office. As we were building that office in the back of the house, I realized that the guest bed I had been using as a makeshift desk was not going to support the two computers and two mobile devices I needed for my work. My posture was so bad sitting on the bed that I was constantly sore, and the computers were heating up so much on the blankets that my imitation of an office was becoming an absolute nuisance.

The need for two home offices became obvious. It also became clear that each home office had very different individual requirements.

In my case, I just needed the bare-bones minimal. I needed a desk long enough for two laptops, a large tablet, and my notebooks. I needed a comfortable chair, not necessarily a fancy or expensive one, but something I could sit in for multiple hours per session. The chair also had to have wheels so I could easily move from my PC to my Mac for different work. Finally, I needed some light, and I would always prefer natural sunlight. 

Greg, on the other hand, wanted an office that was quiet, and silencing an office seemed like quite the task at the time. He needed a space that had plenty of natural light and airflow with high ceilings and an area for wine storage. He also wanted to have a bathroom. We ended up deciding the only way this was feasible was to detach his office from the rest of the house and build it in the garden. We will cover some of this, but for extensive details on how we accomplished that and you might as well, check out our How to Build a Detached Garden Office that sheds a lot of light on what he wanted.

When you think about what your home office should have, you consider what your business or job requires. You, of course, then must think about how your home office works into your home and your daily family life. And after that, you have to consider the reasonable costs of what such a home office could end up as and if those costs are tax deductible. Keep reading with us…

What to consider before having a home office

In addition to the decisions you will make when setting up your home office, you should consider the following several questions.

How long will you need a home office for? If you are renting your apartment on a 12 month lease, your home office may not need to be setup for permanence. Conversely, if you own your home and plan to stay there for many years, you can customize your home office to your heart’s content and truly make it an extension of yourself. You can add those extra features like sound-proofing and more permanent decoration that may not feel worth it in effort or cost for a temporary residence.

Do you plan on moving? If you plan to move obviously don’t install built-in shelves! You should only get your absolute must-haves. What makes the most sense for your business to be profitable and grow. 

Even if you don’t plan on moving as was our case with our “casita” office, in some cases like ours, when we got the Certificate of Occupancy from the City, Greg was eager to move in so he could really focus on his work, and be more productive. This was really the space we had designed and he’d dreamed about for the last few years, even complete with a bathroom and a kitchen area. He moved in with a desk, a chair, a couple of bookcases, his computer, phone, and his printer. We only put in the necessary items to start getting the value out of the detached office. Only later did we purchase shelves for the bathroom and kitchen, storage, filing system, light kit, small fridge, coffee maker, etc.

Do you plan on becoming self-employed? If so, will this home office become your primary work environment from now on? If you have no other office to go to, or if you are going to be spending more time at this office than your business’ office, you have to gear the home office up for automity. If you are working partially from two different offices and go to both regularly, it is fine to only have perhaps one copy machine at one office, or whatever other expensive machinery or equipment that is not feasible to have multiples of. If you only have one office, and that office is at your home, then for the most part any truly essential equipment to your regular business has to be readily accessible.

How often will you be using your home office? If you are using it to work remotely for your company a couple of days per week, the requirements will be very different than if you are using your one office for full time work for your primary source of income. If your home office is where you will be doing most of the work for your primary source of income you may want to invest a little more into it. If this is only a hobby, of course you will only be putting hobby-deserving money into it – or put all your money into it, I’m no one to judge. However, if you need to get work done their daily, then it is going to require access to your daily needs. If you need to work long or early hours, perhaps you need a coffee-maker readily available. If you need exercise breaks, or if you like to walk and read through your necessary documents, perhaps a treadmill will be an excellent inclusion to the home office space to increase your production.

If your home office is where you will be managing your business you will need to set it up with all the essentials to run your particular business. If you have a mobile Vet business, for example, your home office will be arranged and will have essentials that are completely different from what an architect’s office requires. Past that, you must consider the differences between essentials and desires. What is required to let you get your business done at all? Then, what would make you more productive in your work? What would keep your spirits high or otherwise just be nice to have around the office? There are varying degrees even within such questions, so let us take a look at each of them.

The nature of your work– The bare bones minimum requirements for your home office are obviously what you need to get your work done for whatever your business is. If you make your money as a seamstress or as a tailor in your private home, then you will need then your sewing station set up for success. If you need are doing hardware work with something like wood cutting or repairs, then you will surely need a work station away from any sort of fragile equipment like computers. If all you need to get your business done is a computer and a phone to schedule your appointments, then you can of course cut down on space and other requirements significantly most likely. The point is, the first and only true requirement for your home office is what you need to get your business done.

What would be nice to have– When it comes to items that would be convenient or help you get more work done but are not necessarily required for your work, items like more a more comfortable chair, a higher performing computer, a coffee machine, and a high quality printer may come to mind. Some other upgrades could be ways to silence your home office to allow you to get more work done. The process of prioritizing through possibilities in this list is going to be the determining factor of where you spend the rest of your liquid assets for your home office.

What would make you more productive or creative? If there are any simple, inexpensive additions, of course you would make them without thinking. However, when it comes to investments that need a bit more consideration, there are many factors to consider. How much will your productivity increase compared to how much will these upgrades to your home office cost?

There are people who can’t function well in a cold office, or in an office that is too warm. There are people who need daylight. There are people who just need privacy. There are people who can’t work unless it’s quiet.

If you struggle to keep a comfortable climate in the home office, a fan or a space heater may do the trick just fine. If you struggle with dry air making you uncomfortable, perhaps a humidifier would help. If you need daylight, ideally rearranging the room or putting your home office in a different room of the house should get you the proper lighting you need. If what you are hoping for is to add a new window or even some sort of skylight, that is a huge commitment to your home office. If something like that really is worth its cost to you, it is surely out of desire more than function.

When it comes to privacy and silence, there are many options available. A lock on your home office door of course goes quite a long way in helping with privacy, especially if you have children in the house while you work. It could also cut you off from your children, however. Tunnel-visioning on work with headphones on and door locked should keep you very productive, but there could be drawbacks on your relationship with those children if that door is locked too much.

On a related note to that privacy for your productivity, taking away the distracting noises outside your home office might help quite a bit. There are many ways to soundproof your home office, and for a full explanation, check out our article How to Soundproof Your Home Office. Like everything, there are comprehensive solutions that can cost a lot of money like changing the ceiling and walls to most perfectly reduce noise. There are also simple and inexpensive solutions that can make a big difference like adding black-out curtains. My personal advice is that often there is nothing that will get rid of all the noise that is reasonably accessible, but many of us can afford noise-cancelling headphones. If you are interested in which ones will be best for your budget, check out our article on Noise-Cancelling Headphones and Earphones for Every Budget.

For so many of us, we only find out what our work environment needs are when we work day after day in the wrong environment. When you work from home, it seems as if you have more control over what your office can be turned into. However, it is very easy to get stuck in a home office that is not right for you.

Home Office Space

The bedroom – In many homes the “master” bedroom is the largest room. Therefore, it is possible that you may be able to fit an office space inside it. When Greg moved out of the rental office and decided to build an office on our property, we decided that the best space for an office in the house was the master bedroom because of its location and size. Being on the opposite side of the house from the rest of the rooms gave it the most privacy. Meanwhile, being the largest room meant we could fit all the home office essentials.

If you are considering this avenue of turning your house’s master bedroom into a home office, let me offer some of my personal experience on the issue. There were two things we did not realize when we made the decision and moved forward with this plan.

1.Since his work day starts between 4am and 6am, the spouse, that would be me, would invariably be forced to wake up at that time. That was not cool with me, I found after a very short trial period. Because of that, we had to take other measures to provide for this home office that Greg needed, which eventually meant us sleeping in another room.

2.The bedroom was very dark as many bedrooms are designed to be. It is totally fine to have a dark bedroom, but a dark home office is not often a space for productivity. Because of the lack of natural light in the chamber, we had to make adjustments artificially to make the space for useful for Greg.

Would a walk-in closet make a passable home office? From all I can tell, yes! I have seen a walk-in closet turned into a totally functional baby nursery by my neighbors when I lived in San Francisco, so I thought ‘why not a home office?’

In our case, the bedroom had two very good sized walk-in closets, and both had built-in shelves. I made a craft room/office for myself that worked out really nicely because I didn’t have to use it on a daily basis. If you don’t mind working all day without natural light the walk-in closet can be a great office space.

Can you use a guest room as a home office? If you have a guest-room this may be the most obvious place for a home office. However, think about how often you may have guests and what is the alternative work situation for when you have guests. Also, when it comes to getting a tax break for your home office, using a home office as a place where someone rents a room from you would usually negate that tax benefit.

The kitchen nook is often used as a makeshift home office in some homes. I have seen countless times a kitchen counter that was lower and was outfitted as an office space.  I have never been able to understand how it works. If you don’t have kids around during work hours and there is a suitable space, I suppose this can be a good place to start. But if that is the case, I imagine you would have other areas of the house or apartment that would be more conducive to getting work done, and move private than the kitchen. Also for your consideration of your own good health, working that close to the refrigerator can be a bit tempting.

The dining room home office is another option for your utility. I like the dining room better than the kitchen nook because you can have more than one person working at the dining-room table. Of course, this means that you no longer eat your meals at the dining room table but you do gain a nice space for laptops and peripheral space for storage. You also likely have room for other office needs such as a printer. In some homes, the dining room may be combined with some other room. If that happens to be the kitchen or the living room, there could be distractions such as television that prevent you from getting your work done.

If you live in a tiny space such as an RV or a tiny house you are probably very crafty when it comes to repurposing space and creating practical spaces. I like the classic flip-up desk for a tiny house. If you need the office to be set up full-time though, using the flip-up desk might not work. In that case, consider purchasing a very comfortable chair that may be used as a lounger and an office chair, then embed the office into the living-room space. 

Are you considering building a detached home office? Consider buying a ready-to-go, tiny mobile house or office RV if you do not own the property or if you don’t think you will be staying in your place for a long time or if you plan on moving often. You can take your tiny house office with you and put it anywhere. For more details on how to build a home office in a small space or detached from your main house, check out our article Hot to Make a Home Office in a Small Space.

Home Office on a Budget

When it came to setting up my home office, the need raised fairly quickly so I couldn’t spend a lot of time for planning. I also had a small budget, and that is a common issue for designing a home office. Let me give you a few of my personal tips from my own experience and what I’ve learned from the wisdom of others. 

Think about what you already have that could work: For example, I already had some IKEA storage that I thought I could use. I had a small drawer tower and another one on casters. I remember seeing one of those towers being used to support a desk the last time we had gone to IKEA. I bought the six feet by two feet desktop for $60 with two legs for $5 each. I also found a quite comfortable swivel chair for $19, and since I was doing so well with my small budget, I treated myself to a lovely lamp that was on sale for $12. 

That is really all I needed for my office. I had my computers, notebooks, and my tower of drawers with art supplies all set up. My tower of drawers even got a little organized so I could put other handy things in there, such as basic office supplies. 

When I started organizing the home office, it all fit together very easily despite my small budget. The desk fit into the guest bedroom even though the bedroom corner was so narrow. One of my main requirements was sunlight, and with a little attention to detail, my little office setup is right underneath a south facing window. For how little money I spent on the home office, I could not have been happier with the result!

For more advice on how to build a home office on a small budget, check out our article Home Office On a Budget.

How to Make your Home Office Functional and Efficient

First of all, you should make every effort to go paperless. I myself went off paper a very long time ago. If you are rigorous, you can opt for paperless everything from billing to accounts payable to bank statements to filing documents. Less paper means less clutter which means less storage space. Of course you will still get some mail, and you will still need some kind of filing system. However, you can reduce the need for space significantly if you try to minimize paper. This keeps your home office inherently more organized, more efficient, and more productive.

One thing to consider is that at home, your office storage does not need to live in your home office. It might be convenient, but it may turn out that convenience becomes clutter. If you are willing to get up to grab your files, you may find that you have the perfect cabinet in the hallway, or a walk-in closet that can lend itself to great office storage. For more tips on how to make your home office as efficient as possible, check out our article How Can I make My Home Office more Productive.

If you are looking to maximize the efficiency of your home office but find that you simply do not have the time to spend at home using that office, it is time to make your office as mobile as possible. You need a strong laptop or laptop/tablet hybrid with great internet connectivity to work. Always being desperate for a Starbucks for WiFi will get old fast as much as they may appreciate the regular business (and using a place for their WiFi without spending money more than one time is about as grimey as it gets once you leave college).

Besides simply making your office mobile, it needs to be secure. This is another reason depending on public WiFi hotspots is a bad plan. It is not only possible but common for your sensitive data to get stolen by a computer wizard who can watch a YouTube video on how to log in to someone else’s email just by being connected to the same Starbucks WiFi as them. If you don’t believe me, watch this video that explains the basics of how to do it how hackers hack your devices on wifi (granted, they will need to watch more than a single 6 minute video to learn this probably).

If you want to learn how to make your home office more mobile and safe, check out our article Make your Home Office Mobile, Secure and Effective.

Home office expenses

When you work at a company you kind of take for granted everything that you use. But when you work from home, everything right down to the coffee your employer used to provide is suddenly on you. So naturally you may be put back by all the expenses.

The initial expenses which may only be buying office furniture and storage will likely seem overwhelming. Then you realize the incredible amount of little things like stationary, printer ink, necessary software or your business’s required hardware equipment like a sewing machine or woodcutter. Then after that, the ongoing expenses rear their ugly heads in the form of electricity, wireless Internet, and rent bills. Then you still have to pay for cloud storage, backup drives, mobile phone and Internet usage. It is exhausting just to keep track of let alone pay on a budget that the business itself is supposed to be making up for!

Whether you are buying office supplies, paying for Internet, or buying a coffee maker you are incurring office expenses. While many of these expenses are tax deductible, not all of them necessarily are depending on many factors. Before you even consider whether or not your tax deductible expenses are worth purchase if they are rewarded back in a tax return, you need to carefully consider if you have the proper buffer for many of those expenses to not be returned. Do not live on the edge while you surround your home office with unnecessary tools.

This is not to say you have to quit coffee cold turkey. Just maybe consider slowly upgrading your home office over time rather than blowing your whole first paycheck on luxurious upgrades if you can do without some of them for a few months, possibly spacing larger upgrades out over a few years.

That said, there are certainly many expenses you can deduct on your home office. You can even deduct a portion of your rent or mortgage and related bills such as electricity and Internet. This requires diligent documentation and dedicated planning to do successfully, so plan your tax deduction early in the year. It is not bad to have a tax agent check your work, but if you want to take this deduction seriously, you should know as much as a tax agent or more on how your tax deduction will be created. That is the only way to make sure that you are going to get the money you expect. For a comprehensive explanation on these topics, check out our article on IRS-The Definitive Guide to Home Office Deductions IRS-The Definitive Guide to Home Office Deductions.

That’s it! Those are the definitive basics to how to make sure your home office is set up for success. If you need more aesthetic suggestions, we have a few articles that can help you in that area. Check out our articles 10 Tips for Designing your Home Office and Best Office Plants. If you need more financial tips, listen to our advice in articles such as How to get rid of my cable and still work from home and What kinds of businesses can I start to work from home. If you want to work from home but do not yet, we have a great solution for you in our article How to convince your employer to let you work from home. Best of luck with your home office and small business! We hope to see you soon!

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