Working from the comfort of your own home can be a thrilling experience. Say goodbye to the traffic-filled, frustrating daily commute. Forget about spending hundreds, even thousands every year updating your office wardrobe. So sleep in a few extra minutes, enjoy your breakfast, and make a pot of coffee.
You might have just one issue: where do you actually go to do work? This is a surprisingly common issue for new telecommuters, but there is seemingly little advice that addresses it. There's a lot to loathe about an office, but a dedicated place to do your work is not one of them.
When I accepted my first work-from-home job it felt like a dream. What's not to love about a flexible schedule, no commute, and more time around the kids? After one week, though, the negatives became clear.
It's easy to play fast-and-loose with time flexibility. A break here and a break there adds up. Before you know it the clock reads 5 o'clock and you've gotten a mere two hours of work done. Say what you will about office life, but it forces a level of discipline. When you're there, you're there to do work.
The kids also ended up being more of a burden - and I can't believe I didn't see that coming. Kids don't understand that when the computer is on Mommy's lap, she is working. All they see is that Mommy is at home, and so Mommy is at their beck and call.
Reflecting on my early days of working from home, I'm convinced that almost all of my focus issues stemmed from my lack of a dedicated office. That first week I worked on the couch, with my laptop on my lap. Even after that, working at the kitchen table wasn't much better.
It became clear that I needed a dedicated office. Somewhere I could close the door and signal to the kids that Mommy is not available. Somewhere I could focus completely on the work at hand. There was just one problem.
With two kids, we didn't have any extra rooms in the house.
After a weekend of planning my husband and I came up with, and then eliminated, many good ideas for how to solve this problem. For us, just one solution actually worked. But our top three might prove instructive for new telecommuters who need some peace and quiet at home.
If we had a suitable basement, this certainly would have been our solution. Yes, there are many downsides to a basement office. Namely:
On the other hand, the basement is totally private. Ambient noise from the furnace and water heater can actually help you focus. The kids know that they can't go into the basement, so the worst they can do is open the door and yell. (Which they will, frequently.)
Ultimately this did not work for us. We use our basement for storage and not much else. There isn't good lighting, the floors are pretty damp, the corners are filthy, and there is very little light coming in. My husband and I once rented a house that had a perfect little room in the basement, with a decent window and linoleum floors. If you have something like that, a basement office should be perfect for you.
Single people in one-bedroom apartments will find working from home especially difficult. There are only two rooms, after all. One is for sleeping. The other is likely full of distractions. So where do you set down your desk to work?
While conventional advice would have you never work in your bedroom, I tend to disagree. It can be a great environment - as long as you respect it. That is, working on your bed simply won't work. You need an actual office environment if you'll have an office in your bedroom.
What works for friends of mine: room dividers. This won't work for small apartments, of course, but any decent sized one-bedroom apartment will give you enough room to set up a room divider. Put your desk, and only your desk, behind it. When you're back there, it's time to work.
This, of course, should only be a temporary solution. The flexibility of working home doesn't have to be more free time. It can be more time to work on side projects and increase your income. With that extra dough you can get a two-bedroom apartment and a dedicated office.
I do not, under any circumstances, recommend a bedroom office for a cohabiting couple. It might seem fine, but bedrooms are different when you share them with someone else. This again put a damper on my plans for a home office. I like to get up early and get work done before other people wake up - including my husband. That just doesn't work.
For married couples with kids who occupy every room in the house, dividing an existing room might be the only option. Yes, it gives the family a bit less room, but if it's your only remaining option you just have to make it work.
We again bring room dividers into the equation. I find this works best in the family room, since it's typically the least formal room in the house. It's almost like dividing the family room into a family room and study.
The room dividers idea is again only temporary. Honestly, they don't do a great job of keeping the kids outs. Eventually you should think of installing a partition wall, especially if you have a room big enough to divide. It's actually not as big and expensive a project as you might think.
(My parents actually did this for me when I was in high school. I shared a room with my two sisters, and I clearly needed my space. That dividing wall not only gave me my own space, but it increased the value of the home.)
You Need Your Space
Make no mistake: if you work from home, you need your own space. Sitting on the couch or a lounge chair will only distract you. Kitchen table? Forget it. Distractions abound, and the only way to stifle them is to create an office environment.
It might seem like a pain if you don't have an extra room, but there are solutions. After I finish writing this, I'm going back to my partition wall diagram. Hopefully in a few months we'll install it and I'll have a real office. But until then, there are temporary solutions that are better than nothing.