The Home Office From Hell, 12 Common Mistakes to Avoid

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Ever see a fashion magazine where real women "on the street" are phot-snapped then depicted with bars covering their eyes over a caption from the editors detailing whatever fashion faux pas they happen to be committing at the time? I've often wanted to take the same approach to home offices I see in those magazines. In a sense, this column is about what you should do for work-at-home success each week, except when it's about what your company should do to support teleworkers. This week, however, let's wallow in what you shouldn't do.

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Do you have a home office and make one or two of these 12 common mistakes? You're only human. Make more than three? You need to clean up your act. Make most or all of them? You don't have a home office; you have a productivity black hole. For example:

1. Your Home Office Is In the Family RoomYes, we've all heard about how so-and-so started a business empire from the kitchen table. Baloney. (Literally. Have you ever tried to get work done when someone comes in to make a sandwich?) A corner of the family room, even if the kids aren't playing Xbox , is just as bad. Take the advice given to spooning couples and get a room. One with a door you can close for privacy, even if it's a spare bedroom you have to vacate occasionally for guests (that's why I prefer laptops to desktops).

2. You Share a PC with Your KidsI'm sure your children are lovely and gifted youngsters and, as such, they need their own computers for schoolwork and games. If you can afford to subsidize their cell phones, you can afford $200 or $300 apiece.

3. You're doubling your home phone as your office phoneKeeping your home office charges separate from your home's expenses can be critical at tax time, and there's few easier examples than the phone. Today's business voice over IP (VoIP) vendors excel at offering professional packages at rock bottom prices and making them available over whatever internet connection you may have. Use a standard handset, your mobile device, or even your PC, just make sure it's not your home line and you'll have a slew of easily documented deductions every quarter.

4. You Don't Back UpI've already written a column on backup that can be boiled down to the word dolt, but suffice it to say, there are plenty of low-cost ways to make sure your PC's hard drive or solid state drive (SSD) isn't going to put you out of business if it fails. USB 3.0 external hard drives are so cheap that adding 1TB or 2TB of spare storage is a no-brainer, while Google Drive , Microsoft OneDrive , and other cloud storage options are ready to not only protect your files but make sure you can access them anytime, from any of your devices.

5. There's a Snake Orgy Under Your DeskCable management is an often overlooked part of tidy computing. An outlet multiplier is no substitute for a power strip with surge suppression circuitry, and USB or Ethernet cables can (when they're not replaced by Wi-Fi) be secured to baseboards with white duct tape or routed through raceways or Cablox, a grid adhered to the underside of your desk. And bread tags labeled with a Sharpie marker can identify cords so you don't unplug the wrong thing.

6. Your Computer and Printer Are By a Ground-Floor WindowYou may be enjoying the view, but you're also putting your hardware on display. You're inviting burglars to smash and grab.

7. Your Desktop PC is Under Your Desk Against a WallDust and lack of ventilation are computer killers. Put yours in a clean place where air can circulate.

8. You're Running a Business Without a Web PresenceWould you leave your voicemail greeting at the default "Hello, you've reached 860-555-3245," without including your company name? You didn't know that PCMag regularly reviews the best web hosting services and best website builders?

A good-looking website, even if it's only a one-pager such as Squarespace's Cover Pages, and your own .com or .net address (forget gimmicky domain extensions such as .online and .click) are essentials, as is having a business-like email address such as yourname@yourdomain.com instead of loser159@yahoo.com. (I know, I know, strange advice from the man who uses a Gmail address for feedback.)

9. You Can See a Lamp Reflected in Your ScreenGlare behind you is as bad for your eyes as glare in front of you. You need indirect lighting, from a desk lamp beside you or fixtures that bounce light off the ceiling (not to be confused with overhead lighting, which can be harsh).

10. Your Database is a ShoeboxMultifunction printer/scanner/copiers are the hub of a home office, but their scanners aren't optimized for small items such as receipts and business cards. Both the Neat and Fujitsu ScanSnap product lines offer both portable and wireless desktop scanners, with handy software for going paperless.

11. Your Printer/Scanner/Copier All-in-One Cost $50Choosing a more business-oriented all-in-one instead of an entry-level consumer all-in-one pays off in durability, speed, output quality, and convenience. That's because putting one sheet at a time on the scanner glass, instead of putting a stack into an automatic document feeder, gets old fast.

12. You Treated Yourself to an Executive ChairAt-home executive you may be, but an ergonomic or task chair will be more comfortable. Height adjustment, to sync your chair with your desk, is especially crucial.

12. You're doubling your home phone as your office phoneKeeping your home office charges separate from your home's expenses can be critical at tax time, and there's few easier examples than the phone. Today's business voice over IP (VoIP) vendors excel at offering professional packages at rock bottom prices and making them available over whatever internet connection you may have. Use a standard handset, your mobile device, or even your PC, just make sure it's not your home line and you'll have a slew of easily documented deductions every quarter.

Are you a home office doer or a collection of don'ts? What other work-at-home sins and setup screw-ups have you encountered? Let me know in the comments or at homeoffice.eric@gmail.com.

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