The Telework Research Network estimates 20 to 30 million people in the United States work from home at least one day a week. That’s a lot of bedrooms and basements being transformed into home offices. If you’re one of the many self-employed or telecommuting workers searching for space in your home in which to set up an office, you need to analyze the space available to make sure it’s suitable for an office. While you may be able to commandeer a closet or take over one end of the dining room table and call it your home office, choosing a space that meets all your office needs can save you aggravation and even money.
If your home is your primary place of business, you may qualify for a home office deduction on your income tax return. This allows you to deduct a percentage of your utilities, homeowner’s insurance and other expenses as a business expense for tax purposes. The percentage you’re allowed to deduct is equal to the percentage of space in the home occupied by your office. The office must be a separate room or structure and must be used solely for the business. You should check with a tax professional to make sure you comply with all the rules for home office deductions. If you comply, the home office deduction can be an added benefit of having an office in your home.
The location of your office may depend on whether or not you’ll be seeing clients in your home. “If you have clients that need to come to your office once in a while, you will want to make sure that you have a professional looking workspace and consider the rooms that they need to go through in order to get to your office,” says Diana Ennen, President, Virtual World Publishing and author of So You Want to Be a Work at Home Mom. “If you have small kids, making a client go through the play room might not be the best idea.” A room with a separate entrance would be ideal for seeing clients at home.
Ennen cautions against putting your office in a spare bedroom with a bed. “ On the off chance you've have someone come to your home for business that would be an uncomfortable situation,” she says. And having a bed in the room might interfere with productivity. “I think it would be calling you for naptime,” Ennen says.
Even if clients never come to your home office, you need a quiet, private space to work. Michael Bechara, CPA, Managing Director of the Granite Consulting Group in New York, advises locating a home office some distance from the home phone and children’s playrooms. “It’s best to be on a separate floor of the home if possible,” Bechara says. “Even if you are in a separate room, if there are other people in the house on the same floor the voice will carry and there is the risk that someone will barge in to your office accidentally. A basement or attic office would be ideal.”
Bechara cautions against locating your office in an open area such as a balcony overlooking the main floor of the home. While these space may seem ideal since they’re separate from the main living quarters but allow you to keep an eye on everything that’s going on, they will likely end up being too noisy and full of distractions.
Bechara also vetoes locating a home office near children’s activities, due to the noise and distraction this can create. Yet some working parents like to have the office located where they can easily keep an eye on their children. For instance, Ennen has a television in her office so that on days when her kids are off school they can join her in her office.
Where you locate your office may be dependent upon availability of a phone line, internet, fax line or even cable television, if you need these for your work. If these utilities aren’t already in place, such as in a basement, attic or garage conversion, you’ll need to add the cost of getting them to your office into the cost of setting up your work space.
Bechara recommends a separate phone line for your business. You don’t want to compete with your teenager for calls from clients, and you want to avoid having your children answer calls from customers.
You also need to make sure your proposed office space has enough outlets to accommodate all your office equipment. The State.gov website recommends bringing all your equipment into the room and plugging it in to make sure the power system can handle the load. If breakers trip you may need to contact an electrician to install new wiring and/or a separate breaker for your office.
“You want a room with lots of light,” Ennen says. The Center for Building Performance and Diagnostics at Carnegie Mellon University surveyed 25 studies which showed that better lighting improved productivity in offices.
But it doesn’t take research scientists to know that a well-lit office is better than the alternative. As Bechara says, “Dark places aren’t very inspiring.”
Office light can be provides by windows, or fluorescent or incandescent lighting, but check to make sure lighting doesn’t cast shadows on the workspace, or create glare. Ennen warns against placing a computer next to a window, since glare from strong sunlight can make it impossible to work. Blinds and drapes can’t always block the glare.
Telework Research Network: Telecommuting Statistics
IRS: What Your Need to Know About Home Office Deduction
Center for Building Performance and Diagnostics: Guidelines for High Performance Buildings
State.gov: Home Offices Interview with Diana Ennen, President, Virtual World Publishing
Interview with Michael Bechara, President, Granite Consulting Group