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Shelly Wutke wrote a post early last year about setting up a home office and it provides some excellent ideas for organization, ergonomics and decor.

I just finished moving into my new home office—after spending a decade working in a passable, but always meant to be temporary—office in the basement. In my ten years of working from home, I’ve learned a few things about what works and what doesn’t and I’m taking advantage of this recent experience to pass on some of those tips. I also polled other Best Buy blog editors to find out what they consider an essential part of their home office. As Shelly wrote in her original post, a home office should be a space where you enjoy spending time. I know, work isn’t always fun, but the right space takes a lot of the sting out of it.

If there’s a home office in your future, or you’re looking for ideas on how to punch up your existing home workspace, look no further for ideas on how to make it stylish, useful and just right for you.

Start with the space

Whether you’re going for style or function, your home office starts out the same way: with the space. In some ways, this is the most critical decision you’ll make. As I can attest, once you’ve established yourself in a location, it can be difficult to pick up and move to a new spot. Besides the sheer hassle involved in moving, space is at a premium in many homes so switching to another room may simply not be in the cards.

So choose your home office location wisely. In fact, before you actually finalize a space, I’d suggest very careful measurements to ensure everything you intend to move in there (or anticipate needing) will fit without you feeling like you’re squished into a sardine can. Finally, if you’re going to be working in a home office, you might want to avoid high traffic/high noise areas, if possible. For example, setting up shop right beside the kitchen or a playroom may not be the best idea. Quiet location or not, I would also recommend a room with a door.

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Lighting is critical

One of the themes among the responses I received was lighting. In particular, access to natural lighting was spiked out as a big plus and I couldn’t agree more. My previous home office was often referred to as “the cave” thanks to its almost complete lack of natural light. When working down there, I had no idea what time it was or even whether it was raining out. I moved to a second floor room with a big window and it was amazing how much difference that alone has made to my productivity and willingness to hang out in the office. Taking this love of light to the next level, I replaced the door with a glass-pane door to maintain privacy while also letting in light from other rooms.

When I was working in a world of artificial light, I would find frequent excuses to grab my laptop to work in the living room, the dining room or out on the deck. Without an external monitor, I wasn’t nearly as productive, but the natural light was so much more pleasant. That’s no longer a problem.
It’s also important to have task lighting available. I have an adjustable, variable brightness LED lamp on my desk for those times when I need to read through paper documents. Of course, as awesome as plenty of natural light is, it can also be too much at certain times of the day, especially when you’re working using a big, reflective slab of glass. So either position your computer display in the room such that it isn’t affected by sunlight reflections, or put coverings on any windows so you can close them when needed.

Choose a good desk and chair

Several months ago, Plug-in ran a series on the importance of an ergonomic workspace. When setting up a new home office, now is the time to pay attention to ergonomics. And just because your workspace is ergonomic, that doesn’t have to mean it’s ugly and utilitarian.

In my case, I started with the office chair, since that’s where I’m sitting for most of the day and often for a few hours in the evening. Given its importance, I didn’t scrimp. It is supportive, the mesh lets air flow, and it’s pretty much infinitely adjustable. It cost more than my last laptop, but it’s an investment.

Next up came the desk and bookshelves and this is where I was able to incorporate functionality with style. I prefer the look of natural wood, so went with a matching suite that offers plenty of desk workspace with a keyboard tray, shelving units for display and cabinets to keep gear and supplies tucked out of sight.

Add other furniture as needed

Depending on what you use your office space for, you may need more office furniture than just a desk and chair. Shelving units, cabinets and tables are common additions to a home office. In my case, there were two additional must-haves on my list: a solid workbench and a sofa.

Because a big part of my day can involve testing electronics and computer gear, I needed a separate working area where I can unbox, test and work on review products. Wanting to stick with a natural wood theme, I chose a butcher block kitchen island and repurposed it as a work bench. It’s solid, at the perfect height for working while standing up, provides a large workspace that can be easily cleaned and a shelf below it holds my printer and tools.

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The sofa? Well you never know if the need for a nap might strike, or the need to sit down and think about things from a different perspective. It’s part of that “enjoying spending time in your home office” theme. But most important of all, the sofa is there for my dog Aspen, who spends his days hanging out with me. That rug is also for Aspen. Sometimes a dog just wants to lie on the floor, so he’s covered both ways …

You’ll need storage space

Your home office can quickly become a minefield for clutter. Besides all the things you need to actually get work done, there can be a tendency to use a home office as a dumping ground. After all, it’s one of the few rooms in the house that’s not used for “living” and if you happen to have a door, it can be tempting for people to gift you with piles of bills, paper and stuff in general that they can’t find a home for. Out of sight, out of mind. Except you have to look at the mess all day.

There’s nothing stylish or productive about working around piles of junk.

So make sure your home office has plenty of storage space. I learned this lesson the hard way. Besides a constant flow of review gear, I have a massive collection of tech that I use on occasion, but not frequently. Boxes of cables and adapters, a collection of laptops long past their expiry dates, five generations of e-readers, assorted tools, external hard drives, batteries, you name it. Come to think of it, I might have a bit of a hoarding problem … Anyway, incorporate storage so you can organize and declutter. I have bookshelves, cabinets, a desk with filing cabinets and drawers, a large chest, several shelving units and a closet this time around.

Don’t forget the hardware

Technology isn’t just a big part of many home offices, it’s the reason why many of us can work from home in the first place.

Setting up a new home office is a perfect opportunity to take stock of your gear to ensure it enables you rather than holding you back. In my case, I use a MacBook Air as my primary computer (it’s maxed out in RAM and upgraded to a Core i7 CPU so it’s more than capable of handling the needs of a writer). That lets me be mobile in a second if needed. But in my home office, the MBA sits on a laptop stand and connects to a 27-inch iMac (which is toiling away in the background as a media server). In this configuration, the laptop’s screen is dedicated to displaying my e-mail, while the iMac’s display becomes my primary work area—ergonomically positioned, of course. By the way, you can read up on the advantages of using multiple monitors here.

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As I mentioned, there’s a printer tucked under the workbench. It’s a multifunction printer so it does double duty as a scanner and photo copier, and it’s also wireless which has the advantage of not requiring a physical connection to the computer, so it can be placed wherever is convenient.

You notice a series of external hard drives across the back of the desk. Those are constantly backing up data from my work machine and PCs on our network. A USB hub is worth the little space it takes up on the desktop because it means I don’t have to reach around behind the iMac. The Bluetooth keyboard on the desk is used primarily as a spare. My main keyboard is a big, loud, mechanical number that’s kept with a Bluetooth mouse on the desk’s keyboard tray.

You can’t see it, but beneath the desk is a UPS for protection from power outages, brownouts and surges.

You’ll also notice a stereo receiver and a large Lego General Grievous on my desk. Those segue into my final section on creating your home office: bringing it all together with your own sense of style.

Finally, never overlook the importance of personal style

Shelly’s original home office post and the feedback from Best Buy editors confirmed my instinctive need to decorate my workspace, to personalize it.

I don’t want to spend all day in the home equivalent of a cubicle or a board room. I want my home office to reflect me, what I enjoy doing and my own personal tastes. I want it to inspire me. In short, I want my home office to be a place where I enjoy spending time.

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Music is a big deal for me. I’ve always loved music and got my start in this business as a music journalist. So music figures prominently in my home office, from the old-school setup of stereo receiver, bookshelf speakers and turntable, to a collection of wireless speakers. I also used vinyl record covers as artwork on the walls.

Note: no vinyl was injured as a result, except for a Rush wall clock my kids gave me for Christmas that’s made from a badly worn 2112 album.

Also figuring prominently are dinosaurs (I never got over that childhood obsession), pop culture (they’re collectibles, not toys) and books (I’m a voracious reader). I find the overall effect inspiring, I like hanging out here—listening to music when I’m not working—and the somewhat eclectic mix makes it my space. Anyone who knows me who walks into this room knows exactly whose home office they’ve ventured into. They also know how much time I must spend dusting, but that’s another story.

Publication schedules are a big part of my daily routine, but despite being a tech guy, I far prefer to see a schedule in big numbers where I can physically move things around and have the satisfaction of crossing completed items off. No spreadsheets or calendars for me! So several walls are adorned with whiteboards. Well, they’re sheets of glass mounted to the wall so they blend in a bit better, but you get the picture.

That’s about all the wisdom I can impart on this subject. Just remember, your home office is your space. It doesn’t need to be cold and sterile to be functional. Choose the right space, equip it properly and above all, use your own style during the entire process, and you’ll end up with a home office you love.

Brad Moon
Editor Computing solutions
I’m a long-time electronics and gadget geek who’s been fortunate enough to enjoy a career that lets me indulge this interest. After 13 years as a product manager with a leading Canadian tech company, I transitioned into a full-time career of writing about technology. I’ve contributed to a range of publications and websites including Forbes, Wired, Gizmodo, Lifehacker, About.com, MSN Money, the Winnipeg Free Press, InvestorPlace Media, Shaw Media and—combining technology and my three kids—I’ve been a Core Contributor to the award winning GeekDad blog since its launch in 2007.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Great tips. One limitation of most home offices is the ability to meet clients face to face at your (home) office. Sometimes depending on how your home is laid out there can be an opportunity to have that part separate from the rest of the house with direct entry. Otherwise finding a quiet coffee shop for the catch up over coffee can work.

  2. Thanks, Billy. Yeah, having the dog here with me is one of the great things about WFH. And just getting back into the vinyl. Gave my collection away to a nephew a few decades ago, but starting all over again is fun in its own way. Although some releases I’ve bought so many tiimes —cassett, vinyl, then CD then iTunes now vinyl again— feels like I never stop paying for them…

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