Define your space when working in an apartment home office

By Judy Stringer,

The prospect of setting your own schedule and creating your own work environment is what lures many renters into working from home. Home-based working, however, offers a chance to save time and money. It cuts down on commuting. Less money is spent dry cleaning professional clothes. Less time is spent making small talk with coworkers. And, with your kitchen just steps away, you can have coffee and nutritious meals for a fraction of the cost of going out.

Yet, working from home requires discipline. It's easy to get distracted by television, roommates or personal chores. Space constraints also play a huge role in making a work-from-apartment a success. You want a big enough home office to be efficient and productive, but you don't want the office to take over the apartment.

Define your office space

The Telework Research Institute estimates that 20 to 30 million Americans currently work from home at least one day a week. It also indicated that more and more U.S. businesses are offering telecommuting as an option to employees in response to rising gas prices. It's no surprise then that many employees are setting up offices where they live, which can be especially challenging when space is tight.

If you share a two-bedroom apartment with a roommate, for example, your room may have to double as a home office. Or, a corner of the living or dining area may serve as your work space. Even renters or couples with an extra bedroom may need the space as a guest room or nursery, as well as a home office.

The key is to find dedicated office space and to make it your own. Resist the temptation to compute on your bed or sofa, piling papers on a nightstand or coffee table. Sitting at a properly equipped desk or table puts you in a working frame of mind and increases your productivity, according to Cleveland-based professional organizer Patty Clair, owner of Keeping It Simple.

When deciding where to set up your home office, choose a space that is permanent and directed solely to your work, Clair said. Think carefully about what you need in that space. Does the desk or adjoining surface need to accommodate more than just your computer, such as a fax machine or landline? Will you need a bookshelf or file cabinet for paperwork, reference materials or notebooks?

You also may need to consider your living situation. If you share your apartment with others, does this space lend itself to quiet time? Job coach Dennis Deegan of Achieve & Grow in Twinsburg said that having a door that you can close should be a top consideration. Teleconferences, Webinars and deadlines often demand concentration, he said, which is hard to achieve if you can hear a television or chatter in the other room.

Clair said that if you do not have the luxury of a separate room for your home office, consider using a closet that is not used often. Remove the door to open the space up. Consider a corner section of a room with a corner desk, the space under a stairway, or a loft area. If your work space must be in a room shared with others, consider purchasing a used armoire or roll-top desk so you can "close your office" at the end of the day or when the room is used for entertaining or sleeping.

"If none of these options are available," Clair added, "setting up a decorative screen to divide your office from the living space is a great alternative."

Wherever you carve out the office space, make sure that you have good lighting and a comfortable chair. Vertical space is another important feature when space is tight, Clair said. Hang shelving above your desk area or install bulletin boards or magnetic boards for posting important deadlines and information. Use an under-the-desk file on wheels to help consolidate space.

Be professional

Flexibility is one of the best features of working from home. But just because you are at home does not mean that you should be any less serious about your work. Deegan said that at-home workers should establish work hours. With so many temptations in your apartment such as the growing mountain of laundry and other matters, it is way too easy to put work aside. Set work hours and don't do personal tasks. That includes not answering personal calls or responding to personal emails. While you're at it, share these work hours with your roommate, partner or family and ask that this time be reasonably quiet and guest-free.

It's also a good idea to get dressed like you are going someplace. You don't have to put on a three-piece suit, of course, but simply swapping sweats for a pair of jeans and a comfy t-shirt symbolizes the beginning of the day and puts you in work mode.

Finally, set up a filing system that is logical for you, Clair said.

"The important objective about filing systems is that you are able to find something when you need it. Your files should be set up in a manner that makes sense to you," she said.

Get out…often

Cabin fever is one of the biggest obstacles to being productive when you work at home.

"The walls start pushing in," Deegan said. "You can lose your edge if you stay at home too long."

Deegan said that getting out of the home office is refreshing and will help get the juices flowing. Coffee shops are perfect work-from-home getaways. Most offer wireless access and don't mind when customers linger. As a bonus, you will get to know the folks who work at the coffee shop and other regulars ad they may turn out to be beneficial contacts.

"Working at a coffee shop is actually a great way to see people and meet new people," he said.

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