7 Key Attributes of a Highly Workable Home Office
According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, as of the end of 2021 nearly 27.6 million people in the United Stated worked at home more or less full-time. At same time, Zippia reports that "66 percent of U.S. employees work remotely, at least part time.”
This all adds up to an overall picture that nearly 1 in 5 U.S. workers work from home full-time, while 2 out of 3 work from home at least some of the time. For all those people (more 100 million individuals, by my reckoning) access to useful, productive workspace in the home is not a luxury. I’d argue it’s an absolute necessity.
This is why it’s important to set up and use a workspace in the home to make sure that at-home work gets done quickly and capably.
A Long and Winding Road ...
Personally, I started working at home about half-time in 1988 when I took a job as a Network Consultant at Excelan. Excelan was acquired by Novell in 1989; I continued working for Novell until May of 1994. Since that time, I have worked full-time at home, with two brief outside excursions:
In 1997 and 1998, I worked as a technical evangelist for IBM/Tivoli Systems.
In 2006 and 2007, I worked as a training executive and ran a content website for NetQoS.
Even while I held both of those positions, I continued to use my home office daily to keep up with ongoing writing work at the time. Over those years in harness, I’ve learned a lot about how to set up and manage an in-home workspace. Please, let me share some of the fruits of my labor and learning with you.
The 7 Key Attributes in a Highly Workable Home Office
Following the familiar model of Steven Covey’s 1989 runaway bestseller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, I have distilled my decades of work-from-home experience into a set of seven elements that should help readers evaluate or set up their own highly effective in-home workspaces. Here's a photo of where I work, followed by my seven key principles:
1) Give yourself room to work. As you can see from the photo above, I’ve got a big desk (60 inches x 30 inches, or roughly 153 cm x 76 cm). That gives me the physical room to spread out, work on my keyboard, answer the phone, and deal with books, papers, and so forth.
2) Screen space is vital, too. You can also see my dual Dell 2717 Ultrasharp monitors at the rear of the desktop. I find two big monitors essential for everyday tasks. I typically use one for the stuff I’m looking at, reading, or searching about, and the other for writing (in Word, most of the time) or running various apps (e-mail, Excel, various tools, code editors, and whatnot).
While we’re on the hardware topic, I recommend keeping a backup laptop or PC around all the time, so that if your primary production device gets hinky (or goes down), you can switch over to the backup and keep working. Be sure to give yourself enough CPU power, storage and RAM to be productive while working on both of those machines.
FWIW, I’m using an i7 Skylake (6th generation) CPU with 32 GB RAM, primary 1 TB SSD, and secondary 1 TB SSD on my production desktop. My backup laptop has an i7 Coffee Lake (8th generation), 32 GB RAM, and two SSDs (1 TB and 0.5 TB). I also have a Ryzen 5800X, 64GB, 2+1 TB system ready to take over for the current production PC, as soon as a get a "round tuit."
3) Ample Internet access and bandwidth. Right now, I pay Spectrum about $80 a month for nominal GbE Internet access (actual ceiling is 940 MBps on GbE interfaces, but I get as high as 1.2-3 GBps on 2.5 GbE interfaces). You have to be able to download quickly enough to get your work done. Paying a little more to work better or faster is a no-brainer. I wouldn’t recommend anything under 100 MBps for in-home office use.
4) Document storage and access is important. I’ve got two each 30-inch and 15-inch file drawers for active files, and 15 12-inch file boxes for archival storage purposes. I keep most documents for seven years and then shred them, except for permanent records (e.g. titles, decrees, birth certificates, social security cards, and so forth).
Be sure to give yourself enough room to keep as much paper as you need at your fingertips. I’ve also got about 40 TB of disk storage across my production PCs, where I maintain master, backup, and archival copies of important digital files and assets. If you work for somebody other than yourself, you may not need huge amounts of storage — and you’ll have to honor their storage and retention policies as well.
5) Quiet, contained, and discrete work area. Over the years, I’ve learned that dedicating a room with a door to office space is a good practice. Keeping the workspace quiet and free from interruption at Chez Tittel means that when I close my office door, family members know they need to limit noise and interruptions to "emergencies only."
Also, FWIW, it’s a lot easier to take a home office deduction on your income taxes when you’ve set aside space with known square footage that’s used solely for work.
6) Get your seating and workspace right. In the late 90s, I started to develop what I thought might be carpal tunnel from spending my days typing. At that point, I spent about $500 to hire an ergonomics consultant to help me get my workspace right.
She got me using a Microsoft ergonomic keyboard (you can still see one in my desktop photo) and helped teach me how to get my desktop and chair heights correct to make sure that typing didn’t bring on repetitive stress. She also showed me how to set monitor height and distance for best results, and helped me pick out a good-quality office chair with proper height, arms, and lumbar adjustments.
I’ve had no problems since, except when working more than 14 hours a day (and that’s more fatigue than repetitive stress).
7) Schedule and take regular breaks: I love working at home because I don’t waste time commuting (at my NetQoS job, for example, my daily commute averaged around 100 minutes). But when you spend your days sitting on your hindquarters in front of a screen, you need to schedule some “get up and move around time” at least every two hours or so.
Preferably, you’ll also engage in some physical activity to keep from getting too sedentary (or stiff, as I’m learning my body is prone to become at age 70). I usually take a 1-hour walk every day, and shoot pool on my upstairs pool table for half an hour (if I do one in the morning, I do the other in the afternoon).
I also get up every hour or two to stretch and walk around the house a bit (5-10 minutes is plenty).
Home is Where the Heart Is, But also Where (More of) the Work Is
If you take the right steps to set up and manage an in-home workspace, then I firmly believe you can be MORE productive at home than you would be in most away-from-home offices. That’s certainly been my experience. If you do things right, it should be yours too. Cheers!