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Home & Garden

The Home Office

Turning your home into your workspace starts with limiting the clutter and distractions, experts say. Here’s how.

By Joan Tupponce

Thanks to advances in mobile technology, remote login capability and an overall increase in telecommuting over the last decade, more and more people are working from home.

But, for many, making the transition isn’t easy. The distractions can be endless. Should you finish the laundry while waiting for a return phone call? Are the dishes piling up? Those who are eager to put this work-at-home dynamic into action may try to settle in to a multiuse room. But that’s not the best choice for an office environment, experts say. The ideal situation is to create an office space that is completely separate from the rest of your home.

“When I work with people operating a business, the biggest challenge is their inability to separate their personal life from their professional life. That is the key for having an efficient home office,” says organizer Susie Hayman, owner of In Your Business in Henrico County.

Anything that doesn’t relate to your business environment – items such as crafts, televisions, exercise equipment, etc. – needs to be removed from the room. You should also have a “separate phone line, a separate email address, etc.,” Hayman says. “The key is separation.”

That said, your office doesn’t have to be a sterile environment, especially since you will spend most of your day in that space. You want it to be comfortable and inviting, a space that you enjoy. “Find something that fits your needs,” says Teresa Mueller, co-owner of Closet Factory of Hanover. She has worked on home offices in Henrico and Chesterfield. “You want a space that makes you happy.”

Your office should reflect your personality. “If you like artwork, have artwork on the walls,” Hayman says. “Put out photos. You want your office to reflect who you are and be more conducive to work.”

You want a space that will boost your productivity. Office furniture manufacturers have caught onto this trend and have designed items that are both functional and attractive. “We are moving away from traditional furniture,” says Carolyn Clements, development manager at Ball Office Products in Henrico.

Some contemporary designs feature flat-surface desks without any drawers, which is a relatively new trend. “Some people don’t need desk drawers anymore because they are going paperless,” Clements says.

Desks come in a variety of styles and materials, including wood, veneer, metal and laminate. When you are searching for a desk, you may want to match the décor of your home, Clements says.

Your desk should also suit your particular needs. For example, if you are right-handed you will need a right-handed desk. Manufacturers such as Safco offer unique alternatives to the traditional desk, including desks that allow you stand while you work. The company’s standing-height AlphaBetter Desk lets you burn calories – up to 350 calories a day – while you work, so you can skip a few extra minutes on the treadmill.

Where you position your desk can help your mood as well as your workflow. Some people look to feng shui, an ancient Chinese art that focuses on the placement of items to help balance the flow of chi in the environment and in the individual.

“Every building has positive and negative energy patterns,” says Robyn Bentley, author of “Creating a Haven: Simple Steps for a Healthy and Nurturing Home.” “You also have annual energies that change every February with the Chinese solar year. You want to look at the energy pattern in your office.”

Bentley suggests positioning your desk away from the direct flow of a door. “You don’t want to sit in the line of fire. Chi flows around the house and when you are across from a door it can be draining. You want your desk to the side of the door,” she says.

She also suggests moving electrical equipment and power strips away from the immediate vicinity of your chair because they emit electromagnetic frequencies, which can not only lower the hormone melatonin but also your mood. “You want to keep your body at least 1 foot away from any power strips,” Bentley says.

Often people will grab the least expensive desk chair they can find but a chair that doesn’t fit your body properly won’t be comfortable for long. Ergonomic chairs are designed to help you sit correctly at your desk.

“People are being more selective about the quality of the chair,” Clements says. “Your chair needs to fit you as well as a good pair of leather shoes.”

When you are considering a chair, look at the chair height, lumbar support, neck support and headrest. Make sure it has arms and check to see if the arms are adjustable. Some people who want a unique experience are using Safco’s Zenergy ball as a second chair. The mesh-covered, bouncing ball was designed to encourage movement. “It helps keep your core muscles tight and it helps you sit up straight,” Clements says. Although the ball chairs are not recommended for prolonged use (defined as more than four hours per day), moderate use can lead to beneficial outcomes.

When you start working at home, it’s crucial that you practice good organizational skills. To help keep your office uncluttered, you may want your storage systems, files and office machinery out of sight. Mueller often installs storage units that have sliding shelves and/or pullout trays for equipment and supplies.

The key to paper files is to keep them organized so they are easily retrieved. “Make categories and sub-categories for files,” Hayman says. “I like to color-code files and you can do that by category.”

If you are using hanging files, keep all file names justified to one side. “It makes them easier to flip through,” Hayman explains. “Always keep something on your desk for files that you refer to all the time.”

Being organized takes a lot more discipline when you work at home. But it’s key, says Hayman, to help overcome distractions when they arise. Cluttered offices are not productive offices.

“It can make you feel stuck,” Bentley says. “Clutter is eye noise. If you have to concentrate on something, the eye noise will be distracting for you. When you feel in control, you feel less stressed. Always spend a few minutes at the end of the day putting things away.”