How to set up a home office that works for you

If you plan to work from home, you’ll probably need a home office. It might be a desk in a bedroom, where you work on your own, or a dedicated building, where you work with colleagues. No two home offices are the same, so you need to set up a home office that works for you.

In this guide, you’ll find everything you need to set up a home office and create a productive work space.

Budgeting: Set up a home office without breaking the bank

Before you start making plans or purchasing home office equipment, it’s important to think about budget. How much money do you have to spend on setting up your home office?

Get your priorities right

If your budget is limited, you’ll want to think very carefully in order to prioritise the most important items. A desk and chair should be top of your list, but you can probably manage without a filing cabinet.

You’ll also need to make savings where appropriate and only spend higher amounts where really necessary. For instance, you might be able to save by purchasing an IKEA desk, rather than a piece of oak furniture.

On the other hand, you don’t want to buy a cheap chair if you can possibly avoid it. Your chair has a big impact on your health.

Beware hidden costs

There may also be hidden costs that don’t occur to you until you give your budget some serious thought.

A good example of something that is often overlooked when setting up a home office is insurance. Does your current home insurance cover everything you need? This is particularly if you have expensive home office equipment, colleagues working in your home, or clients visiting for meetings.

Decide on your budget and make a list of all the items you need in advance, including their prices. Think very carefully to ensure you include everything!

Once you have a budget, you can start buying things to set up your home office, without worrying about money.

Location: Where should you set up your home office?

The amount of space you need will depend on what you do. Will you be working alone or with others? Will you welcome clients to your office? And do you need any specialist equipment or space (e.g. an artworking area or photography studio) for your role?

Your home office location should also take your personal life into account. It’s important to maintain a healthy work-life balance and not have your family space invaded by work.

Regardless of the space available, it’s best to set up a dedicated area for your homeworking.

Try to set up your home office in its own separate room whenever possible. A dedicated area in which to work will have a huge positive impact on your productivity and wellbeing.

Which room to choose?

You can set up a home office in virtually any room in the house. The only one we’d definitely avoid is the bathroom!

Dining Room / Lounge

You can attempt to work at the dining table or on the sofa, but it’s unlikely to work long term.

You’ll quickly find that there are too many distractions and not enough storage. Plus, your posture will be poor and you’ll get sick of tidying up at the end of each day.

That’s why setting up a proper home office is so crucial. We’d only recommend working in the lounge or dining room on a very short term or occasional basis.

Spare room / Guest room

A spare room, or guest bedroom, is a popular choice for a home office. And you can choose whether to make it dual-purpose (with a bed included) or home office only.

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The main thing to consider is how often the room is used as a bedroom. If you use the room frequently, you’ll need to make it dual-purpose, or look elsewhere for a home office location.

If the room is used infrequently, it’s worth considering removing the bed and creating a dedicated home office.

A compromise solution is to use a sofa bed. This gives you the best of both worlds. You can make the room into a bedroom when needed and you get a comfortable place to sit while working.

Shed / Garage

Converting your shed or garage into a home office has a number of advantages. It gives you a dedicated office space, rather than taking up a room of your house, and you’ll likely have external access.

A separate entrance to your office can be particularly valuable when working with colleagues or hosting clients. Having external access means people don’t have to walk through your home. This is less intrusive for you and your family, and presents a more professional external impression.

Downsides to working in a converted shed or garage include:

Temperature – You may find that these spaces are poorly insulated and therefore get very cold in winter. And you may have the opposite problem in summer, when your shed turns into a sauna!

Initial effort – It may take a lot of work to clear out the space and set up a home office. For example, installing the necessary insulation to keep the temperature under control, as well as power and lighting.

Lost storage – By converting your shed or garage into a home office, you are inevitably losing storage space. Have you planned where you’re going to keep the lawn mower, tools and all of those boxes?

Bespoke garden office

For many people, this is the dream home office set up.

A bespoke garden office gives you the chance to install a standalone building. You can make sure you have the space you need, external access, and your ideal office layout.

Of course, all of this comes at a price. Not only are garden offices expensive, they also take up a significant area of garden space. You’ll need to think carefully about whether your garden is big enough to contain a home office. And whether you are prepared to give up the land for this purpose.

Other factors to consider include:

Planning permission – you’ll need to check the law in your area to see whether permission is required.

Utilities – can you get a supply of electricity, and possibly water, to your garden office?

Maintenance – Remember that you’re adding a whole new building to your property. You’ll therefore need to ensure that building stays in good condition, or risk wasting your investment.

Attic

An attic room can be a fantastic location for a home office.

Setting up your home office in the attic offers privacy and peace, as you’ll be far away from ground-level noises. Choosing to set up a home office in the attic also avoids taking up another room, such as a bedroom.

Disadvantages of working in an attic include walking up and down stairs and distance from other rooms in the house. You might get fed up of walking all the way to the kitchen for a coffee. Though, if you an manage it, this exercise is good for you!

You can reduce the problem by setting up supplies such as a fridge and a kettle in the attic.

Depending on the type of windows installed in your attic, you may find it to be quite claustrophobic. Many attics only have a skylight, which don’t necessarily provide a lot of natural light or a nice view.

Under the stairs / Converted storage cupboards

If you have a small home or a large family then you may need to get creative with space.

Have a walk around your house and look for alcoves, cupboards and areas of under-used space. Could you fit a small desk and chair into that area? Is there enough head room to stand up from the chair?

While far from ideal, it’s better to have a dedicated desk space than nothing at all. A desk in an alcove is better than working on the sofa or at the dining room table.

Furniture: How to choose furniture for your home office

Desk

An essential item in every home office, you’ll want to choose your desk carefully. After all, you’re going to spend a lot of time working on it!

If you don’t have a big budget then don’t go crazy buying a big expensive desk. There’s no need to spend a fortune on buying more surface area than you’ll ever need.

Your desk simply needs to fit into the available space, while offering enough leg room and space for desktop equipment.

If you have the budget and want to buy a more expensive desk then of course feel free. However, it’s not a necessity and, for most people. A simple desk from IKEA will do the job.

That said, there are a few nice-to-have extras that you may want to consider…

Storage

If your desk comes with storage then that is, of course, a bonus. Many home offices are quite small, so the last thing you want is dead space. If you can find a desk that has built in drawers, it may be worth investing a little extra.

Keyboard tray

A keyboard tray can be hugely beneficial to your health. It helps to avoid repetitive strain injuries caused by typing with an incorrect posture.

We recommend choosing a desk with a keyboard tray when possible. However, be sure to sit down to test that the desk height works for you.

When typing, your elbows should be open between 90 degrees and 110 degrees and your wrists should be straight. The keyboard should be placed just below elbow level and should either be flat or slope slightly away from you.

Standing desks

Did you know that sitting has been described as “the new smoking”? Research has shown that sitting down for long periods leads to weight gain, high blood pressure, back pain and an increased risk of heart disease. A standing desk reduces all of these risks.

If you can afford it, a standing desk (or a height adjustable sit-stand desk) is a great investment.

L-shaped desks

This type of desk generally offers a greater surface area and can make good use of corner space.

Take care to measure properly and not to go overboard on size. You will need room for other furniture and you don’t want your office to be too cramped. Only buy as much desk space as you really need!

How to set up home office furniture

Woman setting up a home office

Finally, we’d like to offer two pieces of advice on setting up your desk. Assuming it is self-assembly, rather than a ready-made piece of furniture, please measure carefully and assemble methodically.

Measuring ensures that you buy the right size desk for your space. It can be difficult to judge the size of desks when in a store or buying online. You need to be armed with exact measurements for your room.

Be sure to take into account objects that may get in the way of the desk or affect its position. These include radiators, skirting boards, or unusually shaped walls.

And double check everything. Measure twice, order once!

Then, when you come to assemble your desk, take the time to do it properly. The last thing you want to do is invest in a fantastic new desk only to assemble it badly. A bit more time now can save years of anger at that broken drawer!

  1. Start by laying out all parts neatly in an area where you have lots of room to work.
  2. Then, read all of the instructions. Don’t just start at step one without looking ahead.
  3. Take your time
  4. Use the right tools
  5. Double-check everything before proceeding to the next step
  6. And get help from a friend if needed.

Chair

We can’t overstate the importance of your office chair. While you may be able to buy a cheap desk or filing cabinet, your chair is the one thing where you should never simply go for the budget option. You shouldn’t go for the cheapest option or, even worse, use a dining room chair.

This is because your home office chair has a huge impact on your health. You’re going to sit in this chair a lot, so it’s worth investing in a comfortable and safe ergonomic design.

Fortunately, you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars. A quality ergonomic chair, with a head rest and arm support can be purchased for a couple of hundred dollars.

Storage

Organization is crucial to a properly functioning office and it’s essential to avoid clutter. You’ll therefore want to include some efficient storage options within your home office design.

This may include shelves, which make use of otherwise empty wall space, drawers, filing cabinets and boxes and folders.

We recommend starting with the minimum you think you’ll need. Leave some space (e.g. a blank wall that could have shelves) to expand once you better understand your needs.

If you’re really struggling for storage space, you may want to consider keeping rarely-used items in another room. That way, you can dedicate your limited home office space to your most frequently used items and documents.

Sofa or a comfortable chair

If you have the space, a sofa can be a useful addition to your home office

While not an essential, and only practical in offices with lots of space, a sofa or comfortable chair can be a valuable addition.

If your work includes reading long documents or making written notes, you may find a sofa useful. It can be beneficial to get away from your desk and sit somewhere comfortable to focus on certain tasks.

If your home office doubles as a guest bedroom, a sofa bed could be a good choice.

Layout: How to arrange a home office

Once you’ve decided where to set up a home office, and what furniture you need, you can start thinking about layout. This is the crucial stage where you make sure your home office equipment fits into the space available and can be arranged in a way that is practical.

Our top tip is to draw your room and furnishings to scale, cut them out, and try arranging them in different configurations.

This may sound like hard work, but it can save you a lot of stress later. Here’s how it works…

Drawing to scale

If your room measures 20ft x 13ft you could draw a rectangle with 1cm per foot. i.e. A 20cm x 13cm rectangle.

If your desk measures 5ft x 2.5ft then cut out a 5cm x 2.5cm rectangle. Then place it in the drawing of your room to get an idea of the space it takes up.

Repeat the process for other large items, such as chairs, drawers and cupboards. You don’t have to be absolutely exact, but try to be as accurate as possible.

Remember to leave room for the door and windows to open. Also consider the position of plug sockets, and take into account fixtures such as radiators.

Does all of your furniture fit into the room? Will you have enough space to walk around? And how easy will it be to reach your most regularly used items?

You may want to avoid positioning your desk with your back to the door. Interestingly, this has been shown to raise stress levels. Apparently, we subconsciously worry about someone being able to creep up behind us!

Experimenting

If there are multiple ways that your furniture can fit into the room, then we recommend experimenting with different layouts.

Try one layout for a few weeks, see how it works for you, then try alternatives.

Lacking light? Maybe your desk could go closer to the window.

Glare on your screen? You might need to adjust the position of your monitor or get a blind.

Always walking back and forth to the same set of shelves? Think about whether they can be moved closer to your desk.

No matter how much thought you give to your home office layout, you won’t know whether it works until you give it a try.

Plug sockets

You can never have too many plug sockets! If you’re setting up a home office from scratch – in a new garden building, for example – then always add more power outlets than you think you will need and space them around the room.

When designing your home office layout, it’s important to think carefully about how much electrical equipment you have. How many plug sockets do you have? And where they are positioned in the room?

You may need to buy extension cables. In which case, you should take great care to use them safely and not overload any one socket.

Tech: How to set up a home office with the latest tech

Laptop or desktop computer?

Your first decision when buying tech for your home office will probably be which type of computer to buy. Do you go for a desktop PC or a laptop?

Pros and cons

The main advantage of laptops is that they offer portability. You can work in another room, in the garden, in a coffee shop, or take your laptop out to meetings with clients. However, laptops come with some significant drawbacks too.

  • Laptops tend to be less powerful than desktop computers. This shouldn’t be an issue if you’re simply blogging or using office software, but could be a major factor if you need to do video or image editing.
  • Laptops are also less flexible in terms of ergonomic design. The most you will be able to do with a laptop is adjust the screen angle or position it on a stand. You may therefore find it difficult to use the laptop in a way that is safe and comfortable in the long term.
  • Overheating can also be an issue for laptops. As their components are crammed into such a small space, laptops can become hot to touch. This is not good when you’re using them on your lap and prolonged use risks damaging components.

The best of both worlds

In our opinion, the best possible solution is to have both a desktop computer and a laptop.

Use the desktop as your main workstation, where you conduct tasks that take a long time or that require lots of processing power. Use the laptop for quick tasks and working away from your desk.

If you must use a laptop only, we highly recommend investing in a separate monitor, keyboard and mouse. This effectively allows you to use your laptop like a desktop PC. You’ll benefit from a bigger screen and more ergonomic accessories, while enjoying the portability of a laptop.

Whichever you choose, we suggest keeping your work computer and personal computer separate. This is all part of maintaining a healthy work-life balance. If this isn’t practical for you, then set up different personal and work profiles rather than using one for everything.

Mac or Windows

When choosing between a Mac or a Windows PC for your home office, you should consider:

  • What you use currently: If you’re comfortable with a particular system, it may be best to stick with what you know.
  • Cost: Macs tend to be more expensive.
  • Features: Designers and people in creative industries often prefer Apple products.
  • Compatibility: If you’re working with colleagues who use Windows, it will probably be easiest for you to use Windows too.

And remember, there are other options too, such as Google Chromebooks. If you don’t use powerful software, you like Google products (such as Google Docs) and you have a reliable internet connection, a Chromebook could be a good inexpensive choice.

Monitors

Even if you’re on a laptop, we recommend getting a monitor rather than using your laptop screen.

A standalone monitor offers a bigger screen, which you can more easily position at the correct height. And decent quality monitors are now available at low prices. There’s really no reason not to give yourself the extra screen space.

In fact, whenever possible, we highly recommend using two monitors! A “dual-monitor” setup can provide a huge boost to productivity. For example, cross referencing or writing on one screen while doing research on another.

You probably won’t realise just how useful two monitors can be until you try it, so give it a go. We’re sure you won’t regret it.

Finally, remember that your laptop can also act as a useful extra screen. If you have enough space on your desk, it’s a good idea to position a laptop stand alongside your monitors.

Keyboard and mouse

Whether you are using a desktop or a laptop, we recommend using a mouse rather than a track pad. An ergonomic mouse is better for your health. Plus, you will be more productive than if you attempt to navigate around windows with a track pad only.

You can choose either a wireless or wired mouse.

Wireless mice can be a little less responsive, and they need batteries, so are more expensive.

Wired mice are faster and less expensive. No batteries are required, but you will have a wire trailing around your desk.

Generally speaking, we still go for wired. However, it’s a personal choice and really doesn’t make a huge difference for most people.

You should also get an ergonomic keyboard and a wrist support if required. While this might not seem necessary, you will regret not doing so if you develop carpal tunnel syndrome!

If your work involves a lot of typing then it’s worth investing in a quality mechanical keyboard. Mechanical keyboards use switches under the keys. They are generally better quality, heavier, and last longer. Of course, quality comes at a price, so mechanical keyboards are more expensive than standard keyboards.

Headset

Will you be joining a lot of conference calls while working from home? If so, you may need to buy a headset with headphones and a microphone.

If your computer has a built in microphone and speakers then this is an optional purchase. However, if you’re lacking either, you’ll need a headset to take part in online conversations.

Depending on who you’ll be talking to, the appearance of the headset may be a consideration. Some headsets are designed for gamers rather than homeworkers, and could make you look a bit silly on video calls!

Printer and scanner

While printers are nowhere near as important as they once were, chances are you will find yourself needing to print something out occasionally. It can be much easier to print out a piece of writing and proofread it on paper, rather than doing all of your writing and proofreading on-screen.

Fortunately, we’ve updated our best home office printers article to pick out the very best printers you can buy today.

If you do decide to buy a printer, you may want to consider getting one with a scanner included. It’s always a good idea to keep digital back-ups of important paper documents.

However, it’s worth considering that scanners are also not the essential item they once were. Apps like Microsoft Office Lens (available for Apple, Android and Windows phones) are a clever way to replicate the basic function of a scanner without the need for additional hardware.

Shredder

If you’re going to be handling sensitive documents, it’s important to include a shredder in your home office set up. You don’t need a huge industrial machine, just a small home office shredder that can sit under or alongside your desk, within easy reach.

Even if you’re not handling sensitive client data, you may have your own documents – such as bank statements – that need shredding.

Telephone

When choosing a telephone for your home office, your first decision will be cell phone or landline.

A landline phone can give a more professional impression to clients. It may also offer a better connection, particularly if you are in an area with poor signal.

If you do choose a landline, make sure that it is a dedicated line positioned in your office. You don’t want to have to run to the phone in another room, have a family member answer instead of you, or miss calls because someone else is on the line.

Whichever type of phone you choose, we recommend keeping a separate business phone. Don’t use the same number for business and personal calls.

If your personal phone is a distraction, put it away or switch it off while you’re working. You may also want to switch your business phone to voicemail when you need to focus on another task.

We also recommend recording a professional voicemail message rather than using the default.

Internet connectivity

Every home office will need an internet connection. When choosing a supplier, your main considerations should be reliability, speed, price, and quality of customer support.

People often focus on speed and price, but forget about reliability and customer services. In fact, these are arguably more important. There’s no point having a super-fast connection if it’s broken all the time and you can’t get through to someone to fix it.

Once your internet connection is set up, you’ll want to ensure a strong connection to your home office. If wi-fi signal is weak then you can get wi-fi signal boosters. Alternatively, use powerlink adapters to connect your desktop computer to your router via your power sockets.

Cables

It can be a good idea to minimize the number of cables in your office through the use of wireless technology. You’ll inevitably end up with a lot of cables, so any that you can do without is a good thing.

Removing cables is also a health and safety benefit. Each cable you remove is one less trip hazard or one less wire that can pull things off your desk!

If you can’t get rid of a cable, be sure to organize it neatly. Buy cable tidies to keep your cables in order and never leave them tangled in a ball. This not only removes a health & safety hazard, it also keeps your office looking neat and tidy.

Lighting: How to set up a home office with the right light levels

One of the most beneficial things you can add to a home office is natural light. Positioning your workspace near a window not only provides enough light to see what you’re doing, it can offer a real boost to your health and wellbeing.

Of course, you will most likely need some artificial light too. Though, even then, you can choose ‘daylight bulbs’ which provide a natural white light, rather than an artificial yellow light.

Where possible, try to choose dimmable bulbs, so that you can adjust light levels easily and avoid straining your eyes. This is particularly important if you will sometimes work at night. You can also set your screen to dim as it goes dark. This is better for your eyes and makes it easier to fall asleep at night.

If you’re looking to add convenience and a hi-tech touch to your home office then consider smart bulbs. While they are more expensive, they offer a wide variety of settings – from dimming to different colors – and can be voice-controlled using products such as the Amazon Echo.

Decor: How to decorate a home office

You’re going to spend a lot of time in your home office, so you shouldn’t underestimate the importance of decor.

Choosing the right color scheeme and decor can transform a dull empty space into a comfortable, productive place to work.

Inspiration

It’s worth sparing some time to look at Pinterest and Instagram for office decor inspiration. You can find some fantastic examples of efficient, creative, stylish workspaces and you shouldn’t have any hesitation in copying them!

Of course, we like to think that Homeworker HQ will also be a great source of ideas too. If you haven’t already, why not sign up to emails and get a regular dose of inspiration delivered straight to your inbox?

Color

It’s widely accepted that different colors evoke different feelings. Color is therefore an important consideration when choosing your home office decor.

  • Blue is a calming color, which can help you relax.
  • White and other neutral colors can make spaces feel bigger and give a sense of cleanliness.
  • Lavender and lilac are light, relaxing colors. Just avoid the less calming darker shades of purple.
  • Yellow can evoke feelings of happiness. However, it should be used sparingly, as it can also cause feelings of irritation in some people.
  • Green is easy on the eyes and can help to reduce anxiety. It also symbolises wealth and prosperity – which could be perfect for your home business!
  • We suggest avoiding red, as it evokes feelings of anger and is proven to raise blood pressure! Pink, however, can have the opposite effect.

You may want to consider utilising your brand colors in your home office. This can give a sense of connection between your physical environment and your online business. Just bear in mind the effects of certain colors, as listed above. And that if you have a re-brand, you may also need to redecorate!

Photographs

Consider adding frames photographs to your desk space, shelves, window sills or walls.

Your home office is your personal space. It doesn’t have to be a dry, sterile environment to be professional. Photographs of friends and family can keep you happy and motivated while making a space truly unique to you.

We suggest adding photos and other decorative items gradually and prioritising work space. While these things are nice to have, you don’t want to make your office cluttered.

Consider attaching pictures to walls, rather than taking up valuable desk real estate.

Plants

Plants can be a great addition to a workspace. They help to reduce stress and make us feel closer to nature. This can be hugely important when you are sat in an office for long periods of time!

When choosing plants for your home office, remember to consider the needs of the plant. How much light do you have in your office? What is the temperature like and how much does it vary? Are you a green-fingered person or someone who needs a hardy plant that can survive without water for a while? Be sure to pick plants that suit your particular set of circumstances.

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Webcam background

An often overlooked consideration when setting up a home office is webcam background. You don’t want colleagues or customers on a video chat seeing your unmade bed, a pile of boxes or your washing in the background!

Instead, think about the kind of impression you want to create.

For example, you may want to display professional achievements that you take pride in. For example, qualifications, awards, or press coverage for your business. Not only can this be motivating, it can also present a credible image to customers who see your office.

Accessories: Set up a home office with a stock of essential supplies

You’ve got your furniture, your office equipment, plants and lamps, so what else do you need? The next items on your shopping list will be smaller accessories and consumable supplies.

The list of home office accessories and supplies is endless, and only you will know what you really need. Here are a few things that can come in handy and that are often overlooked.

Accessory checklist

A well-positioned clock will make sure you stick to a healthy routine and don’t miss your coffee break
  • White board (or self-adhesive whiteboard sheets): If you want to visualize ideas, particularly while working as part of a team, a whiteboard is a must-have item. Self-adhesive sheets offer an inexpensive alternative to a permanent board and may be the best option if you use a whiteboard infrequently.
  • A clock: When working from home, it’s really important to position a clock somewhere within your line of sight. For instance, on your desk or mounted on the wall above. A clock is important because, when you get into the flow of working, it can be easy to lose track of time. Having a physical clock that is separate to the small clock on your computer can help you manage your time and stick to a routine.
  • A wall planner: Yes, you have a calendar on your computer, and on your phone, but there’s nothing like a wall planner to remind you of that important meeting coming up next Tuesday.
  • Reference books and magazines: Depending on your area of work, there may still be a place for printed media in your home office. A small library of professional publications can be a great source of inspiration.
  • Pens, notepads, and other stationery: It’s worth investing in nice pens and notepads if you can, as it will encourage you to take more pride in your work. And be sure to keep everything organised in a drawer or desk tidy.

Wellbeing: How to set up a home office that keeps you healthy, happy and productive

You may wish to add elements to your home office that are less about productivity and more about personal wellbeing.

For example, speakers to play music, perhaps even a small fridge for snacks or a kettle for coffee breaks. This is particularly important if you plan to host guests in your office!

However, even if you have items such as a kettle in your office, it’s a good idea to leave for breaks. Try to avoid taking your coffee break in your office or having lunch at your desk. Instead, head to another room of the house or go for a walk outside.

Your tips: How would you set up a home office?

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading our guide to setting up a home office.

Is there anything you think we’ve missed? Or perhaps you have a top tip that you’d like to share?

Please add a comment below to help other readers. We’d love to hear your ideas.

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