How to Set up the Perfect Home Office

For anyone used to working in an office, working at home can offer a great break in working style, one which can allow you to focus away from all the distractions of the people around you. Because it cuts down on travelling, it can also be a very simple way of doing your bit towards cutting carbon emissions.

And it’s not only employees who have an interest in working at home. For a large number of companies, the first office is at home – and for some businesses, in particular sole traders, it remains so for a long time.

But whether you’re an occasional home worker, or it’s your permanent office, it’s vital that your working environment at home is safe and effective, with everything you need to get your work done. In this article, we’ll look at what you need to do to create the perfect home office – no matter what your business.

Health and safety

The first thing to remember is that the same health and safety legislation applies to your working environment whether it is at home or in an office. There are strict laws applying to places of work, including the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety Regulations 1992, and you need to make sure that you follow them no matter where you work. Responsibilities include creating a risk assessment and having adequate insurance – you can find more details about the responsibilities in our business advice article An Introduction to Health and Safety.

If you’re a temporary home worker, this should all be taken care of by your employer. Your company’s liability insurance will need to be extended to your home while you’re working there, and your employer will also need to carry out a risk assessment of the area where you work. In some cases, this may come in the form of a simple "self-assessment" form which you should fill in. However, some employers will need to have a qualified person visit your home to inspect it – and you will need to allow them to do so before you start home working.

If, on the other hand, you are working for your own business and permanently set up at home, you will need to handle both liability insurance and risk assessment yourself. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) produces a simple "starter pack" for new businesses which includes everything you need to know about ensuring your environment is safe and you follow the law.

And don’t forget that using part of your home as an office may have other implications too. You may need to notify your mortgage company that you are working at home, as well as your home and contents insurance company. You should also inform your accountant, who may be able to advise you on ways of claiming part of your home utility bills against your business’ tax.

The working environment

Whether you’re an employee occasionally working at home, or a full-time home working, you need a room of your own to work in. Don’t give in to the temptation to work on the sofa in front of the television, or at the kitchen table, or any other "regular" part of the house.

Instead, have your own working space. This should be a permanent desk in a spare room, with all the equipment that you need. One of the biggest psychological issues with home working is ensuring that there is a separation between work and home, as otherwise you tend to drift in and out of work without giving your tasks the required focus.

In this area, you need all of the tools of your trade at hand. For most, this will mean at the very least a computer, a phone, and a connection to the internet for email and so on – and the temptation, especially amongst very new businesses, is simply to use your existing home phone, broadband and PC.
This, however, has a number of disadvantages. Because these items are billed to you personally rather than to your business, you may not be able to claim all of the cost as a business expense for tax purposes. With the phone line, it will be difficult to differentiate between working and home calls, at least until you answer them. And if you simply use your family computer, the likelihood of you family using it – and even putting it out of action through accidents or malware – will be great.

Keeping your business facilities separate, then, is always going to be a better option, and don’t have to cost a fortune. For example, you could get a BT Business phone line, and/or BT Business Broadband, allowing you to keep your company business entirely separate to your home at relatively low cost.

Once you have all this set up, you need to ensure that the office itself is kept clean, tidy and safe. This means setting up your PC correctly, including having an adequate desk and chair which are at the correct height for you to work safely. It also means positioning the desk and computer so that there’s no glare or reflections on your monitor – these will cause eye strain.

Adjust the height of your chair so that when you put your fingers in the middle of the keyboard, your forearms and hands are horizontal and not bent – this will help avoid the dreaded RSI. If this means that your feet are off the ground, you either need a lower desk, or (as a cheaper alternative) a footrest.

Next, make sure your PC monitor is at the right height. You should be either looking at it horizontally, or slightly down – if you are having to look up or down at a large angle, you need to adjust its height. Make sure that the back rest on your chair is supporting your lower back. And, if your chair has armrests, make sure they’re high enough to support your arms – if you need to slump to use them, they’re too low.

Position any other equipment – typically a phone and some stationary – in accessible places, where you don’t have to stretch to reach them. And make sure you can adjust the temperature and humidity in your home office – an office which is too hot, or too cold, won’t be a good working environment.

Finally, make the home office your own – add some pot plants, pictures, and other items. After all, you don’t want to make the place too much like work!

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