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The New-Age Home Office

As connectivity between workplaces becomes increasingly efficient, and more and more people seek greater flexibility in their career and life balance, there is a growing trend emerging that’s changing the way we work and live. Every day across Australia, rarely unused spare rooms are being transformed into something much more productive – the home office.

This was most recently showcased on Channel Nine’s hit renovation show The Block where contestants Georgia and Ronnie earned high praise for their conversion of a studio above the garage into an innovative home office. “Ronnie and Georgia deliver the best of the best this week”, said Domain’s National Managing Editor, Alice Stolz. “I think not putting in a bed and delivering this space as a true home office is perfect.”

But how do you convert a simple space into an effective working environment that’s not too comfortable that you spend most of the time nodding off, but at the same time, pleasant enough to make you actually enjoy the idea of getting down to work? Here are our top seven tips for converting a spare room into a space that inspires creativity, action and output – and one tip for when you’re thinking of selling.

One: Keep it simple

The last thing you want to do is clutter up your work space with too many pieces of fancy equipment, gadgets or nick-knacks. Make a list of the things you will definitely need: a good ergonomically-efficient desk and chair, bookshelves and storage, rubbish bins, IT equipment such as a printer, wifi modem, back-up hard-drive, computer monitor, power-boards, chargers and potentially a video-conferencing camera. Then a few photos or favourite pictures, some indoor plants and that should probably be about it.

Two: Remember its purpose

Don’t forget that it’s an office, not somewhere to store boxes or use as an extension to your wardrobe. The room should have a productive, business-like feel about it and be a place where you can focus without the fear of a dozen boxes crashing down around you every time you sneeze. If you start to feel as if you’re working in a storage cupboard, it’s time to reassess your space.

Making sure it is a dedicated space is also important if you’re going to claim it as a tax deduction. While the Australian Tax Office is quite happy to allow you to factor in the cost of running a dedicated and recognisable home office, it will probably take a dim view of spaces that are declared as offices but are in fact nothing more than a store room with a desk.

Three: Natural light

It’s rarely possible to choose the most light-filled room in the house to convert into your office (and often they can become too hot and glary in summer anyway). But at least try to maximise the amount of natural light that can filter into the room. Not only does sunlight offer essential vitamin D, but it is one of the easiest ways to lift the spirits and make tiresome work a little less unappealing.

Be careful though. Too much light from outside can cause computer monitors and even keyboards to reflect sun-glare, and make reading uncomfortable… not to mention how quickly it can have you dozing off.

Four: Arrange it around your personal work habits

When planning your desk arrangement, make sure you think about where the sun will be at your most productive time of the day. If you’re a morning person, and the 10am sun is going to be streaming in on your monitor or reading space, you should consider moving your desk.

If you think you’ll be easily distracted or prone to day-dreaming, you might want to face the desk away from the window. Conversely, if you want to keep a wary eye on the kids playing in the back yard, it makes sense to position your workspace where you can see the yard easily.

Five: Make it attractive and comfortable

Your home office is your chance to design a workspace that you love coming into. Keeping the simplicity of Tip No.1 in mind, don’t be afraid to hang your home’s most prized picture in your office where you can give it the admiration and audience it deserves. Productive work doesn’t always emerge from a desk and chair. If there’s space, invest in a cosy armchair for those times when you just need to read and absorb that 200-page report (or a favourite book).

Add some indoor plants to help keep the air fresh. There’s even scientific research to show that the essential oils emitted by plants can help focus the mind and alleviate stress. To optimise light, paint the room a pale colour to reflect ambient light and create a sense of space and freedom (though avoid stark white unless you want to evoke some sort of clinical, science-laboratory environment). Invest in one or two decent speakers so you can enjoy your favourite music, listen to podcasts or even just download nature sounds to soothe your soul without providing a distraction.

And finally, make sure there’s plenty of fresh air. Nothing kills productivity faster than a stuffy, stale environment.

Six: Plan for storage

Just as important as your work space, is the efficiency with which you use any storage space. Your home office should feel open and airy – not cluttered. Filing cabinets are often a necessity, and thanks to a wave of new designers who probably work from home themselves, they no longer look like the ugly steel boxes we saw in offices a generation ago. Now they come in every style from sleek to antique.

Shelves should be practical and must definitely be strong enough to hold up a row of books, which, if you’ve ever overfilled a book-box when moving, you’ll know can pack an incredible amount of weight.

Remembering Tip No.1 (and No.5 for that matter), try and make your storage solutions as attractive as they are functional. Overflowing or unlabelled boxes and piles of papers that threaten to topple like a Jenga stack, can be as demoralising as they are frustrating.

Seven: Don’t get trapped in it

One of the biggest health risks facing Australia’s white-collar professionals is sitting for prolonged periods. It’s surprising how quickly the time can pass between leg-stretches.

You can find apps and programs to remind you to stand up and walk around – some can even freeze your computer screen for a moment or two to force you to drag yourself away from the desk. A less dramatic option is to place your printer in another room so you need to actually get up and walk to it to get your printing (or more likely, change the toner cartridge… again!). Avoid the temptation of installing a coffee machine or kettle into your home office. It might sound convenient, but it will also trap you in the space.

Finally, don’t let your home office isolate you. While large corporate office environments have their down-sides, one of the the great advantages of a busy workplace is the social interaction. When you work from home – especially full-time – it can be very easy to become isolated and lonely. Make an effort to regularly visit colleagues and clients personally, or invite them to come to your office – after all, when you’ve gone to all the effort to create the ideal work environment, why not show it off now and then?

Eight: Promote it when you’re selling

Finally, if you’re putting your home on the market, a well-presented home office is one of the best ways to demonstrate your home’s adaptability. In fact, it may well encourage prospective buyers to consider how they would use the space more efficiently if they buy your property, and it allows them to see your home as more than just living, washing and sleeping spaces, but as a place that could, at last, give them the freedom to enjoy the great dream of the 21st century: true work-life balance.