Q&A: How to set up a home office

Emma Jones of Enterprise Nation provides practical tips about setting up a home-based office for your new business

How important is a dedicated office space?

Vital. That way, people will know not to disturb you when you’re working from home. It can be all too easy for people to think it's OK to call for a chat or for family-matters to encroach on your working time. Also, you can remove yourself at the end of the day and leave work behind. Locations range from attics to garden sheds. A spare room is still the most popular choice, but the garden shed office is fast catching on.

But a small office space can have a negative effect...

You’d be surprised at what can be achieved with little space. I’ve seen many home-based businesses start from desks that fold away under the stairs. You can take advantage of foldaway desks, etc. If you have loads of space – fine. But you don’t need acres of space to start a business – just enough to call your own.

How important are natural light and good ventilation?

Natural light is good for your eyes, mood and productivity, but it’s not wise to place your computer directly in strong sunlight. Also make sure you can read you screen easily. The space must also be adequately served by artificial light for winter and if you have to do anything at night. You might need a desk lamp. Ventilation also affects mood, so open windows regularly to let in fresh air.

I guess I need enough plug sockets...

To an extent, for printers, lamps, etc, but the beauty of Wi-Fi is you don’t need to be tied to sockets when it comes to PCs. Many internet service providers now give out wireless routers for free. They come in two types – one for ADSL Internet service providers such as Sky and BT; the other for cable internet providers such as Virgin Media.

What about decoration?

Light colours make rooms look bigger. A couple of nice photographs can make the space much more pleasant, perhaps a family snapshot, picture of a special place or art print. A memo board can be useful. Introduce some greenery, too. Office flora helps humidity, which can boost mood. Keep the space as clutter-free as possible – effective storage is vital. A room with a window view can also be good for spirits and don’t worry too much about occasional distractions outside – you get many more of these in traditional offices.

Can I make do with my dining table and chairs as office furniture?

I wouldn’t. A good desk and comfortable chair can be among the most important investments you make when working from home. Don’t go for the cheapest option, because comfort is key. Only consider chairs designed for computer use and test them thoroughly before buying. If you sit in an awkward position you will put your body under stress, so make sure you can adjust height and angle. Your feet should be flat on the floor and your back straight. The top of your monitor should be at eye level, a couple of feet away.

What office technology and supplies do I need?

Probably a PC [personal computer] or laptop, printer and landline telephone if you’re going to be making and receiving many calls. Some printers come with an inbuilt fax facility, others can copy and scan. Because of email, faxing is less common, but in any case, now you can use virtual fax services. You’re given a fax number and when you receive one the service provider emails it to you. Don’t forget to visit your local office suppliers to stock up on pens, highlighters, pads, printer paper, envelopes, Post-It notes, a stapler, hole punch, etc.

Does health and safety apply to a home office?

Yes. Once your premises are set up, carry out a health and safety assessment. It’s quick and easy. The five steps you need to take are detailed in a handy downloadable [PDF] Health and Safety Executive guide. Basically, you must:

  1. identify all hazards
  2. decide who might be harmed and how
  3. assess the risks and take appropriate action to remove them or reduce them
  4. record your findings
  5. check the risks from time to time and take further steps where necessary.

Further reading