Evaluate Your Home Office Needs
The first step in creating a home office plan that works is to evaluate what you plan to do in the space.
Say, for example, your work requires you to prepare client packages or corporate gift baskets. First, think about how you work. Break down your work day into the individual tasks you do and the spaces in which you do them. Each one of these spaces will be known as a work zone.
Your home office work may be at a computer on a desk with a stack of CDs and reference materials close at hand. This is Zone 1.
Assembling package materials or collating information packets requires horizontal layout space. Necessary inventory items and business samples can be kept in nearby bins. This is Zone 2.
Your work may have you meet with clients in your home office. That meeting space, with its couch, two comfortable chairs, a table and floor lamps, is Zone 3. You may find you have other zones. Detail each one and prioritize it according to how necessary it is to the work you must accomplish.
Thoroughly and honestly evaluate your work. As Frank Isaacson, architect and owner of Techline in Appleton, WI, an independent studio providing commercial and professional home office solutions, says: “Being honest with your space needs can even take in how many dogs you have. In other words, it's all very personal.” Will you need a zone for the kids to use? A zone for reading and review? It all depends on what's going to go on in your office.
Do the Math
Now take out your tape measure, pencil, and paper and get to work. Measure the length, width, and height of the equipment and furniture in each of your work zones, including tables and floor lamps, the stereo, and TV, if you use them in your home office. Write down the access space needed for your printer and your scanner. Getting the numbers on paper now will add to the success of your home office design project.
In your layout and collating space, take the time to lay out sample materials and place them as you would when you work on them. Actually place those 8-1/2×11 sheets of paper, those rolls of colorful wrapping cellophane, whatever you use, exactly as you would in a real work situation. Then measure how much room those materials take.
When you've got all your numbers together, it's time to add-zone by zone. Zone 1 might need 12 square feet for a desk, 4 square feet for a chair, 3 square feet for a file cabinet, and 1.5 square feet for a computer tower. Zone 2 might call for 16 square feet for a table and 2 square feet for bins.
Zone 3, your meeting space, will probably need some additional space included. Besides the couch, chairs, table, and lamps, you will need that comfort factor for potential clients. Call in some friends or family members to act as models and to provide some real distance checks. How far apart should the chairs be? Is there sufficient leg room? You want to build a comfort zone into this area and not have clients literally meeting you nose to nose. Figure in those factors and Zone 3 could have a space need of 48 square feet.
These three hypothetical zones would require an office space of about 57 square feet. In addition, you'll probably need a bit of leg room to get up and move about.
Design a Home Office Plan
You know what space you need and you know what space you've got. You've prioritized your work zones and have considered the options. Now you need to create a plan for your home office.
Try creating a simple small-scale two-dimensional model of your office space. Cut out paper squares and rectangles and label them to represent the items in your office. Create a same-scale layout of your intended office space on a sheet of paper. Move the labeled items around in their appropriate predetermined zones to find the best fit for your work.
If you want the benefit of experience, contact a professional home office designer through your local office furniture store. There are many products available to help save and maximize space. Computer equipment can stack vertically in specialized towers. Extended work tables can fold up and roll away. Client meeting tables can take added leaves to make extended work space. With the information that you now have in hand, a designer should be able to devise a home office plan to meet your comfort, productivity, and safety needs.
Taxes: “Office at Home” or “Home Office”?
When deciding on your home office, consider possible tax deductions. While you should be able to deduct expenses from your home office used exclusively for your home-based business, you also may be able to deduct some expenses if you meet certain IRS requirements. Those requirements include working at home for the convenience of your employer and storage of supplies.
To qualify to claim expenses for business use, the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) generally requires that a home office be for exclusive and regular use as a place of business or to meet or deal with clients or customers. The area can be a room or a separately identified space within a room.
If your children use the office computer or desk for their homework, you won't meet the requirements. There's no mixing of business and personal uses. The only exceptions would be if you use part of your home for storing inventory or product samples.
If your home office space does qualify, the IRS provides two methods to determine the business percentage of your home and its resulting deductible operating expenses. They are:
- Divide the area (length multiplied by the width) used for business by the total area of your home.
- If the rooms in your home are all about the same size, divide the number of rooms used for business by the total number of rooms in your home.
Talk with a tax professional to determine your individual home office situation.