Whether you run a business from home, have the flexibility of home working, or perhaps your ‘nine to five’ overflows into evenings and weekends, a dedicated space or room is all-important for maintaining the boundaries between work and home life.
Where to Locate Your Office in the Home?
First, establish what you need the space for. Some uses may merely require an under-utilised alcove or a landing. For example, the following needs could be fit into existing spaces or multifunctional rooms:
- A spot from which to answer a couple of emails
- Somewhere for the children to undertake homework without distractions
- A room flexible enough for occasional home working as well as doubling as a guest bedroom?
However, if you’ll be working from home on a daily or weekly basis, a dedicated home office is a must. Careful consideration should be given to the location of this room. Ideally, it should be out of sight and hearing range of the main domestic hubs, so a first floor room or a converted loft can be solutions. But, if you’re likely to have clients visiting, dedicating a lower floor room, preferably with its own entrance, is a good idea.
For those short on space, then a garden office (be that a dedicated room above a detached garage or an outbuilding) is another option. This also gives you a sense of being removed from you homelife. If you choose a garden office you will need to:
- Ensure it is well insulated for year-round use.
- Secure it, especially if you have computers or expensive electronics stored here.
- Check it falls under Permitted Development (or apply for planning permission).
Once you have established where your home office will be, then careful planning and design is the key to creating a successful work space.
Choosing a Layout
A good place to start is sketching out a scaled room plan. Using this plan, you can begin to establish the size and positioning of desks and how this relates to windows, doors and other features in the room.
A desk or worksurface generous enough to accommodate a computer and to spread out files on, is a must. From here you can begin to plan how storage may be incorporated. You should make sure items you need on a daily basis are within arm’s reach of your seating position.
It perhaps goes without saying, but plentiful storage is vital in helping to keep everything you need to hand and organised. This means a place for everything from books and files to laptops and servers. You might also consider pull-out drawers for scanners and printers, as well as shallow shelving for stationary. Fitted furniture is one way of making the most of every last inch of available space in your room, and there are companies who can offer a design and installation service.
Once you have decided where to place furniture, ensuring there’s an adequate number of power and LAN (wired internet) sockets in the right position (which may even mean adding floor-mounted sockets) for laptops, printers, etc. is a priority. Do this before first fix, as once the plasterboard is up it’ll be difficult to add these without undoing handwork.
Designing a Home Office
It’s not often you get an opportunity to decide how your working environment will look, so when it comes to the interior scheme have a good think about how you intend to use it and what kind of environment will invite you to work.
If you need a room that tempts you to work in the evenings use lots of soft textures, natural materials and warm colours (a good approach for rooms which double as guest bedrooms). Or to encourage you to get stuck in first thing in the morning, try a fresh, clean palette with a few colourful bursts.
If there’s a potential that clients will visit, or you’ll be using this room for video conferences, then aesthetics are doubly important — they’ll set the tone for your business. In this case, bold design ideas may need to be tempered and overly personal paraphernalia is best banished to other areas of the home.
Lighting plays an important role in ensuring a home office is both practical and comfortable for work. Too little light and you could strain your eyes, while light positioned in the wrong direction can cause glare on computer screens. Once again, it’s vital to plan for this aspect of the room design at an early stage in proceedings.
Both the vista and the natural light a window provides are important to wellbeing. And, glimpses over the garden will help prevent visual fatigue by encouraging you to pause and look into the distance after long periods staring at a screen.
Care needs to be taken in the positioning of the desk in relation to windows:
- A desk at right angles to a window will help prevent glare on screens.
- Placing a desk so that the window lies behind (unless you intend to use blinds to diffuse natural light) will provide no view and lots of glare.
When it comes to artificial light, there’s a whole set of other considerations. For example, adults may want to use the work space at night with softer evening lamp light, while children doing the homework will probably require a more crisp, direct, even wash of light from positioned down lights.
Layering light types is essential in a multifunctional room and for setting the scene for work:
- Ambient lighting: general lighting such as a main central light
- Task lighting: such as a desk lamp or similar light to work by
- Accent lighting: used to illuminate features for interest
Careful positioning is important too:
- To avoid harsh shadows on the desk area use two or more low-glare LED downlights to cross light the work space.
- Ensure fittings are positioned so that you’re not working in your own shadow — i.e. do not position them behind the desk.
- Select a wide beam lamp for any downlights and perhaps a lens to soften the light and reduce glare.
- Avoid using direct light on a high-gloss desk or bookcase as this will create glare.
Finally, energy-efficient LEDs are a wise investment. They’re more expensive than halogen and CFL bulbs, but the savings in the long term are worthwhile.
Heating a Home Office
If you’re spending long periods of time in your home office while every other member of the household is out at work or school, then giving thought to heating is a priority. The key here is ‘zoning’, or having the freedom to control the temperature in rooms or areas of the house, as well as over the entire system. This is often easier to achieve if you’re building from scratch or undertaking a whole-house renovation project, and planning for a new heating system anyway.
Wet underfloor heating (UFH) lends itself to zoning. What’s more, UFH is most effective when left running for extended periods — so it is ideal for rooms occupied for a considerable proportion of the day. Opting for a central control and room thermostats, which allow you to control which zones are on and at what temperature, is a must.
Radiators too can be zoned, and smart heating controls (which can also be used with UFH) can be introduced as a retrofit solution to control up to 12 zones. A smart heating control panel works by communicating wirelessly with nodes fitted to the radiator valves to control temperature. Alternatively, a smart phone or tablet app can perform the same function. Such set-ups cost upwards of £250, so it’s worth evaluating capital cost against potential long-term savings.
In existing homes, introducing a single heat source is another cost-effective alternative to running the central heating. Electric options tend to be an easier retrofit solution but this need not mean just electric convection radiators — infrared panels present an interesting alternative. They use radiant heat rather than the air, and can be cleverly disguised as mirrors or decorative wall panels.
Getting Connected: Home Offices and the Internet
Wired or Wireless?
Working at home has become an option for many more of us as a result of the internet. But if you rely on broadband for home working, then plugging in a wireless router and hoping for the best just isn’t going to cut it.
In cities and built-up areas, the number of wireless signals can cause interference, slowing down broadband speeds. Modern building materials can even prohibit wireless signals. Wireless connection has its place in the home, but wired LAN sockets are a must in the home office for a stable and reliable broadband connection.
It is also best to hard-wire all computers and printers to your data network. Consider placing the cabling points on a rear wall rather than just near desks so that you don’t need to clutter up desk space.If you’re building a new home, it’s worth approaching a specialist company (preferably a CEDIA member) who will be able to design and install a wired infrastructure for the whole house around your present and future needs.
For many who live any where remotely off the beaten track, slow broadband can be the bane of home working. ASDL (broadband delivery via telephone line) is currently the most common way in which broadband is distributed — but broadband degrades the further the signal has to travel down these lines from the telephone exchange.
Fibre optic broadband provides superior speed. ‘Fibre to the cabinet’ (FTTC) is the main way in which high-speed broadband will be rolled out — with fibre optic connecting the local telephone exchange to localised cabinets; telephone lines then connect the local cabinet to near-by homes.
If you are any further than 4km from the nearest cabinet then it might be worth looking at alternative options such as satellite or wireless ISP (WISP) for a reliable connection. Satellite broadband is perhaps the better-known alternative. It utilises a two-way connection between a satellite dish installed on your property (much like a Sky dish) and satellite in orbit. The benefit is that it can be used almost anywhere.
- A line of sight is required — so overhanging trees need to be addressed.
- Weather extremes can impact on broadband delivered in this way.
- Latency can be a bit of an issue for tasks such as video conferences and calls.
The lesser-known option is wireless ISP, which utilises radio waves to distribute broadband. A high-speed fibre optic broadband signal is typically sent wirelessly (via radio waves) to a radio mast, which in turn transmits to a small radio antenna installed to a roof.
- This set-up also relies on line of sight between the radio mast and property, meaning masts are typically positioned at high points (usually hill tops or church spires!).
- Installation requires a small antenna on the roof which is connected to a router inside.
- You’ll need permission if you live in a Conservation Area or in a listed home.
- Such initiatives are community or regionally based, so typically bring higher installation and monthly costs compared to those advertised by the large national providers.
- WISP provides good speeds and reliability.
- Another benefit is that you can do away with line rental. VoIP (voice over internet protocol) telephones can instead be utilised for a small monthly fee. Alternatively, a mobile phone often provides all our telephone needs these days. For those with no or little mobile signal, then a picocell is an option.
Compiled with expert advice from:Marek Hallmann, Country Buildings Manager for Oakwrights; Alan Borra of Neville Johnson; Colin Wilkinson of Sharps; Fay Greenhalgh, Senior Designer at John Cullen Lighting; Will Brocklebank of Face-to-Face Digital (facetofacedigital.com); Nic Kilby of SimpyWISP
Main Image: office by Barbara Genda