Sep 10, 2020
There’s No Place Like Your Home Office
By Sarah Netter
Landing that corner office with a view is now within reach since the COVID-19 global pandemic has forced an unprecedented number of people to begin working from home.
And by corner office we mean a corner of your kitchen, your living room or your bedroom with a view of whatever is outside your window.
Less than four percent of the U.S. workforce worked from home, pre-pandemic, at least half of the time or more, according to research and consulting firm Global Workplace Analytics. They predict that the pandemic will lead to more people taking advantage of that opportunity after life returns to normal, up to 25 to 30 percent.
Remote work allows employees the comfort and flexibility of working the way they feel most productive. More than 80 percent of U.S. office workers surveyed said they want to continue working from home part of the time when the pandemic is over.
The best place to get work done is a home office that is dedicated to your work. We spoke to two writers and business owners who have been working from home for more than a decade to get their best tips for a successful home office, along with how much you can expect to spend.
Find a location that works best for you
Take a look around your home and imagine your potential set up. Do you have a spare room you could transform into a home office? A corner of your dining room? A large walk-in closet?
Pick the space that is the most comfortable to you and that you can envision being the most productive.
“I have a really cool spot in the corner of my kitchen where there’s two huge windows and I have a desk that is pushed up in front of that corner,” said Jennifer Dienst, a Charleston-based writer and the owner of a travel advising business. She has worked from home for 10 years.
“It’s one of the reasons why I bought the house,” she said. “Having a space to work where I have this beautiful view and all this natural light is really important.”
Sarah Ratliff, a Puerto Rico-based freelance writer and the owner of a content marketing agency, settled on a corner of her bedroom, taking advantage of a dividing wall.
“We just rearranged things and I made a little office,” she said. She used two desks to make an L shape.
“That gave me kind of that square look in the office,” she said. “And I put a credenza in the back that has my printer and my files and any binders I need. Things are kind of tucked away nicely”.
Get set up and find your office vibe
Working from home on a regular basis means you will need more than a laptop and a free seat on the couch. It doesn’t have to cost thousands of dollars to set up, but it has to be functional and comfortable.
Sometimes spending more money up front will save money later on.
“One way to reduce costs a lot was to get a really good chair. So that has been my saving grace. It’s the most comfortable chair I’ve ever had, said Ratliff, who spent more than $400 on an ergonomic desk chair from Office Depot. “It was so worth it. It fits perfectly in relation to the desk and the monitor and the height where my hands would be.”
She estimates that the chair saved her about $2,000 in adjustable desks, computer monitors and keyboard trays that she would have otherwise needed to work free of the neck and back pain she’s had since an injury when she was younger.
Ergonomics should be a priority, not an afterthought, when it comes to setting up a home office. According to Oregon Occupational Safety and Health, good ergonomics leads to more productivity, less missed work and less pain from muscle and joint strain. That means your chair, your feet, your desk height, your computer monitor and your keyboard should be positioned in a way that puts the least amount of stress on your body so you can sit or stand comfortably while you work.
If you are working for an employer, it’s likely you will be given a work laptop or at least a steep subsidy. If you are working from home as a contract employee, getting a good, reliable computer is absolutely critical to your productivity.
“My life and my work is on my laptop, so I have to have it. I can’t work without it,” Dienst said. “So that’s an important investment for sure.”
Dienst and Ratliff both use Mac computers, which start at just under $1,000 and go up from there, depending on the model. You could also find deals on PCs for hundreds of dollars less as long as you have enough memory and processing speed to get your work done quickly and efficiently.
While Dienst waits for her computers to conk out before replacing them, Ratliff takes a proactive approach and replaces hers every five years or so.
“If I can’t work, we can’t eat,” she said. “We don’t want to wait until I start having problems to replace a computer. We just make sure I’m always up and running no matter what.”
You don’t always have to spend top dollar in every aspect of your office. Dienst found her beloved Crate and Barrel desk on the Facebook marketplace. It was originally about $500, but Dienst paid less than half secondhand.
Other must haves:
A printer. “Even if you don’t print things that often, if you work from home you will print more things than you realize,” Dienst said. (Many can be purchased for $100 to $200.)
Software. “I’ve had to spend money on things I never would have thought of before,” said Ratliff, who pays a few hundred dollars each month for software such as Hootsuite for social media management, Trello for assignment and management organization, and Xero and Freshbooks for bookkeeping. (Costs can range from free to several hundred dollars a year.)
Furniture. Ratliff uses a credenza to stay organized, while Dienst just spent about $150 on a new filing cabinet from Wayfair. “I really should have just paid more to have one that was put together because It took me three hours and I cried twice,” she admitted. “Putting together filing cabinets is not easy.”
Take advantage of tax deductions and employer perks
The upfront costs of creating and maintaining a home office may seem daunting, but the good news is that you may be able to deduct almost everything on your taxes if you are self-employed.1
If you qualify for the write off, you can only write off the space that is dedicated solely for work. So you can’t deduct the entire square footage of your kitchen or your bedroom, for example, but you can take a measuring tape and deduct the square footage of your office space.
You may also be able to write off any office-related furniture you’ve purchased that year, such as chairs, desks, filing systems and you can deduct any office supplies, including printers, ink, pens, paper, staples and software.
“In my business, I try to be as organized as possible because it’s costly to not be,” Ratliff said. “At the end of the year I just send my accountant spreadsheets.”
Other out of pocket costs you may be able to deduct include:
- A portion of your cell phone bill based on how often it’s used for work versus personal use.
- A portion of your Internet service.
- Work-related subscription fees for trade magazines or online libraries.
- Gas mileage for work trips if not compensated through your employer.
In addition to providing the basics for work-from-home employees, such as computers and Internet service, some employers are getting creative with their work-from-home perks, providing everything from headphones and other work-related electronics to stress reduction programs and even Disney+ streaming services to help entertain the kids at home during the pandemic.
Make your space inviting
One great perk of working from a home office is that you can make the space your own. For Dienst that means putting up several plants in her office space for what she calls a “greenhouse effect.” For Ratliff that means making space under her desk for her officemate, her beloved German shepherd.
“Sometimes I sit with my feet perched on his chest,” she said. “It’s not the best ergonomics, but we like it.”
“That helps keep the space cool and make it so that I can adjust the light if I need to,” she said. “If it’s bright and hot you are going to want to go take a nap in a dark room.”
Wherever you set up your home office, make sure it is a space where you feel productive, comfortable and ready to work. And remember, the couch is always there for breaks.
1 This information should not be construed as Tax or Legal advice. Please consult a Tax professional for your questions.