Is Your Home Office a Real Office?

Is Your Home Office a help or a Hindrance?
Does Your Home Office Work for You?

A home office can be a luxury, affording you the comfort of working in your pajamas and eliminating the hassle of commuting more than a few feet to your desk. However, if your computer is tottering on a pile of papers on your dining room table and your files are stashed in a cardboard box under the kitchen sink, then you are probably not working at your maximum efficiency.

Working at home can be both a blessing and a challenge. Clutter, everyday errands, even other family members can pose a threat to your focus and hinder completion of important tasks. The trick is learning to separate your working life from your personal responsibilities and carving out both a space and a time to concentrate solely on work.

Moreover, if you have been claiming a home office deduction on your taxes, a sub par workspace could be costly if you are ever audited. If you are claiming a portion of your rent or mortgage as office space, you best be able to prove that that area is used solely for business purposes.

Claim Your Space
One of the most important things to remember when setting up a home office is to own your particular space. (Even if you are sharing a home office, it is critical that each person has their own specific work area).

Your workspace can be carved out of a guest room, den, basement or craft area but when you are working, it can only serve one purpose. Thus, during work hours, your office is off limits to other family members. If you have to, post a sign on your door to keep away unwanted visitors. If you are easily distracted, you may want to set up an office in a space that has a door that can be locked.

Find Your Space
If you don't have a spare bedroom, basement, attic or a loft to convert into a home office then claiming your space may be more challenging. Converting a closet into an office may seem like an unworkable concept, but with careful planning and design, a closet space can be both functional and beautiful. Most closets have enough space to provide a nook to accommodate a desk, shelves, file cabinet and lighting. A corkboard can be used for tacking up memos and other pieces of stray paper and a message board can help you keep notes and organize pieces of paper.

If you don't have a physical space with a door available in your house or apartment, room partitions or curtains can create borders and boundaries within larger rooms. Although a curtain won't provide a sound barrier, it can serve to divert your eyes from the distractions (co-habitants) around you.

What to Do (And What not to Do)

Although it is possible to work on a rickety coffee table and sit in a folding chair, at the end of your work day your back and neck will not be happy. It almost goes without saying, but for the sake of your health and wellbeing we highly recommend investing in a quality desk and chair. These can be found in any office supply store at a relatively inexpensive price. Test the chairs with the desk before purchasing and make sure the chair is not so overstuffed that you want to curl up and take a snooze. (For the same reason, we don't recommend working in bed.) Avoid lounge chairs or couches that only promote bad posture and make you drowsy. There's a reason why those school chairs weren't very cushy!

When furnishing your home office, leave out anything you would not see in a regular office. For instance, most real offices (aside from TV or radio studios) aren't equipped with televisions, radios, or other electronic equipment primarily used for leisure. Don't be tempted by these luxuries as they will greatly distract from your productivity.

IRS Office Deductions
Even if you aren't claiming your office as an IRS deduction, it's good to use some of their criteria as a template if you are serious about working from home. If possible, do not use the office for personal activities. That means no doubling the room as a craft or television room--even on weekends. However, you can use the space for storing items related to the business, such as product samples or files.

To qualify for a tax deduction, your home office must be the primary or head office of your business. It is critical that you use the office regularly, as in more than once or twice a week. Phone records (a separate phone line is a must) can help provide proof if you are ever audited. Some business accounts also recommend keeping a work log and a detailed calendar.

A dedicated fax machine and photocopier will also help you qualify for a home office deduction. Other tips include having business cards printed with the office number and your home address. If your clients visit your office, have them sign in. Finally, take pictures of the space and make sure that the office doesn't display personal items.

A legitimate home office deduction allows you to save money on office expenses and write off any improvements you make to the space. Here's another reason to put your tool belt to use!

Work It
For many people, working from home is a luxury and a dream. If you are among those lucky enough to work and live in the same place, then make sure your space works for you. Eliminate distractions, design a workable office and you are sure to improve your focus, your productivity and find yourself happily working at home for years to come.

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