Create a Home Office that Works

Author Mary Cantando has worked out of her home office in Raleigh for more than 10 years. It is the perfect setup for the nationally recognized expert on women business owners.

Located in a separate room off the main foyer, her home office features a large L-shaped desk, floor-to-ceiling built-in shelving, a large bookcase and even an Oriental rug. It is ideal for working on the various books she has written on women and their challenges and successes in the business world.

“It is important for my home office to be functional, but also feel good for me personally when I am working there,” Cantando says. “Sometimes I get started at 3:30 a.m. and don’t stop until late at night. I wanted a place that would be conducive for work and still be my own special place.”

Cantando is one of more than 20.7 million people who do some work at home as part of a primary job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor. These workers, who reported working at home at least once per week, account for about 15 percent of total nonagricultural employment.

Consider Form and Function

For these people who are working from home, local experts agree that it is important to have a functional, yet personable, home office. Gone are the days of simply locating a card table and folding chair in the corner of the dining room and calling it a home office.

Shannon Powell, president of Raleigh-based Active Ergonomics, helped Cantando set up her home office. Since 1997, Powell has conducted more than 4,000 assessments on setting up an ergonomically correct office. She recommends spending time selecting the correct basic setup of a home office: chair, desk, computer and lighting.

“You always need a good chair that can be adjusted,” Powell says. “You also need to adjust the height of the computer keyboard. There is no way to achieve good posture with a laptop computer. If possible, it is important to have a separate monitor that can be adjusted also.”

Sharon Lake-Gargano, owner of GPI, a Cary-based interior design firm, says many people give up their formal living room to make a home office. Others often pick a spare bedroom or dining room to transform into a place to work.

For those who just need a place to sit and pay bills, a self-contained desk with a computer and keyboard tray can be ideal. But for those who are working all day, every day from home, a more formal office setting is needed.

“In a home office, you need both form and function,” Lake-Gargano says. “Among other things, you need to consider how much time you are going to spend at the computer, how much storage you need, what type of storage, and if you need an open work space in addition to a desk.”

Budget also comes into play when setting up a home office. Reasonably priced office furniture can be purchased at major office retailers. For those with a generous budget, built-in shelves, a large executive-style desk, adjustable chair and plenty of storage space for work and personal touches can be ideal.

Both Cantando and Powell agree it is important to make your home office a special place that you look forward to working in, not a place you want to avoid.

“I have made my office a place with an atmosphere that encourages me to work, but at the same time is comfortable,” Cantando says. “I really feel that it is my own environment and is very special to me.”

Jane Paige is a freelance writer in Cary who works from a home office.