Whether you're first starting out in the business or transitioning from a storefront location, your first priority should be setting up a functional home office.And even if you've been working from a home office for years, it's never too late to reorganize your workspace.
To help you get started, we consulted some experts in the interior design world, along with some organized home-based agents, for practical tips.
1. Choose your office space wisely. Though it may seem like an obvious first step, you'll need to designate a room for your home office. "You can't let a home office intrude into your home space," says Patricia Bannister of Senatobia, MS-based Bannister Travel. "You have to find a quiet, out-of-the-way space where you can shut the door."
If you have more than one option, Christine McGinnis, director of design for Starwood's new Element brand, advises agents to select an area with access to sunlight, which can help energize you and will afford you a connection with the natural environment. Designing a Space Using Feng Shui
2. Purchase equipment. If you need a computer, many agents recommend buying a laptop. They take up less space and allow flexibility to work almost anywhere. "I work 24/7, so I don't want to have to be in my office 24/7," says Myrtis Rimassa of Florida-based Leisure Quest Travel, who uses her laptop when traveling.
When Peter Carideo of Chicago-based CRC Travel set up an office at his vacation home in Michigan, he set up his house with wireless Internet. Now Carideo can take his laptop and headset outside and work by the pool. Having a laptop also affords you the option of doing presentations at clients' homes, which for some is a large chunk of their business.
In addition to a computer, you'll want to set up a dedicated phone line and purchase a fax machine, printer and copier. You can buy a three-in-one unit, which is highly recommended and used by most agents we spoke with.
When setting up your equipment, pay attention to the number of outlets and types of connections that you will need, says McGinnis, who stresses the importance of having easy access. "You shouldn't have to bend down on your hands and knees to plug something in. Power bars and other charging station-type products can assist with this. Pop up Jackpacks in desks can provide surface-mounted points of connectivity."
3. Select your furniture. If combining your home office with a guest room, you'll want to conceal as much equipment as possible. Residential interior designer Paul Davis (www.pauldavisnewyork.com) typically designs custom furniture for clients with built-in storage systems. "We make a plan for all equipment, including printers and computers," Davis says, "and build it in whether it's a closet with pull-out shelves or a desk with doors and drawers. Figure out what you need first and design the space around that."
Hiding as much equipment as possible will keep your space neat and clutter-free and allow you to combine room functions if necessary. If combining a home office and a den, you may want to get creative with your space. For example, Davis suggests using artwork to conceal a TV. Artwork that retracts to reveal a TV will allow you to use the TV as a larger computer screen and avoid having your room look like a TV room.
If you have a tendency to do presentations at your home for clients, or are considering it, you'll need additional seating. Whatever furniture you end up purchasing, be sure it's ergonomic. "Make sure your computer screen is at a good height, you have adequate lighting and your chair is at the right height," advises Rimassa.
4. Evaluate your storage space. When Rimassa set up her home office, she modeled it after her workspace in a corporate office. She purchased rolling drawers and turned her closet into a filing cabinet. Various sized drawers are designated for certain companies and regions, while bookcases store travel books and CDs.
Carideo uses electronic programs to eliminate clutter. Most of his files are organized in folders on his e-mail system and he uses an electronic Rolodex and calendar. However, if you are going to store most of your information on the computer, you must back up your files. Invest in some flash drives or system to back up your hard drive.
5. Keep important information close at hand. Many consultants we spoke with decorated their walls with world maps for quick geography references. Others had also set up dry erase boards to write notes, and hung cork boards to post important faxes or seminar reminders.
Bannister has found having a desktop vertical file helpful for organizing paperwork, such as credit card authorization forms. -Erin F. Sternthal