Location! Location! Location!

No, I'm not going to discuss buying your next home (well, maybe a little bit), but instead I want to write a bit about selecting a spot for your home office.  While your home office space is not technically a tool, it might be considered the best (or weakest) tool in your bag.  You might not have put any thought into it yet, but the location (or lack of location) of your home office can have a considerable effect on your productivity.

When planning for the location of your home office here are several things you might keep in mind: your acceptable proximity to the rest of the house (or busy sections of the house); access to cable, phone lines, network cables, wireless; acceptable levels of ambient noise; your affect on the rest of the house - do you need to make calls to different time zones?; do you plan on taking in business guests?; and more.

When I was first presented with the opportunity to work from home I was extremely excited but ill prepared to do so.  At the time we were living in a small condo with 3 bedrooms and 2 children, no basement, no office, no extra rooms at all.  We were also happily motoring along using not quite 56k dial-up because neither cable nor DSL were available in our area, though it had been promised to be close for at least two years. 

What we did have was a psuedo-office - actually just a desk used previously for nothing more than bill-paying - in the corner of our bedroom which I quickly adopted as my new "home office".  Needless to say, it did not work too well especially considering that my wife was working midnights and needed to sleep at times during the day.  Weeks later (after being run out of the bedroom!) I relocated my "office" to a corner of the garage.  I was able to string CAT5 across the attic and luckily there were two existing electrical outlets and some overhead lights already in there.  It wasn't an optimal situation, especially in the winter when I had my space heater practically in my lap, but it was much quieter than the house proper and I was out of the way of everyone else. I survived about a year and a half in the garage until we bought a new house.

Since we were building the new house and I already had some working from home experience there were several things that I was able to plan for, but some others I had not planned as well as I had hoped.  I had the electricians put extra outlets in the area of the basement I planned to use for my office (since I was running approx 4 computers at any one time), I had cable and phone run to the area, and I had them run CAT5 from a central spot in the basement to various areas of the house.  What I did not foresee was the effect that spending 10-12 hours a day working in a dark corner of a basement can have on a person's psyche.  I had originally chosen the basement because we were building a 3 bedroom home so I didn't have the option of using a spare bedroom.  However, we did plan to create a bedroom in the basement at some point and move my son down there - so I would eventually gain a bedroom.  I also thought the basement would be heaven compared to the garage.  And it was, for a while.

For me, my office in a dark corner of our unfinished basement had several disadvantages.  Because the basement is not finished yet there are no doors to close to block off sounds from the rest of the house - in fact because it is wide open it tends to echo.  Its out of the way location, while a benefit most of the time, was a hinderance at times, though.  We went through my daughter's kindergarten year with me getting her off the bus, getting her lunch, and then keeping her busy until my wife got home from work or my son got home from school.   This usually only amounted to about two hours of free time, but it can seem like forever when trying to split time between her on the main level and my desk/computer/phone in the basement.  Finally, from the basement you can hear everything going on in the rest of the house - kids screaming and chasing dogs through the house, dogs barking and chasing kids through the house, etc. There were plenty of times I had to keep my microphone turned off while on conference calls and hope that the one or two times I had to say something it wouldn't sound like the house was falling down around me.

I don't currently work from home exclusively, but I do work from home occasionally and I do plenty of work from home in the evenings - like now!  My new favorite "home office" location is wherever I'm sitting with my laptop.  Have wireless, will travel!  In fact, I enjoy it so much that I have to force myself to go down to the basement and check my home email, etc. While this informal setup is fine for the occasional bit of work, I'm sure it is not structured enough for long term productivity - at least not for me, but it could be perfect for others - especially someone who is a stay-at-home father or mother.

If I have the opportunity to design our next home around my home office (yeah - right), I will plan for a second floor spare bedroom that is on the opposite side of the house from the kids' bedrooms for my office and I will setup a "server closet" in an area of the basement.  That sounds like the perfect setup to me... since getting rid of the kids is not an option at this point.

I hope my story helps provide some insight and helps you to avoid some of the problems that I have run into.  As with most things, an ounce of planning is worth a pound of prevention.  Though I know that many times you have to work with what you have on hand.  

This is post #1 in the series Essential tools for geographically dispersed development teams.

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