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April 19, 2010

Setting Up a Home Office: 13 Essentials for Working at Home

Lauren Berger, the self-proclaimed Intern Queen, gives details on the 13 must-haves for working at home.

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woman at computer

Photo Credit: Johann Helgason

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1. Smartphone

If you are going to be a professional and run your own business you need to look like one, and that means getting a Smartphone that can help you organize your life and check your e-mails from home, the coffee shop, or wherever you might be. Try to get something current and with a camera so that you can instantly add pictures to your Facebook/Twitter pages.

Lauren’s pick: Curve2 by BlackBerry.

2. Lightweight Laptop

My laptop is my best friend. You want something that you can carry around on-the-go but that also has plenty of room for memory and your everyday applications. Netbooks are great but simply won’t hold all of your data. Check out lightweight laptops in both PC and Mac. Make sure you pick up Microsoft Office when you purchase your laptop as you should only be sending documents in Word format. The programs that already exist on your computer will not translate properly when you are sending business documents and proposals. Remember, computers don’t come with Microsoft Office installed anymore. I would also suggest getting a computer with the video camera installed. Skype is becoming a prime way of communicating for employers, and many stay-at-home folks conduct meetings over Skype.

Lauren’s pick: Dell Inspiron 1318 in navy blue.

3. A Uniform

The clothes you wear when you work from home really depend on the type of business you are running. I would suggest that you still get dressed in the morning in whatever you would wear to your office (if you had one). My company, Intern Queen Inc. (internqueen.com), has a very casual/collaborative/entrepreneurial company culture, so my day-to-day is done wearing jeans. What I’ve come to realize is that you are more productive and feel better about yourself and your business when you dress the part. Also, if you get ready in the morning, you are ready to leave the house at anytime and attend meetings, lunches, etc. Decide what your basic “uniform” will consist of and try to mix and match as much as possible. I’ve come to find that working from home can save you tons of money on clothing — especially if you’re a fashionista. I find myself only spending big bucks on clothing when I have specific conferences and big meetings to plan for.

Lauren’s picks: Joe’s Jeans in Dark Denim Skinny Fit (does wonders for the behind), pale-colored solid tops, and cotton vests for spring (by Pinko, Trinity, Luxe), basic whites and blacks by Forever 21, black leggings by Nordstrom BP, and flat riding boots by Corso Como.

4. A Go-To Scarf

Shop around and find an inexpensive light yet colorful scarf. I promise this will be your spring essential for working at home. I wear a different scarf almost every time I go to a meeting. It’s a great way to spruce up your outfit and make it look super-trendy. The scarf will also keep you warm when the home office gets chilly and if you are traveling for work or pleasure, it will keep you warm but cute on the plane.

Lauren’s pick: Orange and pink plaid fringe scarf by Gap.

5. Colorful Office Supplies

I know we aren’t decorating Elle Woods’s office, but to keep things bright and to keep you awake and alert, I suggest investing in colored office supplies. At most office supply stores you can find a variety of colored paper clips, thumbtacks, staples, staplers, tape dispensers, spirals, folders, and binders. Make your office look pretty so that you smile every time you sit down. Trust me, it’s these simple hints of color that will make you happy to sit down at your desk on a daily basis.

Lauren’s pick: Binders in green, periwinkle blue, and hot pink available at OfficeMax, Staples, Office Depot.

6. Super-Comfy Desk Chair

You will be sitting at that desk chair for hours upon hours. Make sure it’s a chair that provides the proper support. You might want to get rid of that bridge chair or replace the extra kitchen table chair you've been using. If you have to get up from your desk every hour to stretch, that could be a problem. You don’t have to spend a fortune on your desk chair. I suggest checking out vintage stores or used furniture stores to try to find the perfect chair. Also, get a chair that spins around so that you can access everything in your office (or at least the materials behind you) easily.

Also, take an old throw pillow from your storage unit or bedroom and throw it on the back of your chair. This will help support your back even more!

Lauren’s pick: A brown-cushioned vintage chair from a used-furniture store in Florida.

Lauren’s pillow pick: Victoria’s Secret pink- and green-striped throw pillow that reads “PINK.”

7. Laptop Bag

As I mentioned earlier, you want to be prepared to work from anywhere, and if you are going to have a laptop you need the proper way to carry it around town. Sometimes the bags that come with the computers aren’t as stylish as one might want. I would suggest purchasing both a zip-around laptop case and a laptop shoulder bag to carry it around in. You don’t want to balance too many things in your hands and risk dropping your computer. You can find these bags at many department stores, chain stores, and office supply stores.

Lauren’s pick: Crate & Barrel black laptop bag and Steinmart brown snakeskin laptop zip case.

8. Coffeemaker

When you first start working from home, BUDGET is going to be everything. Going to the coffee shop a few times per day can get real pricey real fast. Get yourself a coffeemaker at your local Target/Kmart/Bed Bath & Beyond/Walmart. Purchase a bag of your favorite coffee and go to town making your own coffee whenever you want. Most coffeemakers require minimal cleaning. If you can get a coffeemaker with a timer so that you can set it to brew a cup at a certain time each morning, that’s great!

Lauren’s pick: French Press by Coffee Bean with rich/smooth blends (beans cut for French Press) from Coffee Bean

9. Pandora on iPhone and Computer

Work isn’t always fun. When you aren’t making calls or if you are doing something that doesn’t require 100 percent of your attention, log on to Pandora. You can access this application on your computer via pandora.com or on your phone. Verizon also has Slacker Radio that's similar to Pandora. This is a music application where you can type in the songs you're interested in (artist or type of music) and it will play one song after another for you catering to your taste. Pandora gets me through busywork that could potentially put me to sleep otherwise.

10. A Non-Work-Related Book

Invest in a title that has nothing to do with work. One of the challenges you will face when working from home is the need to separate your work life from your personal life. I’ve found that doing work-related reading before bed can cause an inability to fall asleep and stress. If you are working from home and starting a business, you are most likely very passionate about that business. Give your brain a break and have a book that has nothing to do with your business available to you in the evening.

11. Google Reader to Manage Blogs

Instead of checking a dozen blogs each day, start an account with Google Reader (google.reader.com). It’s a FREE way to manage all of the blogs you read. It sends you updates each time the blogs you follow post something new. It’s a great way to organize all the material that interests you both personally and professionally so that you can cut down on junk mail and get more done in your day.

12. A Small Notebook

Let’s be honest. Your head is constantly spinning with ideas. You need a place to keep track of all of them plus take notes on conference calls and at meetings. Instead of jotting notes down on random pieces of paper, utilize a notebook to keep things organized. You should always have it with you so purchase one that fits in your bag. To keep things bright, I recommend buying a funky-colored notebook that stands out and makes you smile.

Lauren’s pick: Hot pink and pale pink notebooks by Moleskine (available at most Barnes & Noble and Borders stores).

13. File Folders

Most likely you will go through a few filing systems before you find one that works with your routine and work style. Get filing folders because you can keep most things paperless and filed online, BUT you will need paper copies of select materials (contracts, agreements, city/state documents, receipts). File folders don’t need to be anything fancy, as you will more than likely be changing the names on the folders frequently.


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