Tips on setting up a home office

Follow these six tips to make remote work more effective.
By Dawn Wotapka

Eulica Kimber, CPA, recently found herself so unmotivated and frustrated by her home office that she considered fleeing to a co-working space, which may have carried a hefty price tag. But she instead worked with a professional to transform a spare bedroom in her Petersburg, Va., home into the perfect workspace.

Now Kimber, the owner of Firm Foundation Accounting Solutions PLLC, loves her newly designed space and wishes she'd revamped the room sooner — which for years was painted in a dark hunter green and housed an uninspiring, hulking government-surplus desk.

She encourages other accountants to invest in their workspace, whether they work from home occasionally or full time. It's worth some spending here: "It's OK to have a cool and beautiful space," Kimber said.

Here's what to consider:

Pick the right location. First, think about where you're going to work. If no one else is home when you'll be working and you're not planning to claim a home-office tax deduction, it may not matter where you park yourself, "whether in the kitchen, in the garden, or perhaps at a desk in a corner of a living room, bedroom, or on a landing," said Greg Dewald, chief executive of Bright!Tax, an accounting company based in New York City that employs a remote global workforce.

If you're not alone, it's important to carve out a dedicated space — ideally one with a door, Dewald said. If you can, secure a space with natural light, which can boost mood and productivity. For Kimber, designating a room as an office was beneficial because she can work extra early or late without disturbing her family. Another benefit of the dedicated space is that you can close the door when you aren't working, Dewald pointed out. "When you work at home, the line between when work time starts and stops can become blurred," he said. "It's important to be able to 'leave work' and switch off."

Note that to claim a home office deduction, your office space must be used exclusively for business purposes. Also, after the suspension of miscellaneous itemized deductions by the law known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, P.L. 115-97, employees can no longer claim the home office deduction.

Select your actual workspace. Once you scout out a space, the next big decision is selecting a table or desk, the central focus of your home office. Kimber, who wanted a more formal place to work, replaced her outdated desk with a 96-inch slab from IKEA anchored by two file cabinets. She likes the length because she has plenty of space to spread out documents and move things aside for later if needed, she said.

If a large desk isn't enough space, try something that "comes with a matching hutch to increase storage and decrease clutter," said Nicole Groshek, a brand strategist with National Business Furniture in Milwaukee.

Think about guests. If you plan on having clients visit, think about having a defined space where the door can close and clients can park, said Logan Allec, CPA, a practicing accountant who also blogs about personal finance at Money Done Right. "You want this space to be such that if one only saw this space, they would think they were in an office building, not someone's home," he said.

Be sure to keep the space tidy, avoid cooking pungent foods before an on-site meeting, and be sure to dress professionally, he suggested. "It's OK if you do your bookkeeping and tax returns in your pajamas, but this attire is not appropriate for client meetings, even if they are done at your home," Allec said.

Think about how you sit. Next, decide whether to stand or sit in your workspace. "Pick out a chair that suits your desk height, sitting style, and design decisions," Groshek advised. "The opportunities are endless."

Options include ergonomic-focused designs, stand-to-sit for those who don't want to sit all day, and ones that allow for a greater range of motion. A perch seat, for example, encourages a comfortable lean that lets your body dictate the perfect angle, Groshek said. More formal executive chairs provide a high-back style with flashy touches, such as stitching or a hint of chrome, and back support.    

Plan ahead for videoconferencing. As you put together the office, think about videoconferencing, a key part of working remotely. Examine what other people will see during a conversation. "Minimally, choose a neutral background," Dewald advised. Allec agrees that the area visible on video calls and chats should look "as professional as possible," he said. "Yes, clients will judge you on this."

Professional degrees in the background are always suitable décor. "Many people prefer to choose a background that positively reflects their work and industry," Dewald said, adding that it's wise to keep your personal interests out of the camera's view. "Rock music posters are only OK if you're a music manager," he joked.

Allec also suggested investing in a solid microphone and webcam and positioning the workstation so that light does not reflect off of your glasses during calls.

Fill in the details. Once you've identified the space and how you'll work, it's time for the finishing touches, such as the room layout. If you're looking to create the illusion of more space, keep visually heavy objects such as bookshelves and the desk away from the door, Groshek said. "This places large items away from your eyes when you first walk into the room, giving you a better view of the entire space," she said. "Try to keep as few things near the entryway as possible so that you don't visually shrink the space or interrupt the flow of traffic."

Then, place your printer and scanner in an easy-to-access location, said Allec. "When first working from home, my biggest surprise was how frequently I needed to print or scan documents," he recalled. "Expect to need to print and scan documents, particularly invoices, dozens of times each day."

Kimber said her revamped space, now painted a calming gray with red accents, "makes me feel proud of what I have accomplished," she said. "I feel very official and empowered to do great work."

Dawn Wotapka is a freelance writer based in Atlanta. To comment on this article or suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, a  JofA associate director, at

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