Roughly 43 percent of Americans work from home at least some of the time; a fifth of us work from home primarily. Despite some companies recalling employees to the office, the overall trend is rising, in part because science shows people are more productive and happier when they work from home.
Recently, about 400 people shared with me some of their best work-from-home tips. We'll compile the most interesting of these in future columns. (It's not over, by the way; if you work from home and have a tip you're especially proud of or rely on, you should let us know here.)
Among those who reached out already were the folks behind Houzz, "community of homeowners and home professionals." Last year, Houzz polled its members about what makes an effective work-from-home environment, and got more than 3,000 responses.
With their help, I've compiled the best replies into nine top tips, below. (If you're reading this because you're still looking for a job that will allow you to work remotely, check out this list of entry-level work-from-home opportunities).
1. Get a dedicated space.
First, you need a dedicated space--a place to do your work where other things can't overwhelm you. If you're working for someone else, or in certain industries, you might be required to have a dedicated space. You also want this for tax purposes.
"From converted linen closets, to loft spaces, to dual-purpose guest bedroom/offices, 82 percent of respondents have a dedicated space for working from home," Houzz senior editor Anne Colby said. Those other 18 percent? I'll bet they won't be working from home for long.
2. Splurge a bit.
We're not all in a position to spend a lot of money, of course; if you're starting a business from home you might very reasonably want to limit your outlay at the outset. But there are some things you really shouldn't skimp on if you can. Consider it an investment--making your work environment a place where you'll actually want to spend 40 or more hours of your week.
"Having an ergonomic--meaning efficient and safe--arrangement of your chair, desk, computer, keyboard, mouse and telephone can keep you working more productively and prevent repetitive injuries," Colby advises.
3. Start with the desk and chair.
The last time I worked from home full-time, I bought a drafting table to use as a standing desk (it was cheap, and I wanted to be sure I'd like the setup). I also picked up an inexpensive barstool from Target for those short breaks when I felt like I'd want to sit down or lean on something. But regardless of your preferences, your two most important purchases are your chair and your desk.
Sure enough, this is what a plurality of the Houzz members said, according to Colby: "When asked what element is most important to being productive in their home office, 31 percent said they need a comfortable desk and chair,"
4. Get a room. One with a door.
The top pet peeve people have when working from home? Interruptions (45 percent rated this number one; nothing else was even close). In a separate question, people said the second-most important thing they needed to be productive was a door. (This was second only to the desk and chair we talked about above.)
"Interruptions top the list of pet peeves while working from home," Colby said. "Wherever you situation your office, make sure it has a door -- standard, pocket, sliding, bifold, French or barn style -- for times when you need to talk privately on the phone or work without interruption."
5. Get the digital stuff done right.
This one is often overlooked, but it's very important. Most of us, no matter what our jobs are, depend on digital technology to do them effectively. At an office, we take some of this granted--reliable internet service, decent computers, working phones. There's a temptation when working from home to skimp, sometimes.
Maybe you're using the same Wi-Fi connection your kids are using, or using your cell phone for routine calls. One trick I came up with: Take an older laptop you're not using regularly, and set it permanently in a dedicated spot with a nice backdrop for video calls. Colby also advises hiring someone to come in for half a day to arrange and set everything you'll be using up efficiently.
6. Think about lighting.
Stop right now, take a few hundred dollars or so, and get good lighting. This is one of those things that's so easy to forget about, or make due with whatever you have already--but it can make a world of difference.
"The presence of computer monitors can make office spaces tricky to light. Light needs to be diffused and the fixtures positioned to avoid creating screen glare, which can lead to eyestrain. Lighting designers say a home office should have layers of light rather than a single light source," Colby suggests.
7. Have separate offices.
This one is specific to couples who both work at home, but it's important. Unless you work together (like, on the same business), you both need independent work spaces away from each other.
Otherwise it's far to easy to have all the other dynamics of your personal relationship overwhelm the work you're trying to get done during the day--both for good (in terms of your business) and not-so-good.
8. But be willing to move around.
One commenter on one of the Houzz polls described how she'd set up a really nice home office that she described as her "hub," and made a point to work there for at least part of each day. But she said, "I also work wherever I can carry my iPad, in other words, everywhere. But the study is my hub."
This one resonated with me, since I'm wrapping up this column while sitting on the sofa in the living room with my laptop. I have a full-time job that I love, but I write for Inc.com and a few other places on the side, so while I have a dedicated home office I'm also all about moving around when I can.
9. Think about storage.
Going through the comments on these posts, one thing that becomes clear is how cluttered even the best-designed home office can become if you don't have adequate storage space. This is especially important if you're trying to use your office for more than one purpose--occasionally using it as a guest room, for example.
So, think about storage. After the lack of a door, a lack of storage was the second-most prevalent pet peeve that people in the polls cited.