Setting up a home office

Home office setup with a captains chair, desk, computer, etc.; the desk is in front of a wall of windows

© jnyemb

Many reporters and captioners are freelancers or small business owners, which often means working from home at least part of the time. There are many aspects to working from home, but first you need an actual place to work: a home office.

Picking the space

If you have the space, setting up a home office starts with picking the right room. “I have a third bedroom that is a dedicated office space,” said Angeli English, a freelancer in D’Iberville, Miss. “I picked the bedroom with French doors that open to a deck. Makes it very convenient to let our dog go in and out on the patio.”

Depending on the setup of your house, that space might mean a more nontraditional room, like a loft, where Sabrina Trevathan works. Trevathan, RDR, is a freelancer in Rawlins, Wyo.

If you’re in a smaller space and don’t have a whole room to dedicate, look for a good spot somewhere in your bedroom, living area, or other space. “I live in an apartment and the living/dining are one big room,” said Devora Hackner, a freelancer in Brooklyn, N.Y. “There’s a small alcove by the window that is the exact space designed for my desk.”

Legal videographer LaJuana Pruitt, CLVS, in Bradenton, Fla., found a unique opportunity for work space. “I have a side of a building that was a chiropractor’s office that was added to a home. I bought the home first, and when the chiropractor retired, his office became mine,” she explained. “Separate door, bathroom, parking, air conditioner, etc. This building is zoned professional. In 2007, I remodeled the entire building to be an office space. I took out the shower and added another bathroom where the shower was. I added French doors to the front room. The front room is big enough for a large conference table or video studio. I put in a butler’s pantry for a break area.”

After having the physical space picked out, the next step is making sure you have all the equipment, both for doing the job and for running the business.

First, furniture

Every professional interviewed for this article emphasized the need for a comfortable chair. “Invest in the best because you deserve it with how much you sit, and your body will thank you later in life,” said Donna Linton, RMR, a freelancer and captioner in Ashburn, Va. Of course, make sure you have a desk to go along with that chair, and think about what else you will need to store. You can have a simple space with shelves or turn it into your dream work space. “I had [my office] built out by Closest by Design specifically to my needs, i.e., how many computer stations, where the printer would be, cubbies for different size transcript binders, where the paper would be, and where my machine case would fit,” said Linton.

Having the right stuff

The essential equipment is obvious: steno machine, computer, printer. “I’ve transitioned to captioning in the last year, so I have a TV now so if I’m captioning a show that I have on my television, I can watch my captions,” said Tammy McGhee, RMR, a captioner in Bellville, Ohio. Beyond that, think about potential arrangements and additions. For example, Hackner has a “glass desk with a pullout drawer for an external keyboard and mouse” as well as “a docking station that I just hook my laptop up to, and then I work on a beautiful 29-in. monitor.”

Don’t be afraid to try a new configuration if the original setup isn’t working for you. “I ended up rearranging the space three times to get it right!” said English. It may take time to figure out the best way to organize the space. “I definitely learned how to work more efficiently and what supplies I needed to keep within reach,” said Trevathan. “I’ve got awesome storage space in my office; we planned it that way when we added this portion onto our house.”

Since Pruitt has more space, she’s organized the rooms as a more standard office and a production space. “One is my office with the standard equipment. I have a desk, credenza, bookshelves, chair, fax machine, scanner and printer as well as anything I can’t find a place for,” she said. “The other room houses the production room. It contains computers, a robotic printer, DVD recorders, mixers, cameras, tripods, bags, etc.”

Working from home means being able to run a business, so make sure you have all the necessary software and supplies. Consider having a word processing program like Microsoft Word (or the entire Microsoft Office suite) and accounting software like QuickBooks, and of course, make sure you have up-to-date CAT or captioning software with tech support. Think about cloud or digital storage along with physical storage. Pruitt also uses Wondershare and Adobe Premiere for video editing and has projectors, screens, and lighting.

Trevathan lives in a rural area, so she needs to make sure she has access to all the supplies she needs – it’s not easy to just run to the store. These include binding combs, transcript covers, index and exhibit tabs, copy and printer paper, a schedule book, address labels and different sizes of mailing envelopes, and extra toner. Linton has two whiteboard calendars, a speakerphone, and a fireproof safe to store exhibits. And don’t forget the basics like pens, paper clips, a stapler and staples, etc.

The tax element

If you work from home, you may be able to claim your home office on your taxes. “My CPA figured out a percentage of how many square feet my office is and writes off that same portion of my utilities,” said McGhee. Your accountant should have a formula to determine how much the write-off actually is, and don’t forget to ask about additional spaces like an adjoining bathroom, storage space in another part of the house, or any other area that’s designated as work space.

Make it yours

Since you’ll likely be spending lots of time in your home office, think about what would make it a comfortable space for you. “I’ve got my NCRA certificates and notary certificate framed and on the wall,” said Trevathan, along with her family’s schedules. “I wanted to be able to look out the window, so I had the desk location configured that way,” said Linton. “I wanted it sunny, so I painted it yellow.” English uses Longaberger boxes and “pretty stackable boxes with positive sayings on it” as storage, and she also recommends having “pictures of loved ones to remind you to be grateful.”

Pros and cons

The positive aspects of having a home office are pretty clear: “You can work when you need to,” said McGhee, and Pruitt said she “can cook, clean, launder, and have my animals under my feet.” Trevathan likes that she doesn’t “have to go out of the house to go to an office to do my editing and binding.” Linton added: “If I go to sell the home, anyone who doesn’t want an office can easily turn it back into a bedroom. They might even like to use it as a craft room or a homework space for the kids.”

However, having work nearby in a home office is both an advantage (can’t beat the commute) and a disadvantage. “Sometimes you feel like it’s hard to get away from work,” said McGhee. Trevathan echoed this: “I always feel like I need to be working and never leave work. I’ll run upstairs to the office to return a phone call and end up working on transcripts for an hour before I even realize it.” Perhaps English has figured out the trick, however, to maintaining boundaries. “You can walk out and leave the work behind,” she said. Having a dedicated space for work can mean literal help with compartmentalizing, so when you close the door, you leave the work at work.