Along with the nonexistent commute time and relaxed dress code, designing your own home office is one of the best things about being a freelancer. Finally, you don’t have to spend all day cooped up in a tiny cubicle or worry about those company policies keeping you from displaying troll dolls on your desk.
But while it might be fun to play fast and loose with your office décor, your workspace still needs to promote productivity. You’ll be spending a lot of time at your desk, so keeping everything organized and accessible is essential to staying efficient. With that in mind, how should you design your home office?
Some freelancers go all out and furnish their home offices with the latest furniture, cutting-edge equipment, and stylish plants. Others embrace a more minimalist mindset and need only a laptop, chair, and basic office supplies. And then there are those who spend so much time traveling that they’ve streamlined their workspaces to the point where their “office” can be any café or coffee house with an Internet connection.
Whether you spend most of your time at home or on the road, however, all efficient freelance workspaces share certain important traits. Let’s take a moment to go over some key steps you can take to design a freelance workspace that stimulates your mind and keeps you in demand with clients.
Take it from someone who once tried to work for eight hours straight on a cheap lawn chair — buying a comfortable, ergonomic chair is the best thing you can do for your freelance career (and your back).
Even if your freelance work keeps you on your feet, you’ll still be spending hours at your desk looking over contracts, chatting with clients, and keeping up with bookkeeping. When this happens, you’ll be glad your chair is providing your back and legs with the proper support. Office stores and online markets can offer good deals on quality chairs, but trust me — this is one investment where you don’t want to skimp on price.
You may also want to invest in other ergonomic equipment, like an ergonomic keyboard, desk, and wrist rests/gel pads. This will help you avoid dealing with uncomfortable conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome, and make your workspace a much more comfortable area to spend time in. (Plus, you’ll look really cutting-edge during Zoom calls!).
Whether you’re a freelance writer, graphic designer, or photographer, keeping your workspace well lit is vital to making your workdays productive. Ideally, your work area should be positioned near a window, giving you plenty of natural light. If this isn’t possible (or if you find yourself working at night), be sure to invest in good desk and floor lamps so you don’t strain your eyes.
Oh, and be sure your light sources don’t bounce off your computer screen and reflect the light back into your eyes. This is very distracting and can potentially cause injuries. Keep this in mind when you find yourself on the road and want to pick a good spot to work in at a coffee house or Internet café.
Having access to the Internet opens up all sorts of exciting work opportunities for you. Thanks to online job boards, social media chats, and Zoom calls, you now operate in a virtual workspace that connects you to people all around the world… at least until your Internet service goes out.
Then you’ll find yourself panicking as that potential new client suddenly blips out from your screen, possibly destroying that lucrative job position you were interviewing for. Or you’ll be unable to deliver that article you just finished even though your deadline is coming up in the next two minutes.
To avoid situations like this, invest in a reliable Internet provider that can immediately provide you with aid in the event of an outage. It’s also useful to have access to a backup system, like a portable hot spot or a nearby Internet café. Writers, artists, accountants, and other freelancers spend a lot of time online, so make sure your equipment and service are all top-of-the-line!
As you design your home office, make a list of all the essential office supplies you’ll need. As a writer, I need plenty of pens and scratch paper to jot down ideas and notes. Other freelancers may require a whiteboard, drawing board, highlighter pens, sticky notes, staplers, and paper clips.
Whatever you need, keep a ready supply of your essential items and put them somewhere you can easily access during the day. This is usually on your desk, but you can also put some of the bulkier items in a nearby cabinet or make space for additional pieces of furniture like a drafting table.
You got into freelancing to get away from the dreaded office cubicle — so why should your home office offer the same claustrophobic workspace? Answer: it shouldn’t.
Build an office that gives you plenty of space to get up and move around. If possible, devote an entire room of your house to your work area. If this isn’t feasible, be sure your workspace still offers you enough room to keep from feeling like you’re working out of a broom closet.
Keep the area around your immediate workspace clear so you can get up, stretch, and walk around at various points in the day. You can even establish other areas of your home as “break zones” that let you step away from your working environment and take a minute to recharge. This could be a leisure room where you play games between work periods or your kitchen (where the refrigerator is loaded with healthier and tastier snacks than your old office’s breakroom!).
You can even split your home office into two sections — one for work, and the other to kick back. Being productive often means knowing when not to work, so having an established space to relax can be very important for your freelancing career.
Of course, you also want to make sure your workspace feels welcoming and reflects your identity.
Place a potted plant or flower by your lamp. Hang some posters or keep a photo of your kids on your desk. You can even display some of your freelance work — like your first published article or an advertising design you’re proud of — on the wall behind you. Not only will these pieces give your workspace more personality, they’ll also provide good conversation starters when you’re doing an online job interview and can immediately share some of your best work with the interviewer.
Establishing your identity is important, but cluttering up your workspace with too many distractions is a bad sign. There’s nothing worse than being on a Zoom call and suddenly being unable to find a printout of your report because it’s buried under a pile of old tax forms from 2007.
One good way to streamline your workspace is to invest in some good freelance software, like Moxie. Thanks to Moxie's digital tools, all your contracts, schedules, invoices, and other work documents will be stored and organized online, eliminating your clutter issues.
Keep in mind that while office software like Moxie is useful and even essential, filling your workspace with too many gadgets and tech can be distracting. Make sure your TV is in a different room and minimize your phone use (or charge it away from your desk while you’re working). Oh, and while it may be tempting to spend your work day looking at cute cat video clips online, unless you’re writing an article on them or creating your own videos, navigate away from those YouTube channels!
A lot of times, your home office will be in the same house that’s shared with other family members — which means you’ll have to deal with people coming and going (sometimes very loudly) as they go about their day.
To make sure this doesn’t interfere with your productivity, communicate your schedule with your entire household. Make sure everyone knows that you need to have some peace and quiet during certain hours, and that you’ll all need to work your schedules around this so you can freelance successfully.
For some of us, this is easier said than done. Emergencies do come up, and you may find your kids, pets, and significant other making surprise appearances on your Zoom calls. Thankfully, in this post-2020 era, people are more understanding about those things, but you should still try to remain as professional-looking as possible.
Even if you don’t see yourself doing a lot of traveling as a freelancer, it can still be useful to strip your office space down to its bare essentials and determine the minimal amount you need to get work done. A lot of times, this can be as simple as assembling a virtual work space within your laptop with software like Moxie. This way, if your usual work space becomes unavailable, you can easily move your essential items to a different room or building without sacrificing productivity.
When selecting a new workspace, be sure to follow the guidelines of your original home office. Find a spot with good lighting, comfortable seating, good Internet service, and adequate space. Once you learn to seek out these areas, you’ll discover that freelancers really can work from anywhere.