Last week, when we featured some back-to-school ideas for the fast-approaching school year, some of my pals e-mailed me with ironic complaints: Everything in their world is speeding up, they said — lightning-fast gadgets, 800-horsepower hybrid cars, cable TV delivered at the speed of light across fibers of glass. And now, even the calendar: “We’re supposed to get ready for ‘back to school’ one month after our kids have gotten out of school?” wrote one of my closest buddies. “What’s next? Speed dating?” Um, well, yes. But more on that in a later column.
Back to business: There’s one aspect of our modern world that could really benefit from a little acceleration — our daily commute. Many of us hate it. It causes stress and, now that we’re in an energy crunch, costs a lot. There are 220 million of us averaging 1.5 hours in our cars, every day. Couldn’t it go faster?
Relief is in sight. There’s a major new trend afoot (pun intended) that could reduce your commute time to seconds and cut your stress to near zero: It’s called a home office. And if trends hold, it will be the first building boom that helps us climb out of our current housing crisis.
There are a few reasons that more than 30 million Americans work at least part time from home and, according to the American Home Furnishings Alliance, that more than 200 million Americans have offices or dedicated work places in their home, up 100 percent from 2000: high gas prices, new, more attractive technology and … gardening sheds. More on the sheds in a moment.
First, here are a few tips on how to set up your own home office, followed by some recommendations on brands and techniques that could save you money and help you shrink your commute to a few yards.
Setting up your home office
- Make sure it looks good. If your office is attractive, it can help you want to go to work. Companies like IKEA not only sell well-designed, inexpensive office furniture, they also offer free layout and design services.
- Your technology is part of your furniture. It should be attractive, too. Think of your computer monitor, printer and other gadgets as design features, not tools. Many manufacturers are starting to pay attention and are creating good-looking tech (see below).
- Go away. Completely. Even if your home office is in your house and you don’t have an extra room, create a separate space. Give yourself visual cues that show everybody (including you) that it’s a separate, defined, work space. Inexpensive rice-paper walls work. So do hanging beads. If you delineate the space properly, you’ll be able to deduct the expense of your office (including part of your rent) from your taxes. Check with an accountant for the formula.
- Video conference technology is getting very inexpensive. Video cameras are now part of many laptop setups. Make sure you get one, so you can “be there” without going there.
The great thing about office technology is that it can help you maintain your efficiency. The bad thing about it is that it can look terrible. More and more companies, in addition to Apple, have put extensive resources into the look and feel of their products.
- Samsung SCX-4500w: A small, sleek and wireless black-and-white multifunction printer that is almost silent. Plus, while it works with both PC and Mac, it can do so wirelessly. So not only is the black exterior simple, polished and elegant, there are no wires leading to and from your computer, other than the power cable. The footprint of the device is tiny, too — it’s the smallest laser multifunction printer (scanner and copier, too) in the world. Prints out up to 16 ppm. ()
One last trend you really should think about, if you have a little space in your backyard but not much room in your house: Many people are now erecting small (8x10, 10x10 or 12x12), stand-alone offices in their backyards that look like quaint gardening sheds from the outside but work like modern offices on the inside. While lots of companies offer prefabricated sheds — everything from the bare-bones versions from Home Depot to the outrageously expensive mini-mansions from Design Within Reach — a couple of companies offer tons of exterior options and easy setup. My favorite: Summerwood Product, which is based in Toronto, Canada. They’ll ship any one of 12 different styles of ready-to-assemble sheds to your home, which can be put together in a couple of days, ready for you to customize inside. The result: the perfect, custom home office, steps from your house. And in a matter of months, it’s a lot cheaper than renting office space and much less expensive than getting a bigger house to accommodate your office needs. )
Paul Hochman is the gear and technology editor for the TODAY Show and a Fast Company magazine contributor. He covered the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Athens and Torino, Italy, for TODAY. He was also a three-year letter winner on the Dartmouth ski team and has a black belt in karate. Paul’s blog can be found at: