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The age of telecommuting is in full swing. More and more people are working at least part of the week from home while others will bring home projects to handle after hours or over the weekend. That means that many households are having to adjust their home office to include more than just family files, coupons, and office supplies.  The home office of the 21st century needs to function as a workspace for one or more family members while still serving the needs of the household.

Here are a few ideas for organizing, or reorganizing, your home office to accommodate both home and work.

cluttered home officeClear and Clean

The first step is to clear out the office. This means removing all the stacks of paper, overflowing storage bins and file cabinets, and all the electronic equipment like old phones, printers, and cords.  Don’t forget all that unopened mail or the knick knacks and odd items that have accumulated on the desk and shelves.

Once the office is clear, give a thorough cleaning. Furniture, shelving, floors, windows, and remaining equipment should all be cleaned and disinfected.  You may even want to put up a fresh coat of paint or install new lighting while you’re in there.

Plan and Sort

Before you start putting things back, you need a strategy.  Sit down with everyone who is using the office and identify their needs.  Who will be working in the office? What files and supplies need to be easy to access?  What can be stored away due to infrequent use? What electronic equipment is needed? And so on.

Keep in mind the priority rule: anything that is used frequently or is vital to regular work should be kept close at hand while things that are less important can be placed further away.  Make a floorplan based on all this information.  Keep in mind that file drawers will need to be accessed and cabinet doors will need to open fully. Allow enough ventilation space for computer and other electronic equipment and that they are placed near outlets, etc.

At this stage you may need to go shopping for new shelves, cabinets, desk caddies, or even simple things like folders and labels.

Now it is time to sort through all the items you removed in the clearing stage.  Divide up the work between everyone who will be sharing the space to get it done faster.

Here are some common categories to use in sorting:

  • active work files
  • active home files
  • archive work documents
  • archive home documents
  • useful office supplies
  • infrequent or excess office supplies
  • papers to shred
  • items to trash or donate
  • “hot” items — things that need immediate action

Organize!

Now you are ready to put your plan into action.  Move any furniture and install any new shelves or cabinets.  Setup the computers and other electronic equipment.  Make use of desk caddies and drawers for office supplies.

Then start putting all those sorted files away in their new home. You may want to color code files based on priority or use.  For example, all work files can be color-coded to the employee while home files are a different color.  You could also use a color code to indicate how actionable a file may be, using red for “hot” or “immediate action required” and other colors for lesser priorities.

home officeRemember to put files that will be used regularly closest to the workspace, such as in a desk drawer file cabinet or a desk-top sorter.  Less frequently used files can go into a file cabinet in another part of the office or in the closet.  Archived documents can be stored in banker boxes, clearly labeled, and put in another part of the house or even in an offsite storage unit.  Keep an inventory document on your computer that indicates what files are where for ease of retrieval.

Now is the time to add a few decorative items to the space, such as artwork, photos, and a select few knick knacks.  Saving that for last makes it your reward for finishing all the earlier, hard work of cleaning and organizing.

Implement a Plan

In order to ensure that your office stays neat and organized, you need to create a plan or process for handing all incoming mail, paperwork, office supplies, etc. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • daily — sort mail and file any items from ‘actionable’ to ‘active files’ or ‘archive’
  • weekly — shred documents, check that all ‘actionable’ items are complete, clear out recyling
  • monthly — move archive items to storage, re-assess ‘active files’
  • quarterly — replenish office supplies
  • annually — clear out all ‘active files’ of archive or shred documents (this is good to do at the end of the year or when filing taxes)

With a newly organized office and a yearly plan for keeping on top of paperwork, you can focus on getting your work done efficiently, leaving more time for your family.

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