Make sure your home office is serious business


It’s 7:30 on a Sunday morning and the neighborhood outside the window is only beginning to stir. Not us, we’ve been writing in our respective home offices for a while. We’ll keep at it until lunch and then do a little research in the afternoon.

Not exactly your stereotypical idea of retirement, right? But after an intense three-week stretch of work, weekends included, we’ll be gone for nearly a month. By the time you read this, we will be in New Zealand, the first leg of an exciting trip that will also take us to Australia and Hawaii.

Such are the challenges and pleasures of semiretirement and of mixing frequent and often far-away travel with deadline writing from home.

Because we work only part time and from home, others sometimes don’t understand we can be quite busy and not always available for social endeavors, particularly on short notice.

At the same time, many people who know us or write to us, including retirees looking to start second careers, seem intrigued by the idea of a home office.

Working from home is no longer a novelty. According to Gartner Inc., a technology research firm, more than 23 percent of American workers worked one day or more a month at home last year, up from 12 percent in 2000. By 2008, the number is expected to grow to 27 percent.

But based on comments we often hear, including during a radio call-in show last month, working at home still seems like less than “real” work to many. One neighbor, a retiree, told us he was setting up a home office with desk and computer so he could “fool around” in it.

True, a home office can provide a relaxed, flexible and less time-consuming work environment without the stress and wasted time and fuel of traffic-clogged commutes.

Except when meeting or interviewing someone in person, we can dress any way we want and are free to set our own work hours as long as we meet our deadlines.

But without a clear plan and the self-discipline to get your work done, setting up a home office will be a waste of time and money, and possibly also a source of arguments with others at home.

Here are some basic tips:

  1. Define your work and the purpose of the office.

Otherwise, you may not allocate the proper space for it, fail to get all the furniture and equipment you need or, conversely, pay for expensive stuff you don’t need.
We spend many hours sitting down writing, so we made sure we got comfortable chairs that have been worth every penny we paid.

We also sprang for large computer monitors that are easy on the eyes. But after surviving without one quite nicely a few months, we realized neither of us needed a fax machine. Computers can receive and send faxes.

  1. Set a work schedule and stick to it.

The temptation can be great to wander from the home office and “catch a break.” Our family room with 55-inch television is less than 20 feet away. Resist that temptation.
Let others at home know you are at work and are not to be disturbed except for true emergencies. But also set up a time to quit work each day, and then do it.

You can be flexible. Sometimes we schedule trips to the grocery store or even the park for a walk during the work day. But we also set a goal of how much work we plan to finish each day, and do.

  1. Keep networking.

Quite frankly, we don’t miss at all the interaction and stimulation from colleagues that many workers value at a traditional office.
To us, office chatter was mostly an interruption, not an inspiration. But we recognize the need to maintain professional contacts, even if that means having to leave the house to meet others from time to time.

Humberto and Georgina Cruz are a husband-and-wife writing team who work together in this column. Send questions and comments to or