Home offices are great, but if life gets a little lonely working by yourself, you might want to consider turning your workspace into a coworking environment. Here's how to do it in a tiny space for hardly any money.
It's hard enough figuring out how to put together a home office just for yourself, but when you're planning on making a small room or area work for multiple people you really have to plan for efficiency. I know because I just did it in my new place.
While spaces will certainly vary from person to person, we're going to take a look at making a three-person coworking space that's less than 9sqm. Depending on what you already have lying around, you can pull this off for under $US200. Before we get started, we need to assess the space and figure out what we can do with it.
Choosing Desks, Tables and Storage
You've got many types of desks to choose from, but long tables, small desks and L-shaped corner desks will generally work best in a small area. If it's a desk that you can easily shove up against a wall, you've got the right idea. The disadvantage here is that you'll have less privacy, but if you're inviting people into your home for a coworking experience, you're probably not hugely concerned with people spying on your computer screen. If you really want, you can always pick up a rearview mirror for your monitor.
Assessing Your Space
If the space you're using is a plain square or rectangle, you're going to have an easier time than most. That pretty much gives you three walls to work with, and wall space is going to be your best friend in a small home office situation. Realistically, however, you're not going to have that luxury. Chances are your space is only going to give you two walls you can work with and they won't always be flat. You're going to need at least one wall for the desk space and some place for storage. Let's take a look at the example floor plan we're dealing with and and make some decisions:
To put things in perspective, the space is basically twice the size of the adjacent bathroom — and that's not including the bathtub. We really only have two walls to work with and one of those walls is cut short because of a door. The smaller wall is about 80 inches whereas the larger wall is 92 inches. In either case, there's really only enough room to comfortably fit two people. Because a long table would work just as well against either wall, I opted to use the smaller wall to leave extra room for storage. Keep in mind that if you're lining an entire wall with a desk or table, you're cutting into the space on the other wall. You have to account for the space the desk will take up plus the space of an actual person in an office chair. You're going to lose three to four feet in that case, so unless you need to account for that when choosing what goes where.
Here we have our first problem: If one wall is devoted to storage, that only leaves one wall. More specifically, we only have room for two people to work. What about the third workspace? If you run into this sort of issue in your tiny little to-be coworking area, you need to be creative with the spaces you have available. Look around in the space and see where you can put a desk. You might be surprised what will work. For example:
That is the edge of the kitchen counter and it's 30 inches wide. While that is a little small, since this will be a single-person workspace it's a pretty decent size. IKEA is an obvious place to find lots of small desks for a space like this, such as the smallest version of the MICKE (which comes in a ton of different sizes).
Desks and Storage
Once you know where things are going to go and how much space you have, you can start choosing your furniture. In my setup, MICKE was the right choice for that small area at the end of the kitchen counter, but the small wall required about 80 inches worth of table. I grabbed some really cheap tables and legs (VIKA AMON / VIKA CURRY) from IKEA as well, which ended up costing less — in total — than the MICKE desk.
Chances are you'll need shelving for storage and most traditional methods are pretty expensive. If you mount shelves on the wall you get minimal storage space and the cost ads up quickly, and most freestanding units are pretty pricey as well. If you don't need much storage, you can probably pick up something moderately inexpensive at a number of stores, but if you're willing to try something a little different you can save some money. I wanted a lot of storage so I needed something huge. While there were plenty of more expensive options, I found that you can get a lot of good stuff designed for restaurant kitchens. I was able to get a brand new wire rack shelving unit with locking wheels for $US80. Stainless steel prep tables make great, long desks. They also feature a sliding base that you can use to help with cable management. If you let go of the idea that you need to get furniture specifically designed for an office, a lot of money-saving possibilities open up. In the right space, they look pretty cool too.
The Other Stuff
Your space is going to be pretty dull if all you've got is a couple of desks and a large shelf. You may need a desk lamp, a filing cabinet, some extra chairs, and so on. These items are going to vary heavily from space to space since many of them depend on what sort of work you're doing and your own personal preferences. Because my long tables had no drawers, I needed to purchase a filing cabinet. I wanted to sort my cables so I picked up some cheap, plastic recycling bins to hold them. I also got a number of things for mounting on the walls, but we'll get to the specifics later. You don't have to get all of these items right away, as you'll discover more of what you need after you start getting everything in place, but keeping a list from the start is a good idea so you're ready to purchase or create what you need when the time comes.
Generally, cable management isn't too hard if you put in the time to keep things neat and organised. Since you're dealing with three workspaces, however, you're going to have many more cables to wrangle and therefore a greater challenge. On top of that, since most workspaces will be guest-occupied you're going to need to plan on additional cables coming with your coworkers. This may be as little as a charging cable, but you'll at least need some easy-access outlets. In addition to looking at keeping cables nice and tidy, we'll look at some ways to create some easy-access ports.
We've covered all kinds of specific techniques for managing your cables but it's important that you employ the right tricks for the right occasion. For handling power strips and cables that are going to just stick around, one of the easiest solutions is IKEA's SIGNUM hanger (or a similar DIY version); rain gutters are also great at cable management. If you're already getting an IKEA desk or table, they'll attach or screw in very easily. Alternatively (or additionally), making use of your desk or table's legs can be a really easy way to keep your cables under control. With some tough (but non-damaging) adhesive squares, you can mount power adapters to the table legs, bind the plugged-in cables together with cable ties, and then wrap them around the desk or table leg like a vine. If you really want to get into the vine theme, you can pick up some awesome Leaf Ties and creatively display your cables in plain sight.
When it comes to dealing with cables that aren't always plugged in (because they're waiting for a coworker to give them some attention), one of our favourite tricks involves using binder clips to hold your cables at ready (or binder clips with magnets). If your coworkers are bringing along some cables of their own, however, you need to have a handy grounded power plug available. This is a problem easily solved by a short grounded extension cord that you can adhere to your desk or table, allowing them to plug in their laptop charger (for example) without the need to crawl around on the floor looking for an open outlet. In one case I couldn't easily provide an outlet, but since a good chunk of my coworking buddies use Macs I just wired an old MagSafe power adaptor to the desk so it's ready for use. The same could easily be done for a non-Mac laptop by using a universal charger and keeping all of the extra charging heads in a drawer.
But what about the cables you're not using yet? This is one of the many reasons you need to have a storage area in your coworking space. I used recycling bins to sort my unused cables so when someone needs a way to hook their laptop to a monitor or connect to the network via Ethernet (as opposed to Wi-Fi), they can just run over to the appropriate bin and pull out what they need.
Shared Devices and Networking
Wi-Fi should do the trick for most, but sometimes people need to connect via Ethernet. Plan to have a means of connecting via Ethernet for the rare occasion it's a necessity or someone just needs the added speed. In some cases you may be restricted to Wi-Fi without running an Ethernet cable across your home. If this is the case, you can easily turn an old router into a Wi-Fi bridge to provide Ethernet ports to your coworkers. Chances are, however, that if you need an Ethernet port, it's going to be for a shared printer. You can always have one machine connect to printers and share them, but if you want them to be always accessible on the network a Wi-Fi bridge may be the answer. Alternatively, if you're picking up a new printer or two for the home office, consider spending the extra money on one with Wi-Fi if you know connecting via Ethernet is going to prove difficult.
Using the Walls
In a small space, the walls are going to provide you with a lot of extra room. A filing cabinet is great for the person in its immediate vicinity, but wall space outside of the desk area can be very useful for storing things everybody's going to need. On the obnoxious little wall space by the door, I mounted a pencil/pen holder and a refillable notepad. On the other side of the wall I added hooks for portable kits. Each kit has contain specific items - like cameras or sound equipment - that are relevant to the work my guests and I tackle each day.
The larger walls are also great places for mounting additional shelving if you need it. You might want to consider dry erase and cork boards. If practicality isn't important for every inch of the wall, you have an opportunity to be a little decorative and make your coworking space more fun.
Since you're inviting other people into your home to work, it's a good idea to make the space attractive and welcoming. You'll have to play interior designer a little bit, and the easiest way to do that is to pick out a simple colour scheme and stick to it. I went with red, white and black. If you're having trouble choosing a colour scheme of you're own, Adobe Kuler is a good place to start brainstorming.
Having a couple of snacks around is always nice for you and your coworkers. You don't need a full-on snack bar, but a little something makes the work day more pleasant. I opted for M&Ms since I like them and I can get matching colours for the workspace. That might be a little excessive on my part, but everyone always appreciates a little free food.
Sometimes trash can be a problem, so don't make it difficult for your coworkers to keep the place clean. Trash cans are cheap, so keep a couple in the space for easy access.
Putting the Coworking Space to Good Use
Building a good coworking space is only worthwhile if you have good coworkers. You not only want to ask people who will respect the space, but who you know will benefit from experience. If you're inviting friends who are often at your house for social visits, you may find it hard to concentrate on work. This doesn't mean friends won't make good coworkers, but that you need to take the coworking time seriously in order to make that happen. The easiest way to do that is to come up with a few general - but very reasonable and non-judgmental - rules, set up office hours and scheduling, and make the environment feel as work-focused as possible.
There's nothing that takes the pleasure out of anything than a bunch of rules, especially when they come across as judgmental. If you invite people over to work in your home and then list off a ton of things they're not allowed to do, it's not going to work. If you have rules that are important to you, taking a more gentle and suggestive approach is your best bet. For example, if you're worried about people spilling a glass of water or soda on some of your equipment, designate a place for food and drink rather than simply telling them not to do it. Alternatively you could provide water bottles so drinks can be around electronics. Whatever the issue is, it's best to present a solution along with the rule so it doesn't feel so much like an inconvenience or judgment.
Setting Office Hours and Rules and Scheduling
If your coworkers enjoy coming to work, it might be hard to get them to leave. Solve this problem before it starts by setting office hours for every day of the week you want to be open for business. You may also want to rotate who's in the space during the week. Whether you keep a consistent schedule or people sign up on a weekly basis, keeping a specific calendar for your space is very useful. You can share it with everyone involved so they know when the space is occupied and when it's not. Some people might want to come in on an off day and can call and ask last minute if they see an opening. If you set up scheduling in the very beginning it'll make managing the coworking space much easier.
The Office Handbook
The office handbook sounds like an awfully boring stack of papers, but in your coworking space it can be a nice, short compilation of important information. The handbook can start off with office hours and general rules, but continue to include things like your Wi-Fi password, how to print to your printers, where to grab coffee and lunch near by, and so on. Any general information that might be useful to your coworkers has a place in the handbook. You can keep it in drawers and files so it's handy whenever anyone needs to check on it. If you really want to go all-out, set up a coworking space intranet and keep the information always-accessible via the local network.
If you're not sure if you want to create your own coworking space or join someone else's, check out the pros and cons of coworking. Have you set up a home coworking space? If you've got any great ideas or tips to share, let's hear 'em in the comments.