Home alone

Project management consultant Linda Schumacher likes to keep the windows open in her home office in the summer, but the location of her Victorian three-story home is near a busy intersection and UPMC Shadyside, a large hospital in a bustling part of town. Sirens and traffic noise are present throughout the day.

Add to that the din from the renovation activities under way at other old houses nearby, and the result is that the windows are often closed in the summer. That means not only isolation from fresh air but higher electric bills to run the air conditioning.

Schumacher’s work requires a fair amount of time on the telephone, and she recently spent several months writing a book about project management, “Ready, Set, Succeed!”

Unless you can design your home and include in your plans a home office that meets your specifications, your choice of locations is probably limited to a spare bedroom, a revamped basement or a corner of the family room. The space may or may not be the optimal place to do business, receive clients or brainstorm a project. Nonetheless, there are things that you can do to make your home office comfortable, functional and profitable.

“When you set up a home office, you should think first of comfort,” says Michele Rothert, president of Esteta Communications, a North Side-based communications business that offers public relations, advertising and marketing services. “I don’t mean buying a leather executive chair or purchasing a Persian rug. I’m referring to the peace of mind that comes from establishing a sufficiently spacious work environment and ample backup systems.”

Nancy Wintner, principal of GWN Consultants and a public relations professional who has maintained a home office for 13 years, agrees that comfort is critical.

“It’s important to have a chair that is comfortable, that minimizes stress on the body and doesn’t cause you to have a sore back, particularly if you are going to be sitting for long periods of time,” Wintner says.

Space, of course, is always a consideration, and home office operators say that you can never have enough. Still, there are ways to make the available space, even if it isn’t large, fit the bill.

“I wanted my office to be easily converted into part of my home, so I bought furniture that would ‘house’ my office, so to speak,” Wintner says.

Wintner advises that a home office should be located away from areas of the house that might be distracting. Having your office next to the kitchen, for instance, might not be a good idea, even if you aren’t a snacker, because the kitchen is one of the busiest –and noisiest — rooms in the home.

Your office should have adequate electrical outlets to accommodate computers, faxes, printers and other electronic devices. Multiple outlets for phone connections are also necessary in the modern office.

Rothert advises that adequate ventilation, for your comfort as well as for the efficient operation of electronic equipment — computers and monitors need to dissipate heat to avoid breakdowns — and lighting are important for an efficient workspace. And consider backup equipment in case your primary gear breaks down.

Ultimately, the best thing you can do to make your home office work well for you is to get away from it once in awhile. Working in a conventional office environment almost automatically brings contact with others and a change of scenery, something that home workers won’t get if they stay in the office all day.

Says Schumacher: “If you’re working and living at the same place, you don’t get that break.”

How to reach:Schumacher Consulting Inc., www.lindaschumacher.com; GWN Consultants, (412) 681-9314; Esteta Communications Inc., www.estetacommunications.com