/ Home & Energy

Have you set up a home office space?

Have you been able to adapt your home so it doubles as an office during the pandemic? We asked some of our Which? Trusted Traders for their tips and advice.

We’ve all been though a big period of change since the pandemic began – many of us who are able to have been working from home since March.

Which? Computing editor Kate Bevan set out how those changes had impacted her and her colleagues back in May, including changes to the daily routine and her own home office set-up.

Like the other teams across the organisation, I’ve also been working from home for a long time now, and it makes you realise that many homes just aren’t equipped for it. Spending hours on a sofa hunched over a laptop whilst your pet chews your cables is hardly an ideal situation!

So it’s understandable that some have decided to take matters into their own hands by converting a room, or even installing an additional room, to become a home office.

Creating a home office

If you’re fortunate to already have the space to convert a room into a home office, then it’s wise to use a trusted company for any skilled trades required.

For example, electrical wiring for sockets for your computer or a carpenter for a new purpose built desk. Painters and decorators could also be used to really bring a professional touch to your new workspace.

Guide: Extension planning

When you decide to use a trusted company for any home improvements, it’s wise to get a minimum of three quotes so you have a better understanding of the costs involved. Most reputable companies will not charge for a quote, and the overall cost should include VAT.

Home office ideas, tips and inspiration

Adapting to lockdown conditions

Since entire businesses have had to switch to home working, have you noticed any big changes to how they’ve been able to deal with their customers?

Russell, another of our traders since 2015, said that while some customers were desperate for his business to finish their jobs, others were worried about the prospect of having installers in their home:

“Prioritising the demands of running a business and responding to valued customers, whilst simultaneously looking after children and maintaining their education at home is demanding on a whole new level, but it’s amazing what can be achieved in the absence of any other alternative.

For a company that has offered face-to-face personalised advice on solutions in homes for 40 years to suddenly switch to ‘virtual reality’ has been a 180 degree about turn.

It’s been extraordinarily frustrating and enlightening all at the same time – we’ve functioned with at least half the staff working remotely at times. Our virtual office solution we implemented slowly over two years prior to Covid has come into its own”

Have you had to adapt to working from home? Do you have any hints or tips for installing a home office, or converting a room in your home?

And how do you feel businesses have adapted to the new conditions? Let me know in the comments.

Comments

My advice is to be careful what you wish for!

Allocating a designated room solely for work purposes, will render that area of your home liable to Capital Gains Tax (CGT) when you sell the property.

Provided the room is dual-purpose, there is no CGT liability, so ensure that any furniture and fittings are adaptable. Make sure you use the room for domestic and leisure activities and also work from other rooms occasionally, if only for an hour a week.

If you just need a quiet office space, it is fairly straightforward to avoid the CGT trap. It is more difficult if you make permanent changes to cater for visiting clients, beauty treatments or healthcare.

The second piece of advice is to check your household insurance cover. If a claims assessor could see that part of your home has been adapted for business use, it could invalidate a claim.

Thirdly, don’t forget to claim tax relief for additional household costs if you have to work at home on a regular basis, either for all or part of the week – including due to coronavirus. It doesn’t matter if you do this at the dining table or a bedroom. You don’t need an office to do this.

I recommend you claim the fixed £6 per week allowance, for which no evidence of expenses is required. You could also claim for business calls and a dedicated broadband connection if you can be bothered to track the additional expenses and your employer does not reimburse these costs.

Whilst permissible, I would caution against claiming a proportion of heating, water bills, insurance, or improvements, maintenance and repairs, because those costs could be used to establish business use of your home and to assess the amount of CGT you might be liable for when you come to sell the property. If you are thinking of doing this, take the advice of a tax accountant.

Patrick Taylor says:
28 January 2021

Very useful advice. Thanks em. I will pass it on to those family members working.

If in a rental place then I assume as CGT will not apply that claiming would be worthwhile on all aspects?

Thanks Patrick. I’m not a tax expert, but this is what I was advised by my accountants with regard to my home office setup, to avoid any CGT complications in future. Renting, you should be able to claim all your business and a share of household expenses without fear of CGT liability.

Either way you do need to be careful not to attract the attention of a tax inspector by making excessive claims. Those of us that run small limited companies are well used to home visits by HMRC on fishing expeditions, at least once every ten years. So don’t assume you won’t get caught.

A business colleague of mine was visited in his home and challenged as to why he had claimed business tax relief and VAT for a three-piece suite. He did have the satisfaction of telling the HMRC inspectors that if they weren’t happy about it, they were welcome to sit on the floor! But they still managed to squeeze another £2,000 of tax and NI out of him, so he didn’t have the last laugh.

I question whether it is really necessary to bring in tradespeople to create a home office. In normal circumstances it might be nice to have a ‘professional touch’ but we are in the middle of a national emergency. As long as you have a spare room where you can work without disturbance from children and pets it should be possible for most people to create their own work room, even if this is normally a spare bedroom. I assume that anyone who needs more than a desk and bookshelves probably already has a study in their home.

I have a great deal of sympathy for those who cannot effectively work from home because they don’t have a spare room but short of building an extension I do not see an easy solution.

Liz R says:
30 January 2021

Unfortunately I didn’t have the luxury of having a study in my home when I was told I needed to WfH, due to the resources I needed around me to continue my job I felt it necessary to bring in tradesmen to help me achieve a functional workspace.

I understand that not everyone can see the necessity for doing this but it is now a space in my home I enjoy working from and feels separated from the rest of the chaos.

I find little touches make all the difference a few plants, fun pictures and even a little candle make my environment feel relaxed and homely, helping my mind forget for a few minutes that I am actually just in the spare room!

It is interesting to see the rooms people speak from, on tv for example; the decor, ornaments, pictures they choose to show us as a background. The erudite in their book-laden studies, some arranged neatly (maybe never read? and some randomly piled on shelves like mine.

I use a wall in my dining room when I use zoom for meetings. Directly behind me is a large Lowry. I fear someone might think its an original.

I wonder what background others use when taking part in Zoom or Teams meetings. Do you think about the impression it might create?

Patrick Taylor says:
30 January 2021

I would advise against candles because of the VOCs emitted. Bear in mind that in samll rooms the change of air becomes important as exhaled air will be increasing the carbon dioxide load continually. And it affects human performance.

“Methods:

Twenty-four participants spent 6 full work days (0900–1700 hours) in an environmentally controlled office space, blinded to test conditions. On different days, they were exposed to IEQ conditions representative of Conventional [high concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOCs)] and Green (low concentrations of VOCs) office buildings in the United States. Additional conditions simulated a Green building with a high outdoor air ventilation rate (labeled Green+) and artificially elevated carbon dioxide (CO2) levels independent of ventilation.
Results:

On average, cognitive scores were 61% higher on the Green building day and 101% higher on the two Green+ building days than on the Conventional building day (p < 0.0001). VOCs and CO2 were independently associated with cognitive scores.
Conclusions:

Cognitive function scores were significantly better under Green+ building conditions than in the Conventional building conditions for all nine functional domains. These findings have wide-ranging implications because this study was designed to reflect conditions that are commonly encountered every day in many indoor environments."
ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/pdf/10.1289/ehp.1510037

I’ve been following the Trump machinations with great interest. And, of course, most of the US political pundits previously drafted into the studios are now being interviewed at home over some video link. Most will inevitably sit in their book-laden studies to illustrate how erudite and educated they are.

What completely spoils the effect for me, is to then see two or three copies of the same book, propped open and strategically placed so the front covers are clearly visible. These people have at some point written a book Trump and see this interview as an opportunity to plug their work. But how does that make them experts qualified to comment on the latest breaking news and with opinions worth listening to, when they have already cast the die, maybe two or three years ago?

It’s a metrocentric outlook that leads to all this stressing out over working from home. For a huge slice of the population it is not an issue because their work cannot be done at home since they are making things, growing things, selling things, building things, teaching little things, nursing us, hearsing us, and – as police – dispersing us.

Unfortunately, given that the alternative to WfH is either furlough or redundancy [although that would be difficult to stand up in a tribunal as not constructive dismissal unless it was covered in the contract of employment], many workers are having to go to considerable trouble and expense to adapt their homes and lives to the new conditions.

I am not sure that WfH is sustainable for long by most workplaces and that, while more flexible arrangements might prevail, office workers will be be back at their regular desks in due course for three days a week on average and that those days will be determined for them to provide adequate attendance and cover. The need for closer interaction with colleagues, management and other contributors to the workstream will propel this. Is it worth, therefore, doing up the home to accommodate a smart workstation and splashing out on new devices and furniture for something that might not last forever?

Sent from the kitchen table

Two of my family work from home 2 or 3 days a week working quite happily on a dining room table. This mainly requires a laptop and decent monitor plus phone and internet, something very many people already accommodate in their homes for personal use. You don’t need an extension, a joiner to build you a desk, an electrician to provide extra power, in most cases.

sent from my sofa next to a cup of tea

Patrick Taylor says:
29 January 2021

My daughter and her flatmate are both working from home in a small London flat. Fortunately at least they work for the same charity so secrecy is not normally a problem. However as with meetings online and telephone calls disappearing out of sight and keeping quiet features frequently leading to bedrooms exile.

**Sent from my winter computer room**

I presume that many people already have some sort of home office where they can work on and store paperwork, and use a computer without it being balanced on their knees. It might have to double up as a guest bedroom occasionally but most of the time it should be a quiet place to work. Many people have to share an office at work but at least at home there may be the possibility of avoiding distraction. Although I have retired I have kept a study.

One of my friends adapted a spare bedroom himself, to use as a home office. To start with he was opposed to having to work from home but he now enjoys it so much that he is no longer planning to retire this summer. What he enjoys most is not having to get up early to walk the dogs before a long drive to work.

Time will tell how many people will choose to work from home, assuming they have the choice. Even if they go back to work they could find their home office remarkably useful.

Sent from the study, because I’m busy sorting out the filing cabinets and having a break

My PC desk lives in a corner of our lounge and last year, my old desk needed replacing. It had been collapsing for some time and repairs no longer held.

I searched the internet but couldn’t find a desk that fitted my needs, so had one made to my specification with MDF. It was more expensive than a ready made one, but I got exactly what I wanted in the colour I wanted. It was delivered to our front lawn as arranged and after removing door and shelves, was light enough to carry into our lounge.

Yes, very pleased.

We carried out some simple additions to turn a spare bedroom into a home office after about 4 months.
We used a couple of trades to help us – one was an electrician to add an extra electrical socket and internet point (useless wi-fi in that part of the house!) We then realised that we needed a phone point so arranged for that to be done as well.
Both companies were fantastic in their approach to PPE et. No more backaches. a (lot more) professional look when doing online Team video Meetings and most importantly; its given us a more structured day as we can ‘walk away’ from work at the end of the day. Just a few £ spent online for some desk lighting and a decent office chair has really helped too.
My strong advice – Do it!! Its not only a change for now. Even if we go back to office working, i know that we have a structured and comfortable place to do work and research at home….even if it is holiday planning (I Wish!!) 🙂

One good thing these days is that most electrical contractors are competent and permitted to install telephone landline extensions and other cabling from the user side of the master socket. It is no longer necessary to have this work done by the telephone service provider or broadband provider.

Anyone can add their own extension cables and sockets providing they are plugged into the master socket. The service provider will not be liable for correcting faults, so it’s advisable to disconnect the extension cables and plug a single phone into the master socket to establish if the problem is with the extension wiring or the line. You are likely to be charged if the problem lies in your own wiring.

I do not know if it is legal to use a domestic phone line for work purposes but friends I know use the mobile provided by their employer when working from home.

Yes – I have been doing that for years and the cable and accessories are readily available, but many people do not realise that it is no longer necessary to deal with their service provider.

In our previous [new-build] house every room had one or more telephone sockets and since we wanted two separate exchange lines we arranged for BT to split the connexions which meant adapting the sockets for one or other of the two lines. When we sold the house some years later I terminated one of the exchange lines and employed an electrician to reverse the adaptations in all twelve sockets as I wasn’t confident I could do it correctly.

I think Which? have an article on DECT phones, you might like to read 🙂

All my extension sockets are now dead or plastered over.

Sorry, I meant to add to that. The reason to disconnect all extension lines is because the additional wiring can degrade your broadband service.

Thanks, Em – we no longer need two exchange lines and have four DECT phones in strategic locations. One advantage is that you can also take the handset out into the garden if someone has called on the landline instead of on the mobile phone. It’s also possible to bell someone in another room or upstairs without generating a call charge or losing a minute from your bundle.

A tip for those buying cordless phones with multiple handsets. I found it cheaper to buy two sets, each with two handsets, rather than one with four handsets. It was a simple matter to change the channel on two of the handsets so they would all work on one base station. Knowing that I have a spare base station I disconnected my internal wiring as mentioned by Em.

I added a new set-up to an existing one to get the four handsets. I now have a spare base station in case the one in use develops a fault. One of the original handsets had stopped receiving incoming calls although it could still be used for making outgoing calls; it is now in the box full of other redundant and broken devices, accessories, cables and mice.

I have a wired phone – cost about £15 – as a back up to the wireless phones. It will still work properly in the event of a power cut, when the wireless ones won’t.

I forgot about the two wired phones in the dining room – that makes six. One of those [a red trimphone] is more for ornament but it does work, although it doesn’t have a display.

A hotline is useful for reporting a power cut.

My home office is actually the smallest spare room in the house and is a combination workspace, library, stationery cupboard, and filing room, including an airing cupboard containing the boiler.

When on Zoom there is a blank wall behind me so no one can be nosy and check out my taste in reading material or see other personal objects.

Luckily it was well provided with power points and has plenty of good general and task lighting.

I notice that some of my documents have been filed on the floor so a tidy-up is overdue.

Fun tip:

If you are planning to redecorate your office, you might want to use a matt finish Chroma Key Green paint on the wall behind your desk. This is the green screen colour used in TV studios, originally for weather forecasts, but now often employed on election night and in other situations where the presenter appears to be standing in front of a large graphic.

It is quite useful for meetings when you don’t want your boss to realise you live in Georgian mansion or Docklands penthouse, when demanding a pay rise. You can download “scruffy” stage sets from the BBC. Or make your collegues jelous that you are working from a beach hut in Barbados. Or that you are faithfully turning up and working from the deserted office every day.

For Zoom meetings (not sure it works directly with MS Teams) go to Settings > Background & Filters > Virtual Backgrounds to set up your backdrop.

You don’t need special paint. Something like Dulux Pixie Green might work well. I’ve not tried it, but you can get a small test pot first.

Patrick Taylor says:
30 January 2021

Love it em. : )

I am sending it on to my family !

Apple’s Facetime has provided this facility for several years. We regularly use it when calling the kids.

Thanks for those suggestions, Em. I noticed last time I was logging into a Zoom meeting that backdrops were available. I think I am going to put up my 1950’s London Tube diagram on the wall to give people something more interesting to look at.

The ‘green screen’ effect used to be called ‘colour separation overlay’ and was originally a bright shade of blue. It was changed to green because, having fallen out of fashion, green was less likely to match the colour of people’s clothes whereas blue was a popular clothing colour, especially with certain politicians. The chosen background overlays any parts of the image that match the screen colour and can create a peculiar visual effect so presenters have to make sure they are not wearing green when giving us the weather forecast. Blue and green are unlikely to match any skin tones so they were the best colours for the process [although that might no longer be the case for certain programmes on BBC3 where bizarre make-up is a feature].

A ‘must have’ accessory for a home office is a smoke detector – especially if you use candles.

There is a smoke detector just outside my office door [which is always open, of course] and there is a CO detector adjacent to the airing cupboard in the corner of the room since it contains the boiler.

When I visit a friend I stay in a room with a double bed that can easily be folded up to reveal a desk with a computer, printer and enough space to work on. When folded up it forms part of a wall unit that has shelves for storage and ornaments.

One of my son’s is between houses. Flat sold, new house awaiting completion. My spare rooms are packed to the ceiling with their furniture. I have managed to retain a labyrinthine route to my desk, pc and printer. A home office need not take up much space.

In the early 80s I decided I needed a computer table to accommodate my BBC Micro and dot matrix printer. I could not find one that was the ideal size to fit the space available so I bought a self-assembly computer desk that was slightly too large and cut it down to match the space available. I still use the table to support a printer and for storage of paper etc. I used the BBC Micro to write reports and papers without having to go in to work to use a computer.

When it became possible to go online using a dial-up modem plugged into the phone line my employer, a university, provided us with a free phone number which helped us work from home without incurring phone charges.

Nowadays with laptops and wireless routers and printers, you can work anywhere you want.

My home office space was set up well before covid. I had retired from full time work but wanted to carry on with some part time consultancy.

As I have the luxury of a whole house to myself, I soon found that I wanted my work space to be in one corner of the living room, rather than any of the bedrooms.

For me, the most important thing is to have the best possible environment for working on a PC. For me, that requires a decent monitor and keyboard. Facing a blank wall well away from windows then gives good lighting conditions.

I also made sure the height of both the monitor and my “desk” (actually a spare dining table) were correct for a good work posture. A decent adjustable office chair came from a local charity shop.

Really great advice. Creating a distraction free work environment is key to productivity I find.