If you’ve been thrust into working from home in the last few weeks, you may be finding that your lovely apartment or house simply isn’t that great as an office.

Creating an area where you can work effectively and comfortably is vital for this period of extended work from home and, with a bit of thought, it doesn’t have to cost a bomb.

Define your work space

To start with, it really helps to define your workspace. If you’re lucky enough to have a spare room, you’ll find this much easier. Otherwise you’ll have to get creative.

This might mean allocating a corner of your house to your work space, if possible with a physical barrier like a curtain or a screen. If space is really tight, it can help to create “office hours” that mean the dining table becomes a desk between the hours of nine to five.

Get your furniture

You can repurpose a desk or table you already have, but if you don’t have one you can comfortably sit at for hours at a time, you may need to outlay a little bit of money here. But it doesn’t have to be a lot. Your office might be willing to lend you furniture for the duration, and there are (unfortunately) a few offices and co-working spaces closing down and getting rid of office supplies cheaply. Check Gumtree, eBay and local buy/swap/sell groups on Facebook.

Home desks are in high demand at the moment, so instead you can look for a small table you can pick up cheaply. At a pinch, you can DIY a desk with a few milk crates or stools and a board across the top of them. If you like a standing desk, an ironing board will do the job for short bursts. New ergonomic office chairs are expensive but can make the world of difference to your comfort so if you’re going to spend any money, spend it here. Officeworks and Kogan have lots of options, and Sustainable Office Solutions offer a huge range of good-condition used chairs. Alternatively, look for a regular chair with a solid back you can pop a cushion onto. It’s still important to make sure you’re taking care of your neck, back and wrists, so as far as possible follow the rules of ergonomic workstations.

And make it nice, even if it’s just an annexed corner of your living room or a corner of your dining table you can use during office hours. Make the lighting work for you, move a plant or some artwork from elsewhere in the house, hang a motivational poster (if that’s your thing). You’ll be spending quite a few hours of your life there, so it’s better if you don’t hate it.

Get a good internet deal

If you find you’re churning through your home internet data or mobile plan minutes at an alarming rate, look at what your provider is offering to help you out.

For example, Optus is offering free mobile data top ups, Telstra is upgrading all broadband packages to unlimited until the end of April and all Vodafone phone plans will be upgraded to include unlimited national minutes until the end of the month. Never be afraid to switch and save (is there a link here we can add to a story we’ve done about switching and saving?)!

Be mindful of your housemates

Lastly, it’s more important than ever to be considerate of others in your house. It can be hard to navigate having two or more of you working from home, especially if you need to make phone calls often. Consider having separate work spaces, or taking turns at the one good desk. Limit phone calls to the bare minimum, keep shared spaces tidy, choose music you can both work to and god help you if you’ve got children at home too (just kidding, you’ll just need a good schedule and a good sense of humour).

We’d love to hear your creative budget home office solutions – send them over!

WFH tax issues

Since thousands more of us are now working from home, the ATO have announced a tax shortcut to help you figure out the running expenses for your home office. From March 1 this year, you can claim a fixed-rate deduction of 80 cents per hour for all your home office expenses. Multiple people living in the same house can all individually claim the 80 cent per hour rate as a tax deduction in their personal tax returns.

These expenses include: electricity for lighting, cooling or heating and running electronics used for work, the decline in value and repair of home office furniture, furnishings and electronics, cleaning expenses, your phone and internet costs, and stationery.

The ATO has also removed the requirement to have a dedicated work-from-home area within your home – which means your dining table set up is totally legit.

To claim this shortcut method, you’ll need to keep a record of the number of hours you worked from home, which is probably easier than saving receipts for tax time.

Any claims for working from home expenses prior to March 1 must be calculated using one of the two old systems  – either claiming the portion of all your running expenses that relate to your work, or the fixed rate method, which is similar to the shortcut method. You can continue to use one of these methods after March 1 if it will give you a better tax deduction but, as always, keep all your records and receipts!

If you are self-employed and running your business out of your home, you also have access to the ATO’s new instant asset write off rules that let you claim any asset worth up to $150K (previously $30K) from March 12 2020 onwards. This includes anything from ergonomic chairs to electronics you need for your business.

Generally, employees can’t claim their occupancy costs (rent, mortgage, rates) in their tax deductions, but sole traders and business owners often can claim the portion that is set aside to run their business in.

As always, speak to your accountant to get advice specific to your individual situation.

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