There you are, just about ready to finish up the 40-page proposal (the one the with impressive colored pie charts, the one that your boss has been foaming at the mouth to get) when your steely resolve is interrupted by the bzzzzz of the oven timer heralding the news that dinner is ready. Dutifully, you extract yourself from your chair and propel yourself toward the kitchen to retrieve your dinner, leaving your computer unattended.
From out of the shadows emerges your darling offspring who thinks the flashing “Do you want to save before exiting?” prompt is fascinating, but a quick game of Pokemon would be much more intriguing. With lightning speed, his wee little fingers hit the “select all” and “delete” key and with it go about two weeks of work.
Of course this could never happen — your little one doesnt know how to execute mutli-key functions — but you get the point. It could be a terrible loss. To prevent even a milder version of such a scenario happening to you, here are 12 tips to ensure your home office is safe from curious young hands.
1. Lock it or block it – Keeping the office door locked when the office is not in use can go a long way toward keeping uninvited visitors out of your office. This will ensure that neither your three-year-old nor the cat will suddenly leap onto your keyboard or shuffle through your papers. Use a gate, doorknob guard, or a latch that will make entry a real challenge for your Houdini-aspiring tots.
2. Safeguard the Computer – In your progeny’s eyes, the computer looks like a flashy arcade toy just waiting to be pushed, punched, and poked. One way to discouraged curious fingers may already reside on your PC if you use Windows: a screensaver with ap assword feature. (Check the “Help” menu to learn how to activate it). Software such as Partition Magic 4.0 (PowerQuest: 801-226-8977) will keep your work files off-limits to tykes using your computer. Of course, it’s a good idea to back up those files on a regular basis! It’s also a good idea to protect your drives from probing fingers, tools, and toys with strong tape or plastic, and, of course, to reguarly back up those documents you are working on — every 20 minutes is probably sufficient to avoid small tragedies.
3. Tool tricks – “Well, mommy, at least I didn’t touch your computer…” Famous last words as your fax machine tries its hardest to send a peanut butter sandwich to that customer in Iowa. To keep your printers, fax machines, copiers, and scanners out of harm’s way, place these expensive tools on high shelves or behind the protection of a closet door that requires a key to open it.
4. Secure Your Documents – Forget about the stack of papers that doubles as a coaster on your desk. Your little angels will seek out and destroy only your most important paperwork. Nothing but the best for your children! Keep all documents, files, software, tax records, etc., secured in a locked drawer or cabinet. The Safety Superstore (800-683-7233) offers magnetic locks with concealable magnetic keys that might just save the day.
5. Eliminating Electrical Hazards – Sure, sticking a screwdriver into the electrical outlet that feeds your computer seems like a good idea, but when it kills your hard drive (and gives your child a lovely curly hairdo) through an amazing electrical surge, the brilliance will quickly fade. To ensure your budding electrical engineer doesn’t become a crispy critter and your computer outlasts its warranty, start by getting all your electrical and phone cords out of easy reach and then covering those sockets. Use dual outlet plugs (thicker, harder to remove, and less of a choking hazard).
6. Move the Plants – While a little foliage can add some warmth to your office, be sure to place all of your lovely green plants on high shelves, hangers, or out of the office altogether. It’s amazing how tempting it can be for smaller children to wander in and nosh on your pretty (and potentially poisonous) plants, especially when they’re just an arm’s reach away.
7. Consider the Furniture – Keep your curtain-climbers at bay by stabilizing chairs (five-caster-base chairs are less likely to tip than four), and securing bookshelves, tables, and lamps to keep them from being pulled over. Stick to solid surfaces and avoid glass-top tables which break and splinter easily. And finally, be sure to tighten any loose drawer knobs.
8. Childproof those Windows and Blinds – Use window guards and locks and remember that screens will not hold a child in. Tie up cords or use cord shorteners. Call the Window Covering Safety Council (800-506-4636) for your free window blind childproofing kit (www.windowcoverings.or).
9. Put away Hazardous Supplies – Those sharp shiny things are mighty tempting, so keep your scissors, stapler, pens, paper clips, letter opener, glue, toner (don’t get me started) in a locked drawer or in a securely closed bin.
10. Tackling Trash – The wastebasket is right at your toddler’s level, and let’s face it, once emptied makes a fine looking hat or place to dump your toner and other office supplies (ack!). Purchase wastepaper baskets with secured tops to reduce the chances of a nuclear waste spill in your office, and take special care to take potentially dangerous materials to the trash pail in the garage or back yard. This will help reduce the likelihood of becoming close personal friends with the staff in the emergency room.
11. Make a Mini-Office – Your pride and joy may not feel as though they’re missing out on any of your “fun” if you set them up with their very own little desk, paper, crayons, play phone, and old keyboard in a corner of your office.
12. Take a Sanity Break – Although you wouldn’t trade them for the world and you chose working at home because it lets you stay home with them, everybody needs to take a break every now and again. Schedule in some time to play with your kids away from the office or house. Go to the park, set up a play date, have lunch at a local eatery — but get out of the house! Be sure to also schedule in some time for YOU! Strange as it may seem, your kids might need a break from you, too. Defocusing from your home office will help decrease the allure and temptation to make it the hub of home life and redirect attention and energy toward other places.
Working at home can be a wonderful experience and hopefully these tips will help you manage your home office more safely and efficiently.