In March of 2020, I lived in a tiny apartment in a busy city, each morning cramming into the Metro to go to my office. When COVID hit, I found myself needing to make my home into my office. Like many people during this time, I was struggling. My apartment had no space for a proper desk, or for a separate monitor, and my chair was far from ergonomic. I was working on my laptop from the couch, bed or the kitchen table, moving constantly throughout the day.
Aside from the non-existent office space, I was also faced with multiple new working from home challenges. When before I was able to get to the office and dive fully into work, now I had to share the space with a partner who was also working from home and a child who demanded constant attention. Needless to say the set up wasn't ideal.
Fast forward a couple months and I have a new place with a proper designated office space and a fully remote job. And now the new dilemma emerges: how to set up a proper home office? Here’s what I learned - from my own experience - is needed to be productive at work while creating a comfortable and beautiful workspace.
It goes without saying that you need a good desk and chair, since you will be spending a good part of your day being seated next to the desk. There are plenty of sites, showing which types of desks and chairs are suitable for a home office, but what else should you consider?
1. Proper Lighting
In the office everyone always strived for that coveted window seat or cubicle. Now that you are working from home, make that a reality. If possible, consider putting your working space next to a window or in a bright location. Proper lighting can and should come from multiple sources, such as a window, screen door, desk lamp, and/or overhead lamp. It's important to think about your lighting throughout the day. Do you have a proper desk lamp for when you're working in the evening? Is there bright light during the day, or do you have trouble seeing the screen?
Consider proper window treatments such as sheer curtains to let in diffused light or bottom up top down blinds for added privacy and light control. Proper lighting can really make a difference in your mood and productivity. Studies of lighting in the workplace have consistently shown that sunlight has positive effects on workers’ subjective well-being; and that employees prefer to work near windows or in workplaces with natural lighting.
One light source that isn't helping you work is the blue light from your computer screen. Whether it's your normal time to focus on work or you're having a late night finishing up a project, working from home can mean we spend more time in front of the computer, especially after dark. Blue light can be irritating to the eyes and impact brain function especially at night, so make sure that you have high surrounding light and keep your screen light lower. Doing this can also help you get a good night sleep after working into the night.
As for myself I have a tiny window which faces a wall so abundant natural light isn’t in my future. But to compensate I have various light sources such as a bright desk lamp with various light settings enabling me to choose a light that suits my mood and working needs.
2. Different Spaces
For many of us working in tech, our office spaces included couches, phone booths, communal tables, dining tables and other nooks and crannies where we could go hide out to work in peace. This was definitely a luxury, and not everyone can recreate this experience at home. However, if you are fortunate enough to have a room dedicated to a home office, try creating a space where you can change up your surroundings while still being separated from your home life. Different working spaces can stimulate productivity and creativity. Some things to consider are including a loveseat, accent chair, or bean bag chair in your home office when you want to work away from your desk.
While creating different working spaces can be beneficial for work, it's crucial to keep working and life spaces separate. Working remotely can feel exhausting, and over time overwhelming, especially if you don't have a place to relax and unwind after you turn off your computer at the end of the day. “Those who set clear boundaries between work and home experience less conflict between the two domains (Olson-Buchanan & Boswell, 2006)”
The way I was able to make this work is creating an office in the guest room. This strikes a perfect balance where I have a designated desk and my equipment but also a couch where I can curl up with my coffee and laptop.
3. A Door or Divider Between Spaces
Working from home poses a lot of distractions. For some of us it's family and kids, for others it’s pets. Even if you live alone with no pets, there is just plain distraction of everyday life; tv, social media etc. Creating a place where you can focus on your work, away from daily life is essential in a home office. If possible, having a separate room is ideal, where you can close the door and focus in on work. But if not, then any separation can be beneficial, consider things like room dividers, or a large bookshelf separating spaces. This is a time to get creative with your surroundings.
With a baby and a husband who works from home, it's easy to see why for myself a room devoted to a home office is much needed. When life allows I can shut the door and transport myself into a world of marketing, charts, and analytics.
4. Space for Monitor(s)
The one thing we were spoiled with in an office was monitors. Remember the days when you could request 2 or 3 or even 4 monitors? Having multiple monitors can be crucial for productivity, especially for heavy data driven jobs. When designing your home office, make sure to account for the monitors you truly use and need, especially if it's more than one. Some solutions could be getting a larger desk or mounting the monitors on the wall. Mounting even the main monitor on the wall could be a great space saving trick and help you maintain a cleaner desk.
I prefer to take my laptop on the go, and throughout the years I became used to working with no external monitors. This definitely makes it easier in the setup of a home office, however I do think a wall monitor is in my future, and I’ve made space to accommodate it when it comes.
Creating a home office isn't only about working productively and in peace it's also about blending in your office space with your home decor and making it feel like a place where you want to spend 8 hours of your day.
5. Wall Art
Just as we decorate our desks and cubicles, decorating your home office is essential in making it feel cozy and comfortable. Wall art is extremely personal but for an office setting, consider images or objects that motivate and inspire you, that show your achievements and goals, or simply make you feel happy. You're going to spend most of your time working, you may as well make the space one you enjoy being in.
Many of us need to be reminded of life outside the “office” to know that we are so much more than our work. Including pictures of your family, your great adventures, favorite vacation or event are great to keep us grounded, balanced and inspired to do more.
My own office space includes images of some 60’s band members, aka The Doors - not necessarily motivational but definitely feel good! There is a story behind these images that transports me to light summery days in the south of Italy. These images are a pick-me-up on those days where work is the last thing you want to be doing.
Plants are one of the best things to brighten up and liven the space, plus they also serve the more practical purpose of cleaning the air. Depending on your home office space, choose plants based on how much sunlight they need. Since looking after plants shouldn't be the priority, consider ones that are easy to maintain and don't require constant attention. My favorite plants are snake plants and palm trees. Since I don't want my tiny office room to feel like a jungle, a palm tree is out of the question at the moment but a nice snake plant is a great addition to my desk.
And finally as you have your home office all set, the most important thing is being able to focus on your work, so get your headphones and hurry to join that zoom meeting!