Working From Home: How to Design a Home Office With Productivity and Comfort in Mind
Working from home has long had an allure for many people. Certainly, staying home on a daily basis, rolling out of bed and going to work in pajamas can be luxurious. However, without a proper work station, working from home can be unnecessarily difficult, unpleasant, and may even lead to ergonomic injury.
Creating the proper work station in your home requires planning, innovation, and investment of time and (potentially) money. With the right furniture, an imagination and some dedication to your task, you should be able to create a work station that you'll enjoy spending time in. Some general tips to keep in mind:
- Minimize distractions
- Know yourself and the business you're trying to accomplish
- Experiment with different set ups
- Communicate with coworkers throughout the transition, if establishing a telework situation
The more time you spend setting up your home work station, the happier you'll be once you're spending time working from home. The following tips can help.
Table of Contents
- Challenges When Working from Home
- How to Set Up a Work From Home Space
- How to Decorate Your Home Office
- Working From Home: Tips for Success
- Take a Thoughtful Approach to Find Success
Challenges When Working from Home
Before you create your own home work station, know the challenges of working from home in order to mitigate those problems and help you decide whether working from home is the right option for you.
Working from home requires self-discipline. Whether you're easily distracted by your television, working in the presence of your family, or struggling to stay motivated, working from home can be especially difficult.
One way you can overcome these problems is by creating a calm, relaxing environment where you will feel comfortable working for many hours at a time. You can also manage this problem by engaging in mindfulness exercises to help focus your mind.
Can Be Isolating
Working from home usually means working alone, or at least, working while separated from coworkers (if you're telecommuting). For people who are used to working in an office setting or surrounded by other people, this can be a difficult transition.
The right work station can help with this problem. People can stay connected to others by using technology to remain in regular contact with coworkers. The more over-the-phone and virtual contact you have with your coworkers, business associates and clients, the more connected you'll feel with your broader organization or network of peers.
Stepping Away From Work Gets Harder
Whereas some people find focusing on work difficult while they're at home, others find it difficult to step away from work when they're always in the presence of their work station.
This problem can be solved by creating clear boundaries between work space and personal space. Whenever possible, it's important to give the home office its own space. In small apartments, even working in a closet or behind a screen can help.
Takes Up Personal Space
Some people lack space to dedicate to a home office. Especially if you're living in a small urban apartment, adding a work desk to your home may detract from your personal space.
The best way to address this problem is to purchase compact modular office organizers and furniture designed to take up little space while still serving its function. Smart shopping can help with this.
Impacts Professional Relationships
Work from home arrangements can impact professional relationships, especially budding professional relationships. For someone who telecommutes, getting to know new staff and people in the central office may be difficult. As staff in the central office turns over, this can leave the person working from home feeling isolated.
This problem can be addressed through smart networking and use of technologies that enable people to stay connected to others remotely. With virtual conferencing technology, staying connected and developing relationships becomes easier.
Limited Access to Office Resources
When you're teleworking or telecommuting, there will always be things you need from the central office that employs you, whether that's hard copies of documents or the copy machines themselves.
Working with your employer to go digital and outfit your home office with as much technology as possible can make working from a remote location easier. The transition may be tough at first, but you'll find that working from home gets easier as you and your employer work out ways around these challenges.
How to Set Up a Work From Home Space
The most important thing you can do to set up a work from home space is to identify your needs, identify the challenges you will face in your particular work from home situation, and make a plan that accounts for both. Once you have a plan for working from home, you can identify the things you can do easily up front to mitigate problems and other things that need to be done over time.
Without a good plan, your work from home space will likely never be as comfortable as it could be, and you may be less functional in your role. By writing down the particular challenges you face in your work from home setting, you can more easily address those issues and create a comfortable work space in your home.
Identify What You Need
Hopefully, you're already experienced in your job, so you're familiar with the kind of equipment and tools that you need to be successful in your role. Make a list of the computer equipment, software and files you will use every day. Then, think about those apps and equipment you will use only occasionally, and include those tools on the list.
Give thought to the type of work environment you prefer. Think about the way you prefer to sit in your chair, the type of light that puts you at ease, the noises you prefer to hear in the background, and the environment where you focus best.
Finally, consider the furniture you usually require to get your job done, whether that's cabinetry, shelves, a special chair, a standing desk or drawers to keep your work tools. The more you can recreate these amenities in your home, the easier it will be work from home.
If you're running your own business instead of telecommuting, you may need a variety of tools that telecommuters often don't need, such as a dedicated waiting area for clients and a place where they can park. If your job requires specialized tools like a dark room or a studio area, take this into consideration as well.
Choose a Dedicated Area
Most people need an isolated area in their home where they can work, or they'll be unable to concentrate when it's time to get work done. Ideally, your work station will be in its own room, away from others. If you have a large house, this may not be difficult to arrange. If your home is small, however, the only available work space may be your garage, shed, porch, basement or closet. These unconventional work spaces can be usable if they're properly converted.
To convert a space like your garage into your home office, some remodeling may be necessary. Temperature can be a problem in parts of the house like an unfinished basement or attic.
- Install a small heater or a portable air conditioner to make the space more comfortable.
- Install insulation in unfinished spaces to keep in the heat or cool air.
- Weatherstrip unfinished rooms to maintain a more comfortable temperature.
- Install multiple light sources to prevent eye strain when working on long projects.
Sometimes, parts of the house that are normally not used for living spaces may need amenities to make them more comfortable. A rug to make the concrete floor softer or the addition of an overhead light to provide more illumination can help.
If you live in an apartment, finding a dedicated space can be even more challenging.
- Use a screen to separate your work area from the rest of your living space.
- Turn on a white noise generator to block household noises and distractions during business hours.
- Lay down masking tape or make a mark on the ground to separate your office space from your personal space.
- Tell members of your household that you're unavailable whenever you're on the other side of the line.
Separating Work and Home Spaces
It's not enough for your home office to be separate, it should also feel separate. This is accomplished with more than just physical barriers like doors and screens. Special decor and furniture sets a tone to separate your work space from your living area. The more your work space differs from your personal space, the more separate it will feel.
- Choose different colors to decorate your work space.
- Decorate the walls with professional art.
- Install office furnishings in your office space.
- Keep your home office clean, even if the rest of the house is not.
- Install a dedicated landline if your home office requires a landline.
- Use curtains to separate work space from home space if there are no or few physical barriers to keep your home space separate.
Most importantly, work with members of your family to impress upon them that your home office is a separate and distinct part of your house. Once they realize your home office is off-limits, they will respect your need for space while you're at work. Set up times when they can and cannot talk to you in your home office. Ask them to knock on your door (or even on the nearby wall, if there is no door) before asking a question or starting a conversation.
Ensure Proper Lighting
Light affects the way people work. It can affect mood, whether someone feels awake or sleepy, whether they're productive or droopy, and whether they're able to concentrate on the task at hand. Ultimately, proper lighting can affect your job performance, enthusiasm and motivation to work. Good lighting can also affect whether clients want to spend time at your business.
The type of lighting you have in your home may be good for entertaining and spending time relaxing in the evenings, but you'll need different lighting for your home office. Lighting variety is especially important under these conditions.
Natural light can boost your mood, calm anxiety, improve productivity and may even have a positive effect on your overall health. If possible, set up your work station near a large window. West- and south-facing windows will get dramatic sunlight in the afternoon, while east- and north-facing windows allow a softer glow into your space.
If windows are inaccessible, consider talking to a contractor for a window installation sometime in the future. In the mean time, light your space with a variety of overhead lights and task lighting on your desk. Fluorescent lights can negatively affect your circadian rythyms, mood and may even lead to migraines. Instead, turn to warm LEDs.
Desk lamps and floor lamps can provide corrective lighting to reduce glare from your computer monitor. Place the corrective lighting behind your monitor, and experiment with positioning of the lamp or lamps until you find a lighting situation that works for you. The following tips may help:
- Use at least two or three light sources in your home office to prevent shadows and eye strain.
- Note the "color temperature" of the light bulb before purchasing it, as warmer lights are generally easier to work around than cooler lights.
- Use an adjustable task light to enable you to adjust your lighting as needed.
Exterior lighting changes with the seasons. What lighting works in the summer may not be adequate in the winter, and vice-versa. Using floor lamps and desk lamps is smart because these lamps can be moved as the outside natural light changes and flexes throughout the year.
Know the signs that your office lighting can be improved. For example:
- You feel unnaturally sleepy in your office throughout the day.
- You get headaches trying to read or concentrate on your work.
- You just don't feel happy doing your work anymore.
While these problems can also occur for other reasons, start by adjusting your lighting. Turning on more lights or moving your lights may improve your working conditions.
Use Ergonomic Equipment/Follow Ergonomic Rules
Office ergonomics may be more important than you realize. Poor ergonomics can contribute to chronic pain, injuries and even ongoing physical conditions. Most people don't realize their office ergonomics are negatively impacting their bodies until the damage is already done. Signs your body is suffering from poor ergonomics includes:
- Tingling pain in the extremities
- Numbness in the extremities
- Muscle stiffness, weakness or discomfort
- Decreased range of motion
If you experience pain while at your workstation, either from the start of the work day or after sitting at your work station for hours at a time, then it may be time to improve your workplace ergonomics. Invest in the following items.
An ergonomic keyboard is usually divided in the middle to enable your hands to rest in a natural position while typing. Ergonomic keyboards can take some getting used to. If you do a lot of typing, then you'll need to retrain your hands to move properly while using this type of keyboard.
An ergonomic chair is designed to be adapable to provide support to the different parts of your body as needed. Ergonomic chairs provide lumbar support as well as support to the arms and legs. Tilt and height are all variables that can be adjusted as needed with an ergonomic chair. Ideally, you'll choose the ergonomic chair designed for your needs, so try out different types of chairs before making your purchase.
Ergonomic desks are adjustable just like chairs. Often, ergonomic desks can be adjusted to allow you to stand or sit down, and many have keyboard trays to enable you to keep your hands in a natural position while you work.
Know the Rules of Workstation Ergonomics
Typically, the most ergonomic position to work in is not what you would assume. Adjust your chair and desk to enable the following:
- Sit with your back straight.
- Look straight out to view your monitor (not down).
- Avoid bending the wrists when typing.
- Bend your arms at an angle between 90 and 120 degrees.
- Bend your legs at the hips between 90 and 120 degrees.
Storage Space and Decluttering
A functional work space will need storage. Clutter left on your desk or on the floor around your desk can be damaging to your productivity. Clutter can make your space feel dirty or claustrophobic, which may make working less rewarding. Additionally, the more cluttered your work space is, the harder it will be to stay organized and find documents as needed.
Invest in office furniture that provides a space where you can keep your papers sorted and off your work desk. Before purchasing office storage solutions:
- Know what needs to be stored and in what quantities.
- Leave extra storage space for new items that accumulate in your office over time.
- When seeking office furniture, look for pieces that store computer equipment, devices and small tools like pens.
As you put items away, throw out anything deemed unnecessary, and put everything else in its place. If it helps, make labels.
Manage Your Cables
Cables can easily become a tangled mess. The more cables on the floor behind your desk, the harder it will be to clean. Cords are also a tripping hazard, and if you do trip on a cord, you may accidentally pull an expensive piece of equipment to the floor.
Managing the cables under your desk makes it easier to maintain an organized and tidy workstation. Unplug cords from your power strip, then mount the power strip to the under side of your desk or wall. Coil the cords and lock them in coil form using velcro strips. Label each cord to indicate which device it corresponds to, so you can easily find which cord to unplug when you need to unplug it.
Be cognizant of the number of devices you're plugging into your power strip at one time. If you live in an older home, you may overload your circuits, trip a circuit breaker or blow a fuse. If this becomes a regular occurence, talk to an electrician to resolve this problem.
How to Decorate Your Home Office
Inspiration and comfort can affect productivity while at work. With thoughtful decorations, you can turn your home office into a space where you look forward to spending time. When decorating your home office, take into consideration:
- Your personal tastes
- Whether clients will ever see the inside of your home office
- The mood you wish to set in order to maximize productivity
- The natural appearance of the space where your home office is located
There's not a right or wrong way to decorate your home office, but the more thoughtful you are about the decor, the happier you'll be with the end results.
Paint the Walls or Bring In Color
The color of your walls can dramatically change your mood and may even affect how productive you are at work.
Know the Psychology of Different Colors
Many experts say the color of the room where you spend time affects your mental state, meaning you can change the way you perform at work by changing the color of your walls. For example, green has long been associated with productivity and creativity. As a calming, cool color, green can also help control anxiety.
Blue is calming as well, and it's also a commonly listed favorite color. If your office will often be seen by clients, blue is an excellent shade to paint your waiting area.
Red is an edgy color believed to cause impaired cognitive performance. While red might be a good color for a dining room or living room, it may not be the best choice for your home office.
Warm colors, including orange, red, and yellow, are inviting colors in entryways and waiting areas, especially if you live in a warm climate. In a room where the sun is always shining, warm colors may seem to raise the temperature to an uncomfortable degree. Use cool (blue, green, purple) colors in warm spaces to make the room seem more comfortable overall.
Dark, vibrant colors can bring walls forward, making your space seem slightly smaller and cozier than it really is. Lighter colors, like pastels, can push the walls back, making the room seem wider and bigger overall. If your space is small and claustrophobic, avoid using dark colors. If your space is large and airy, medium or darker colors can make the space feel more intimate.
Paint Samples on the Walls
Before deciding on a final color for your home work space, paint samples on the walls. View the samples in different qualities of light before choosing the best color for you.
- Paint an "accent wall" to add visual interest.
- Paint a chalk board or white board on one wall to make a space for capturing ideas.
- Add a dramatic flair to your walls with stripes or other patterns.
If you live in an apartment and aren't allowed to paint the walls, hang colored curtains and wall art to substitute for a colored wall.
Give Yourself a View
Give yourself something to look at while you spend long hours at your desk. If you're not too distracted by the activity outside, position your desk near a window where you can see what's happening outdoors. If you open the window while working, set an alarm to close the window at the end of every day to avoid leaving the window open over night.
If no window is available, an attractive picture should suffice. Make a collage or hang several pictures to give yourself multiple images to consider throughout the day. While you're considering your own view, think about your clients and the view they'll have from the waiting area or sitting area when they visit your office space. Generic, calming, high-quality landscapes or prints of famous paintings are an excellent choice for waiting areas.
Organize Vertically and Horizontally
Make use of vertical space as well as horizontal space. This is especially important in small offices or in apartments where floor space is limited. Hang floating shelves and install cabinets that go up rather than out. If you've never hung shelves on your walls before, then these tips can help:
- Get permission from your landlord if you're renting an apartment.
- Buy a small drill for making holes in the walls large enough to hold the anchors.
- Purchase floating shelf "kits" to simplify the installation process, and follow the instructions to install.
Use baskets on your floating shelves to contain the clutter and keep the space tidy. If you wish to store a lot of clutter that you don't want to be seen, a cabinet may be more appropriate than floating shelves.
Make use of your ceiling space. Hang a fruit basket or even a bird cage for an eclectic but functional place for small office supplies like Post-it notes. If office space is very tight, then use modular furniture to customize your storage and build it according to your unique needs.
Don't Create Distractions
Decorations make your work space a pleasant place to spend time, but know when to stop decorating for the sake of your productivity. Busy workspaces can cause anxiety and may prevent you from getting work done. Avoid over-stimulating your mind by limiting the pieces of artwork on your walls.
If your home office space shares space with your bedroom, start decluttering your bedroom to create a zen-like atmosphere where you can work comfortably. Avoid distractions like blinking holiday lights and lava lamps. Keep your decor soothing and focused, but limited.
Working From Home: Tips for Success
Even after you've set up a perfect work station, working from home can be challenging. Family, pets and household chores can be a distraction throughout the day. Even having access to a full kitchen can turn into its own distraction, as you may be tempted to munch on food or make meals more than you would normally.
Personal discipline can help with this, but more than that, you'll need to establish routines and boundaries that make it possible to maintain work-life balance while getting work done. If you're new to working from home, then you'll need to experiment with different strategies to find what works best for you.
Maintain Routine Work Hours
Avoid the temptation to work constantly. Maintain a regular schedule, and make your coworkers or business partners aware of your hours. If you switch your hours, make people aware of the change.
Change your voicemail and email auto-response to reflect days off, just like you would if you worked in a normal office. On days off, avoid looking at your email. The more you respect the boundaries of a normal work schedule, the easier it is to get work done while you're on the clock.
Create Beginning and End-of-Day Routines
Many people who work in offices follow daily routines. When they get to work, they may start the day by putting their lunch in the fridge, checking voice mail, and answering email from the day before. At the end of the day, they may glance at their emails one last time, send off their mail and clean their desk.
These routines provide a wind-up to the work day and a wind-down at the end of every work day. Many people find these regular routines help them manage productivity, especially in home office settings.
Breaks give your mind time to rest and recharge. Taking regular breaks throughout the day makes it easier to keep working to the end of the work day. Schedule your breaks just like you would if you worked in an office. For many people, this includes a fifteen-minute break in the morning, a lunch hour, and a second fifteen minute break in the afternoon.
If you're telecommuting, tell your supervisor or coworkers when you plan to take your breaks. This way, they'll know when not to call, and your breaks are less likely to be interupted.
Don't Be Afraid to Over-Communicate
When working in an office, you communicate with coworkers throughout the day. You tell them what you're working on, you ask questions about their own projects, and you exchange ideas. You'll find that in a telework situation, that communication may change. You'll have fewer chatty conversations with coworkers. Your conversations will be shorter and less chatty. Your co-workers may lose touch with your activities, and you may lose touch with their activities.
If you're in a telework situation, keep everyone back in your office informed about your progress throughout the day to make up for this lack of communication. By over-communicating your status on projects, talking about meetings you've participated in, and discussing research you've done, you can keep coworkers apprised of your progress.
Find What Works
What works for one person working from home may not work for another person working from home. As you set up your home office and start to work from home, experiment with different strategies to maintain productivity.
Whenever possible, identify problems as they come up. Make a list of issues you're experiencing, whether that's feeling distracted by your pet or having a hard time getting comfortable in your chair. Devise strategies for managing these issues one by one.
If you're teleworking, communicate with your boss, supervisor or coworkers. They may be able to share strategies that will work for you. If you're running your own business out of your home, do research and read articles about other people who run businesses out of their homes.
Take a Thoughtful Approach to Find Success
Working from home can be very rewarding. By living and working in the same place every day, you'll save gas, time and wear and tear on your vehicle. You'll also be in complete control of your office space, and you will have an opportunity to make your work life a customized experience.
Working from home may be rocky at first, but with some practice and by continually experimenting, you should be able to devise a work from home system that meets your needs.