Work from home remotely is the new mandate of many companies as the coronavirus (COVID-19) spreads with lightning speed. Though many can work anywhere in their home—from their lap in a living room or bedroom, many prefer a dedicated workspace.
Houzz, the home renovation and design platform, recently polled its community and found that a quarter of respondents who work from home sit at a dining or kitchen table and one in 10 work from their sofa. That can prove challenging for many reasons, from not having quiet and privacy or a strong WI-FI connection or just a comfortable workspace. Also, working from home can be lonely and isolating if you’re used to interaction with people in an office. So, when you set up your workstation at home, make sure you have the capability to video chat and telework. It’s sometimes better to see others when you have a conversation versus the one-way communication of an email or text.
The numbers of those working from home is more than 13 million Americans, according to the most recent U.S. Census data, and those numbers are on the rise. As a result, home offices rank high on homeowner wish lists for all ages. Here are tips from Houzz senior editor Anne Colby for setting up a functional, attractive space, along with our own suggestions from years of doing so.
- Decide where to locate your workspace. Typical spots include a spare bedroom, repurposed dining room, attic, basement, den and backyard shed. Think about whether you want to be close to your family when your work or if you need quiet and prefer a distance from living areas and bedrooms, Colby says.
- Make the setup ergonomic. Having ergonomic furnishings means choosing your chair, desk, computer, keyboard, mouse and telephone carefully and arranging those items plus a printer for good posture. This enables you to work more productively and prevent repetitive injuries. To buy the most functional items, in some cases you’ll want to test them rather than just purchase online. Consider style. Decide if you want the aesthetic to reflect your home’s period or something vastly different. You can also hire a contractor or cabinetmaker to craft custom solutions. Barbara has a home office tucked into a large upstairs hallway with a wrap-around desk, pullout keyboard at the right height, file cabinet on wheels, metal shelves for a cool vibe and some favorite artwork on the walls. Putting it in this spot rather than in a bedroom gives her wonderful natural light and an ability to hear the mail person trudge up her front steps.
- The desk chair is critically important, says Colby. She suggests seeking an overall fit that supports your back and encourages good seated posture. Features to look for include adjustable seat, arms and back, as well as legs on rollers and a seat that swivels so you can easily get in and out of the chair and reach for things without straining. Your feet should be slightly forward and fully supported by the floor or a footrest, she says.
- The desk chair is also key. Whether you buy it from Houzz, another source online or in a store or having one custom-made, think about what size, shape and style will best serve your needs, Colby says. Custom desks can be built to your specifications, but free-standing desks come in standard types: U-shaped, L-shaped, corner, curved, rectangular (writing, computer, executive style) and standing. A pullout keyboard tray or shelf can help reduce muscle strain. If your desk height is fixed, a tray can allow you to adjust your keyboard and mouse height and distance to help you work in a relaxed, comfortable position.
- Don’t forget the printer. Where it goes might depend on how often you use it, Colby says. Whether it’s near your workstation or farther away, make sure it’s in a place where you can comfortably add paper, replace ink cartridges and service it, if needed.
- Organize your workspace and keep it organized. Some like an office where everything is displayed in the open on shelves or on a large surface. Others find that busy surfaces are too distracting and make them take too many breaks. To decide, think about how you work best and set it up carefully to help you stay organized and focused. Houzz offers many storage solutions to help such as bins, boxes and file cabinets. Look online for more ideas. Think about things you want to look at and have at your fingertips every day. These items should go on desktops and open shelves — perhaps in baskets, boxes or organizers. Everything else can be stored in drawers and cabinets, with the most frequently accessed items within arm’s reach and the rest in higher cabinets or drawers farther away from where you work. A fire-safe box can protect important documents, Colby says.
- Plan lighting. The best lighting is diffused, and fixtures are well positioned to avoid creating computer screen glare, which can lead to eyestrain. Lighting designers on Houzz say a home office should have layers of light from multiple sources rather than a single light source. Consider a standard ceiling light providing overall illumination as a starting point. Include some task lighting for reading and other close work; one that can be raised and lowered is a bonus. Some light wall sconces add some ambient lighting or a floor light. Barbara also has a ceiling fan with built-in lights, so she gets two-for-one and cools the area when it’s warm. Margaret has a desk lamp, a tall floor lamp, overhead lighting and a huge window facing north where she can pull up the shade to let in natural light during the day.
- Remember the floor. Whether you choose carpeting, a rug or a bare floor is a matter of personal preference. If you go with carpet or a rug, make sure your chair glides over it smoothly when you move it to sit down and get up. A chair or floor mat can be an option and if placed over a rug, can protect the rug from the wear and tear of moving your chair around.
- Noise control. While soundproofing materials such as acoustic dry wall panels and solid wood doors can be pricey, it’s worth it to help block noise. Some furnishings can absorb sound when placed in the right area of your home office. Or you might add a white-noise machine.
- Plan electronics, too. You need enough outlets for your electronic gear such as computer, printer, noise machine, light, fan or heater. Use power strips with multiple outlets. You also may want music at times. Install more outlets than you think and try to keep them out of view; that means camouflaging wires, too.
- Incorporate inviting features. Decorate your office in a way that feels right to you. You might like your office decor to coordinate with the furnishings in the rest of your home. Or perhaps your office will be the place where you cut loose and display some quirky style, Colby says. It’s also nice to include in your workspace things that inspire you and make you feel good. This can include favorite artworks, travel mementos a fresh plant or flowers or pictures of family and friends. Some homeowners on Houzz have a sunny window or a comfortable spot for a pet.
- Don’t rule out using part of a room. If you’re pressed for space, you can always use that dining room or kitchen table or a corner of your bedroom. Just be diligent about having boxes and bins to put work away when that table must function for eating, for example. It just takes more organizational skill and time but is not impossible. And remind family that it’s your workspace and not theirs for using or rummaging through papers.
- Take breaks. If you have room in your office, include a small sofa or club chair for relaxing or reading, Colby says. In most traditional office environments, you take breaks—go to the bathroom, schmooze with co-workers, take a walk down the hall, go out for lunch, read the newspaper. Do so from home, too. It’s good for posture to get up and move around. Do your laundry. Take a lunch break. Even take a longer break and head to the gym or outdoors for a walk. You want to be efficient but not overly so. Two rules we have followed in our years of working from home: Get up and get dressed rather than stay in your pajamas, and don’t make trips too often to the refrigerator. It’s bad for your health and weight gain. Crumbs are also deadly for electronics, so keep them away from your keyboard. And avoid liquid spills, too.
Before we close, we asked Colby to share what her own home office looks like, which she says has varied over time. “In the past, I’ve had a dedicated room for a home office with a large desk, file cabinets and shelving units,” she says. But in her current setup, it’s more casual since she uses her living room sofa with “a laptop lap desk, which helps with comfort. I am getting a small computer table soon. I also have a nice view of nature and the sky, and that mes all the difference.”
Credits for the images from Houzz:
- Dallas, TX: Sarah Greenman © 2013 Houzz
- Vineyard Bungalow: Andrew Snow © 2013 Houzz
- Austin Home Office: Heather Banks © 2017 Houzz
- Walter E Smithe Furniture & Design, multiple offices in the Chicago area