Millions of us are currently working from home (WFH) due to the COVID-19 situation. For some, this may be the norm, but for many of us this is a brand-new experience, learning how to adapt to this new way of life as we go. A 2018 study found that 65% of its surveyed participants were more productive when WFH, reporting lower levels of stress, fewer distractions and most importantly the allowance of more comfortable clothing! However, being successful in your home environment may be easier said than done. Nailing your home office space is an important step to allow you to excel at WFH, creating an atmosphere that promotes productivity and is free from as many distractions as possible. A little elbow grease, and some creativity is all it takes to carve out a space to work from. We have put together a list of tips and ideas to help you create the perfect environment to prove to your boss that you are awesome at WFH.
The first question that sprang into mind when I heard I was going to be WFH was where the hell am I going to find the space to work in my little ground-floor flat away from the distractions of the other half and, more importantly, the dog? While some have the luxury of a spare room, summerhouse or loft conversion that is perfect to use as a home office, others, like myself, may have to be a little more creative at carving out a space. Dining room tables, under stairs cupboards, handy little alcoves, or even a few clever tweaks to a wardrobe/dresser/shelving unit can all act as perfect office spaces -depending on your needs.
What do I Need?
When you are deciding where to work, think about not only where in your home is possible to use, but also what you need from the space? You don’t want to spend a day meticulously crafting the perfect, atmospheric, sphere of ultimate office space, to realise it is totally impractical. Ask yourselves the following questions before nonchalantly claiming a corner as ‘good enough’:
· How much desk space do you need?
· How much storage do you require?
· Do you need access to a printer?
· Are you on the phone a lot and need it to be quiet?
· Are you on video call s often and need a professional backdrop?
· Do you often need to access files/folders/equipment?
· Will you simultaneously need to multi-task working and keeping an eye on the kids/dog/furloughed other half?
Keep in mind that working from two or three different places in your home will be way less productive and a lot less motivating that having everything you need in one place. You will also want to create a space that’s away from your usual relax zone, as you will need to be able to ‘leave the office’ and switch off at the end of a long day.
If there’s one tip you take from this blog post its this - comfort is critical. So, let’s start with your chair. You will most probably be spending more than half your day sitting in your chair, so make it a good one. Sitting for long hours can be damaging to your body, so to counter this make sure you have adequate lumbar support, ideally sit with your neck straight, keep your arms parallel to the floor, and for additional comfort keep your feet resting firmly on the floor – or if you’re a half pint like me, use a footstall.
Next, let’s move onto the position of your equipment. Your laptop/computer screen should sit at eye level or slightly below. When you scan down your screen your eyelids should naturally close a little which will moisten your eyes, reducing eye fatigue. Your keyboard should sit so that your forearms are at a normal angle, parallel to the floor to avoid arm ache.
Lighting requires more thought than you’d expect. To work effectively without straining your eyes you need a well-lit area, and natural light is the king of lighting. Numerous studies have shown the positive impact of natural light on your mood, happiness, and sleep patterns – all of which should help boost your productivity, so place your workstation close to a window. However, you will still need some additional lighting for the darker hours of the day; this is England after all. So, for your artificial lighting choose a yellow-cast illumination, we respond better to it as it’s the midway point through the colour progression from cool to warm – most reflective of natural lighting.
WFH is exactly that, you are working from your home, so make the space unique to your tastes. There’s no more need to abide by office politics, so if you want that picture of a burly fireman on your desk, you damn well put it there – whatever gets you out of bed in the morning. Satisfying décor will make your office space more inviting and promote productivity, so choose a few things you love to look at. Photos, wall prints, or even smells you like will make you want to spend more time in your workspace and give you a good reason to look away from the screen every so often. Even science agrees, with one study suggesting that a warm, welcoming environment improves productivity. Research has also shown having a plant in your space can increase wellbeing at work, helping us stay less stressed, increasing levels of happiness and improving the air quality. Lastly if you’re struggling to find a quiet corner to work from, use soft furnishings. Not only can they add a splash of colour to the most depressing of rooms, they increase comfort, and give a feeling of warmth, they also have a soundproofing quality, reducing noise pollution.
Now you’ve read the tips, let me take you on my own journey of creating my perfect office space. Luckily for me I only really need my laptop, my phone and a few bits of paper to do my job, so I didn’t need much storage space for files, folders and all the rest of it.
My first thought was our foldaway dining room table, set behind the sofa in the living room, right next to the window and it even has a pot plant! The logical space to WFH, however the problems were twofold. Firstly, my chairs - which are not comfy – at all. I tried to improvise with some cushions, but my fidget to work ration was about 9:1, so not great for productivity. Secondly, the other half, who is used to WFH, had already proclaimed the space as his own, and moving in on his turf was highly controversial!
Next stop was the sofa, which is big, full of cushions, and my usual go to happy place – perfect conditions for working I thought. From the moment I got up I turned my laptop on and sat at the sofa. I had my lunch on the sofa, still looking at my laptop. Once the end of the work day came I switched my laptop off and put it away, but still because I was in my new work environment all I could think of was what I needed to do the next day. Whilst great for my productivity levels, not so great for the old wellbeing.
So, I tweaked my original sofa idea slightly and sat on the floor with the pouffe in front of me as a make-do desk. I had my ergonomic angles set up correctly, a nice little cushion on the floor for optimal comfort and I wasn’t far from the living room window. But I was positioned straight at the TV. Most of the time it wasn’t on, but somehow it was still very distracting, and I wasn’t getting any work done.
My next ingenious idea was the cupboard under the stairs. It was out the way of any distractions, I got some valuable natural light from the front door, and surprisingly I don’t usually spend much of my free-time sitting in the hallway so it would be easy to switch off at the end of the day. Naturally, there were a number of problems I encountered that I did not foresee. Issue number 1: having to find a new place to store all the tat that usually lives in that cupboard. Issue number 2: there were no sockets nearby to charge my phone and laptop, and without them I can’t get much done. Issue number 3: I manged to scare the living s**t out of the postman by, whilst simultaneously trying to tackle the dog down off my face who was trying to protect us from the highly threatening mail. So, for the postman’s sake, if not for my own, a new space was needed.
I was quickly running out of ideas and rooms to venture into. The garden wasn’t a possibility, as I can’t see my laptop screen properly, whilst the bathroom worked out relatively well in terms of space I was regularly having to vacate when it was in use. There was no chance of using the wardrobe as my copious amounts of clothing are far too important, and unless I sat in the oven, there is no space in my little kitchen. I really had to start getting creative.
So, this is where I ended up working:
My dog’s luxury handcrafted ‘kennel’. Luckily for me, we have quite a big dog, and I’m quite a little human, so it’s become my work-pod. It’s sat parallel to the window, perfect for natural lighting, there’s a plug next to me for my phone and laptop, it feels like I’m in a separate room so I can concentrate well. It’s comfortable, I never usually sit in there, so it became a lot easier to switch off at the end of the day; and I even added a pot plant.
I can understand why this may not be the perfect solution for many, but I will leave you with our final, and most important tip - just do what works for you! You may have a perfectly good desk setup, but if you’re not getting any work done, then it’s not working for you. Research shows us working in a light environment is best for productivity, but if you prefer the dark, sit in the darkest room you can find. Some of us need background noise to concentrate, others need complete silence, some need to concentrate on one task at a time, whilst others can write an entire thesis whilst simultaneously destroying the kids at Mario kart. This is an unprecedented time for all of us, so if you’re getting your work done, it doesn’t matter where or how. Good job for getting up each morning and managing to get through the day!