A well-designed workspace is key to working from home.
With more and more companies offering permanent work-from-home options for many of their employees, it’s time to stop hosting Zoom meetings from the dining room table and taking conference calls on the couch. While you can make do like that for a while—and indeed, and the beginning, that probably sounded pretty great—a dedicated, well-designed workspace is crucial to making working from home sustainable and productive.
Here are five essential ingredients to creating the perfect home office:
Plan your workspace
Office furniture, both modern and traditional, is available in a wide array of styles, sizes, and configurations. The most important thing is to create an organized and comfortable space. And whether your home office is a separate room or a corner of the den, the desk is the most crucial piece of the puzzle.
How big the desk should be depends on how much equipment you use—do you work exclusively on a laptop or plug-in to a set of monitors? Do you need extra space to review printed documents? Do you need a printer nearby or room for an external drive or speaker? How many drawers do you need—and what size? Where will the networking equipment go?
Make a list of your equipment and storage requirements. Modern desks often do not have integrated storage; instead, storage is provided through coordinating freestanding or wall-hung cabinets, which makes it exceptionally easy to customize your home office setup. Your desk should be large enough so that you don’t feel cramped, but oft-used objects (your keyboard, telephone, stapler, Apple Home Pod) should be within an arm’s reach.
If you and your spouse will share a space, a double desk with a divider may be the best solution. If the space you have is on the small side, consider a built-in worktop with modular storage.
Many of us spend up to a third of our day at our desks, so having a chair that is both comfortable and ergonomic should be a priority. Your chair should support the curve of your spine, and when you sit in it, your feet should rest flat with your thighs parallel to the floor. Your arms should rest gently on the armrests with your shoulders relaxed. And when scooted up to your desk, your hands should be at or below elbow level on the keyboard.
Lighting is often an afterthought when planning any room, but especially in a home office, it’s one of the most important elements. The strongest source of light is ideally to the side of your monitor, not directly in front or behind—if you have a large window, place your desk perpendicular to the window wall.
When it comes to artificial lighting, as in the kitchen or bathroom, light in layers that can be turned on and adjusted individually to customize the amount of light you have at different times of the day. Evenly spaced overhead lighting provides ambient light for the whole room. How many fixtures you need depends on the size and shape of the room. LEDs are ideal because brightness and temperature are often adjustable (and they’ll also help you save on your energy bill).
If you will review printed documents at your desk, you may want to add a desk light. If you have room for a separate chair and coffee table, be sure to include a lamp nearby. Depending on the formality of your space, you may also want to use decorative or accent lighting—wall sconces or lighting inside a display cabinet.
As in any room, the paint color you choose for the walls affects and is affected by the lighting in the room—but did you know the color of your wall paint can also affect your mood and productivity?
White—the Old Faithful of wall colors—is good for brightening a room and reflecting natural light, but it can also feel clinical and unwelcoming. If you are inclined to stick with white, choose an off-white shade, which reflects light, is easy to design around, and creates a warm yet professional setting.
Different colors influence not only mood but human behavior. Blues are said to stimulate the mind and help people focus, making them more productive. Yellows evoke feelings of happiness and stimulate creativity. Green makes people feel more balanced, calm, and reassured, and brown suggests strength and power.
Not only the shade but the intensity is important. Choose lighter shades so that they don’t overwhelm the room, or use a stronger color on an accent wall. And whatever you do, stay away from red hues, which suggest urgency, anxiety, and worry—definitely not the feelings you want to have when stuck in your home office all day!
Video meetings are here to stay—what do you want your clients and colleagues to see when you log on? When setting up your space, it’s not enough to consider what you’ll be looking at (behind the computer monitor), but what your computer camera will see—and this is related to every aspect above.
We’ve all been on calls where the strongest light source in the room is behind the person behind the monitor so that all you see is their silhouette. If you have a window to one side of the monitor, add a desk lamp to the left (or make sure you have adequate ambient lighting overhead). Lighting temperature is also important—LED lighting in the range of 5,000–6,000K, which is similar to sunlight, is best.
You should also consider the wall covering. A plain wall is boring, and that reflects on you. Let your video conference wall show off (some) personality. But while you don’t want to be boring, you also don’t want to distract your clients and colleagues. You might hang your diplomas and certifications on the wall behind your desk or an interesting piece of art. An artfully arranged bookcase with books, a few pictures, and collectible also makes a good video-conference background.