It’s been about five months since the vast majority of office employees started working from home due to COVID-19, and there’s no certain time when many will return to their regular office — or if they’ll return at all.
Some large companies have reported that working from home over the first few months of the pandemic boosted employees’ productivity significantly. And given the uncertainty of the COVID-19 situation, it’s likely something that will continue for a large number of office workers.
But working from home definitely has its challenges, with distractions such as chores, television and a comfortable couch just a few feet away. For those used to the routine of getting ready for work and commuting to an office, working from home can be difficult, particularly if your home is tight on space.
That’s why we’ve put together a list of ways to design your home office to help you maximize your productivity. These tips will help keep you motivated, alert and effective throughout the day when you’re working from home, no matter what the size of your space.
Home Office Design Tips
- Find a space that allows for some privacy. This may seem impossible if you’re sharing an apartment with roommates, but there are ways to cope. Ideally, you want to work in a room that has a door you can close for quiet, so if there’s room in your bedroom for a desk, that could be your best option. Even if you set up your desk in your bedroom, consider getting a room divider to help create the feeling of separation between where you work and sleep (and prevent you from getting tempted to hop back into bed for a nap). If a bedroom or dedicated office isn’t available, a room divider can also be used within a larger living room or common space to block sound and create privacy from others.
- Try to pick a spot with some natural light. Again, options may be limited depending on your home’s layout, but if you can find a nook near a window, it will help keep you alert and awake throughout the day (and the exposure to sunlight will help brighten your mood and encourage good sleep at night). If you can’t find a space with natural light, make sure it’s still well-lit and bright. If you’re prone to Seasonal Affect Disorder, you might want to consider a sunlamp when the days start getting shorter.
- Invest in an adjustable chair that supports your spine. Desk chairs can be expensive, but you’re going to be spending a lot of time sitting at your desk. It’s extremely important to make sure you’re comfortable and supported in your chair in order to avoid pain, particularly in the lower back, neck and shoulders. Your chair height should allow your feet to rest flat on the floor or on a footrest with your thighs parallel to the floor. Look for a desk chair with armrests for additional support. These should be adjusted so your arms gently rest on them with your shoulders relaxed.
- Create an ergonomic desk setup. You don’t necessarily need a fancy desk, but it must allow you to sit comfortably in your chair and reach everything you need. We recommend investing in a computer monitor and separate keyboard and mouse to avoid being hunched over your laptop all day, which can lead to neck and back pain. Set up your monitor so that it’s an arm’s length away, and set up your mouse and keyword so that your wrists are straight while using them.
- Consider an adjustable standing desk. These desks can be adjusted to be used standing or sitting. This can be a great way of getting some blood flow to your legs throughout the day and can help keep you more focused and awake than sitting all day. If you don’t want to invest in a desk that’s already made, there are many articles available that explain how you can make your own standing desk at a minimal cost.
- Invest in good noise-cancelling headphones. While these don’t necessarily impact your home design, good headphones are absolutely essential for working from home, especially if you share a house or apartment with others who may also be working from home. They’re amazing for phone calls (and Zoom calls), especially with so many people working in environments with background noise. Even if you live alone, noise-cancelling headphones are great for minimizing sound distractions inside and outside your home, such as fans, sirens, appliances or anything else that can take you out of your working headspace. Bluetooth headphones are ideal, since they allow you to move around your home while on phone calls and stretch out your legs. They’re well worth the investment — and will be useful in other settings as well, such as post-pandemic airplane travel.
- Decorate your office space with plants. We’ve written extensively about the benefits of houseplants, and your office is the perfect place for them. Not only do houseplants clean the air and help you breathe easier, they can also improve your productivity and mood and reduce anxiety. A University of Michigan study found that studying or working around plants improved concentration and productivity and increased memory retention up to 20 percent. Texas A&M also determined that working around plants increased workers’ accuracy rates, and the Royal College of Agriculture in England found that students demonstrated 70 percent greater attentiveness when they were taught in rooms containing plants. Additionally, studies have found that being around plants can provide people with feelings of optimism and control and even help people suffering with depression. With people working from home and being more isolated during the pandemic, this benefit seems particularly important. We’ve outlined some of the best houseplants to decorate your home with on our blog.
- Fill your office space with things that make you happy. When it’s photos of loved ones, artwork or even just cute knick knacks, it’s important to make your office your own — and a space you enjoy being in. Most people spend 40 or more hours per week working, and without the social interaction and variety of the office, it can be difficult to stay motivated. That’s why having personal items that put you in a good mood in your home office are so important.
- Keep your space tidy. While you should definitely have personal items around your office space, you should avoid clutter, which can lead to feelings of stress and distract you from your work. Hanging photos, shelves or a bulletin board nearby can help you manage your space while keeping items off your desk.
Outside of having a bright, private and well-designed workspace, it’s important to follow all of the other general working from home tips, such as getting dressed in real clothes to create a sense of productivity and normalcy, taking breaks to stretch, drinking lots of water and eating healthy snacks. Even at home, it’s crucial to build productive routines and ensure you’re creating a work/life balance.
How have you designed your home office to maximize your productivity? Let us know in the comments below.