With flexible hours and hybrid working gradually becoming the new normal, many of us are sitting down to work without setting foot outside the front door. But have you put much thought into the kind of working environment that helps you thrive?
An inspiring workspace can cultivate creativity and increase productivity and can forge a much-needed separation between your home and work lives. Here are some easy home office design ideas to get the ball rolling. Start with a room or location that’s well-lit, well-aerated and with few distractions and you’re halfway there. Next, create an office space that's a place you want to be in.
A Harvard Business Review experiment showed that people who work in a tidy, orderly office space will stick at a difficult task 1.5 times longer than those attempting the same task in an untidy one, so take some time each morning to move anything you don’t need off the desk and onto the shelf before beginning the day’s work. Storage boxes keep papers and supplies neatly filed away, while installing a floating shelf utilises empty wall space. Keep a visible to-do list so deadlines and ideas are top of mind by adding a blackboard to a wall in your eyeline – or even painting a section of the wall with blackboard paint.
The clean-desk directive goes for your computer desktop, too: if you don’t need it, delete it, and it’s worth putting a little time into organising your online filing and naming system so you can quickly find what you do need.
Dr Craig Knight, who researches the psychology of working environments at the University of Exeter, says workplaces enriched with art and plants boost productivity and increase feelings of wellbeing. Plants filter pollutants in the air, absorb carbon dioxide and reduce stress – there’s a reason Amazon’s Seattle HQ has “spheres” of some 40,000 plants. Add evocative poster prints of the great outdoors so you have something dreamy to gaze at and help you to re-centre after a run of Zoom meetings.
A home office doesn’t have to be “office-y”. Your workspace is an extension of your living space, so it makes sense to have them cohere. Framed prints and knick-knacks on floating shelves and an unobtrusive desk can help to create a study that can work in a space borrowed from the lounge room, bedroom or dining room without interrupting the flow.
Don’t feel you should stuff your desk into an out-of-the-way nook. Positioning a desk near a door or large window gives access to plenty of sunshine, which has been shown to reduce eyestrain, headaches and blurred vision, and thus increase productivity. It’s also excellent for keeping you alert and awake: natural light has been found to improve mood, energy, alertness and productivity, akin to the effect of a morning coffee.
If you find it hard to jump into work mode when you don’t have spare room to use as a dedicated home office, spend a little time making your work area a place you want to be. Try a magnetic shelf to store stationery and supplies and purchase a special teapot and teacup just for your work-day breaks – remember, even mild dehydration can significantly lower your work performance, so frequent cups of herbal tea and plenty of water are necessary.
Add a map corkboard that can be pinned according to destinations travelled to and those yet to be visited for a little armchair travel distraction, and upgrade necessities to those that work harder for you, such as a lamp with built-in USB port to charge devices while you work.
Here’s a feng shui tip: arrange your desk in a place where you can easily see the door and the windows and with your back to a solid wall. The idea is that this visual control gives you a feeling of greater control over your work life – ever seen an exec sitting with her back to the door?
Colours are important when it comes to work environments. A study by the University of Texas found that bland, washed-out colours (think beige) make workers feel depressed and gloomy, while other hues can dramatically impact productivity and moods. The best colour-scheme? Soothing blues and greens, which increase creativity and focus. Plants can also add a pop of colour – as well as increasing workplace satisfaction and concentration levels.
When you’re in charge of creating your setup from the ground up, you can have everything exactly how you like it: no more scratchy biros or ugly mouse pads from the office stationery cupboard. Stock up on all the things that will make the space bespoke to your tastes, from your preferred pens (you know you have a favourite) to writing pads and diaries that are actually the size you like for jotting down notes, and add every bit of personal flair you never had the chance to display before: framed family photos, a bunch of fresh flowers, a coffee mug that will never be pinched.
You’ll need a chair that keeps you sitting correctly – make sure your head and torso are in a straight line and that you can comfortably place both feet flat on the ground. Even with an ergonomic set-up, sitting down all day is a bad idea. Prevent injury and pain by moving around as much as you can. Try keeping items you use regularly such as notebooks for jotting, a blackboard for your to-do list and your phone in different places, so you have to get up from your desk to retrieve them.
Add a stand for your laptop or monitor, elevating it to keep the desk free for note taking. Keeping your monitor at eye level will prevent neck-strain, so if you’re working with a laptop, invest in an external keyboard and mouse.
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