When the coronavirus pandemic hit, workers scrambled to move their professional lives from the office to home. That meant setting up at the kitchen table, sitting on a folding chair, squinting at a laptop screen for hours and trying to tune out the domestic activities going on in the background.
Now that many employees know they will be at home longer than expected, it's time for an office upgrade. Creating a more permanent and productive home office starts with choosing the right space, then making ergonomic and technological adjustments. “No one can figure out … what this is going to be like long term,” says Los Angeles–based interior designer Peti Lau. “People are now willing to invest in buying better furniture and rearranging their interior space."
At the start of the pandemic, Robb Wright, 53, of Takoma Park, Maryland, suddenly found himself working next to a washing machine, with his laptop balanced on a TV tray, in order to separate himself from a family member who was exposed to COVID-19. Later, he set up shop in his bedroom, with his wife working in the basement and his teenage daughters doing remote learning in other parts of the house. But a few months in, they all made changes. “Everybody has moved into different areas and tweaked how they live and work,” he says.
Wright's wife migrated her work space to the guest room, and he took her place in the finished basement. “I've got a real desk, instead of a makeshift desk in the bedroom,” he says. “It helps with the separation of work and home life. You don't lie in bed and stare at your work computer all the time."
Find a place of focus
Now is the time to invest in an office chair or rethink where that desk should be located. That may mean clearing out an extra bedroom or using design techniques to make rooms serve multiple purposes.
Also, consider a spot that can provide natural light and a window. One study found that work spaces with natural features led to a 15 percent increase in overall well-being, a 6 percent increase in productivity and a 15 percent boost in creativity. An infusion of natural light can prevent eyestrain, too.
You want “a place you can feel really comfortable and can focus on what it is that requires your attention,” says Wade Weissmann, founder of Wade Weissmann Architecture.
After months of teaching California State University, Los Angeles, graduate classes via Zoom in her busy kitchen, Aimee Allen, 47, swapped out a decorative chaise lounge in her bedroom to create a mini office, giving her more privacy and quiet.