En español | 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."
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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.
Improve Your Office Space
1. Rethink where you are working. Look for spots with natural light, if possible.
2. Improve ergonomics with a chair that has lumbar support, or try an external mouse and a monitor at the right height.
3. If you work in a room with multiple uses, dividers and area rugs can break the space into sections.
4. If your office is in your bedroom, make your bed and use visual cues to shift gears.
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.
Allen wanted her at-home classroom to match the serenity of her bedroom, so she scoured Facebook Marketplace for a cut rate on a modern desk and a stylish CB2 office chair to match her bedstands. “It's the space I want to look the nicest,” she says.
One of the simplest ways to blend an office into a bedroom or other multiuse space is to clearly define each section of a room with furniture and storage and put an emphasis on keeping everything tidy. A bench at the foot of a bed can be swapped for a compact desk. An empty wall can be transformed with shelving and containers or baskets, to minimize clutter. If a room is large enough, curtains, dividers or area rugs can divide the space into sections. Clearing out closet space will allow paperwork and office supplies to be neatly boxed up, out of view.
If your office is in your bedroom, Lau suggests making the bed before transitioning to work and investing in pieces that set the tone of the space you want to create. Splurging on a leather trash bin or beautiful wicker organizer baskets can foster a sense of pride and offer visual cues to switch gears. “It's a lot about shifting your mindset,” Lau notes.
Avoid aches and pains
Don't forget about ergonomics when rethinking your office space. An external mouse, a keyboard and an adjustable laptop stand (or stack of books) are easy and affordable upgrades. An external monitor can reduce eyestrain.
An office chair, instead of a folding chair, can help those sitting in front of a screen avoid aches and pains. Such improvements don't have to break the bank, observes Nikki Weiner, an occupational therapist and cofounder of the Rising Workplace. Consider low- to mid-range chair brands with lumbar support or even a rolled towel or pillow placed behind your lower back.
When real estate appraiser, Jonathan Miller, 59, realized he would no longer be commuting from his Darien, Connecticut home to his Manhattan office, he quickly made his existing office more comfortable. Miller already had a nice Herman Miller chair that allows his feet to lay flat on the floor and a desktop monitor aligned with his eyes, but he needed a better setup for many hours of Zoom calls and TV interviews. He purchased an adjustable boom microphone, external lights and camera on a tripod that he could line up to his forehead, angled down slightly toward his face.
“I knew I’d be talking on the phone a lot during the lockdown,” he says. “I wanted to make sure the last thing I had to worry about was being comfortable while presenting.”