July 14, 2024

The pandemic upended the corporate world by shifting millions of people from office desks to kitchen counters, couches, and dining tables. Now, even as the world adjusts to post-pandemic normal, working from home seems like it’s here to stay.

Whether in a fully remote role or a hybrid one, investing in a good home office can pay dividends by improving your productivity and overall well-being.

Business Insider chatted with experts in home office design — from ergonomics specialists who study how humans interact with their working environments to professional organizers to architects — to gather helpful tips on upgrading your workspace.

Ergonomics 101

To build a home office that will serve you over time it’s important to consider how every element you interact with — from your desk to your chair to your lighting — maximizes comfort and productivity.

Start by ensuring your work surface is at the right height. Many of the desks you might purchase through a furniture store are often much higher than the ideal desk height, said Jonathan Puleio, an ergonomist and global vice president of Humanscale Consulting, which develops ergonomics programs for corporations.

“When you’re sitting in a chair, and your feet are firmly planted, take a look at where your natural elbow height falls,” he said. Ideally the height of your desk will be aligned with your natural elbow height.

Next comes your chair, and a good chair promotes movement, according to Puleio. “You’re actually lubricating the discs of the spine,” he said. “So the back and forth, the act of reclining and changing positions in your chair is important.” Any chair designed for commercial use will automatically take you to “another realm of better ergonomics,” he said.

For lighting, focus on balancing the overall light in the room with and task light. Bad lighting has many consequences, including eye strain, dry eyes, watery eyes, and even blurred vision. A seven-watt LED should provide more than enough task light for most workers, he said. And he said that ambient light — the overall light in the room — should be no more than 25 foot-candles, which is a measure of light intensity.

And don’t work off of your laptop. Always opt for an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse.

“Using the keyboard and mouse integrated into a laptop is not only incredibly slow, but it has postural implications,” Puleio said. “You’re much more likely to lean forward, break contact with the backrest, and engage in what’s called trunk flexion, which is a postural problem when you lean forward that results in higher disc compression and muscle fatigue and all sorts of overall discomfort.”

Staying organized

Once you have your basic setup, it’s time to think about ways to keep it organized.

“In the organizing world, we have this concept called prime real estate, and those are the spaces that are most visible and easiest to access,” said Lisa Zaslow, a New York-based professional organizer and founder of Gotham Organizers. “So you want to get those spaces working for you.”

Zaslow said she likes to use vertical file holders that can go right on top of a desk or boxes that you can fill with hanging files for these spaces. They function like a “nice little mini file cabinet” for your current projects. For less pressing documents, she’s a fan of bankers boxes, since they have covers, they’re stackable, and they’re inexpensive.

And while getting organized is one challenge, staying organized is an entirely new ballgame. In Zaslow’s experience, the key to ensuring that you don’t suddenly find yourself staring at a mountain of papers is routinely clearing things out of your office. “I always quote this statistic that I read when I first started doing this 20 years ago that 80% of filed papers are never referred to again,” she said. “And after doing this for 25 years, I’d say it’s more like 95%.”

So, make sure to clear off your desk and reset your systems on a regular basis. Whether that’s five minutes of cleaning your desk every evening or reviewing all your files once a quarter, she said.

Finding inspiration

When spending eight hours a day or more in your home office, you also want to create a space where you won’t burn out.

“I think working from home, people want to be in inspiring spaces,” said Katherine Chia, the cofounder of architecture and interior design firm Desai Chia Architecture. “So they don’t want to be just jammed into a windowless room in the basement.”

So find a room with a view you like. Ideally, one that’s soundproof, too. Then identify maybe one or two works of art to bring some color into the room, or perhaps a plant, Chia said. “Keep it simple. It’s not worth it to necessarily fill a room with a lot of things that are then going to become distractions or too busy.”

The same goes for the color palette. While it’s not a “one size fits all” rule, Chia said she likes to think about two colors that work together. “One might be more neutral, one might be more dominant,” she said. Those who like color can use that dominant color to “inform a lot of things in the room” from the upholstery for a chair to the artwork, she said.

And working from home these days means you’ll likely take a Zoom call or two. So, if you want to score well on Room Rater (the X account that judges everyone’s Zoom backdrops), create a Zoom wall.

“I think it’s nice to have a Zoom background that reflects the person’s interest,” Chia said.

If someone travels regularly for work, Chia suggests hanging a large map on the wall. If you’re a plant lover or just have a green thumb, try creating some sort of “green foliage background,” she said. And if you have past work projects you can showcase, try creating some sort of collage of them. But keep it simple.

“You want somebody to focus on you, and your face, and what you’re saying, but you want what’s around you to kind of give people a hint of who you are,” she said.

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