Creating an effective home office setup that inspires productivity requires thought, planning, and unfortunately – money. But it’s an investment that soon pays itself off both financially and in general well-being as the savings stack up and you begin to take control over the way you work.
Keep reading for a deep dive into the science behind creating a productive workspace at home or visit our home office solutions page for more insights into effective remote and hybrid work.
With the recent increase in flexible work arrangements, we are now more in control of our working lives than ever before. Free of long commutes, fixed breaks, and office politics, remote and hybrid work schedules are empowering us to fit our work lives around our personal lives, rather than the other way around.
Commutes have been replaced with yoga, colleagues have been replaced with cats, and the roles and responsibilities of the office manager are now yours.
The challenge we face, however, is how to transfer the functionality and productivity of the conventional office to the new office at home. Because as it turns out, working on the sofa isn’t that comfortable, and staying focused at home isn’t that easy.
Why Investing in a Your Home Office Setup Makes Sense
Remote work is not a fad. Industry leaders such as Twitter, Mastercard, Shopify, and Zillow have already set the bar by offering permanent remote work options for their employees, with many other reputable firms allocating company funds for employee home offices.
Flexjobs estimates that employees working from home could save up to US$4,000 in a single year and, according to The Predictive Index, employers offering remote work options are seeing a remarkable increase in employee productivity, happiness, and retention.
Be it for yourself or your employees, a well-designed home office setup is a smart investment, although it may take some time to adjust from the traditional office environment.
How to Create a Healthy Work/Life Balance
Many first-time WFH employees struggle with the ability to separate work and home. While the daily commute will not be missed, it did serve to create a definitive divide between the two spaces, allowing us to leave our professional baggage at the office before heading home, and vice versa.
Without a commute, this becomes a little harder. But there is a solution.
Choose Seclusion over Convenience
Avoid using the kitchen or living room as an office. These rooms are likely to be used directly after work (making the separation of work and home far more challenging) and as communal areas, they are often filled with distractions, especially in shared households.
Ideally, the home office should be in a secluded place that can be walked away from in order to leave professional stress within a defined area of the house.
A room with a door that can be closed is ideal, but not available to all. If so, take stock of all the unused space in your house that could potentially become a workspace. With the right design, the home office does not need a large space, so think creatively.
Set Rules with Others at Home
If you share a house with a partner, spouse, or children, be sure to establish boundaries regarding your workspace and work times. Let them know when your break times are and discourage any interruptions during work time.
It may be difficult at first, especially with young children, but setting the ground rules early on will go a long way towards remaining productive and cultivating a healthy work/life balance.
Take Regular Breaks
Short breaks are key to productivity as they allow us to briefly remove ourselves from a task, refresh and recharge, and return with renewed energy and perspective. In conventional offices breaks usually happen naturally in the form of colleague interactions, but in the home office you’ll need to be more conscious of when to take breaks.
Schedule breaks based on time or the completion of tasks. Breaks needn’t be longer than just a few minutes but taking them regularly will help maintain a steady level of energy and productivity throughout the working day.
Keep Healthy Habits
Keep daily habits that promote a positive, productive, and professional mindset. Do not abandon the morning routine that previously helped you prepare for the office and think of creative ways to use the extra time you now have.
Here are some recommended habits to consider when working from home:
- Wake up at the same time every day to maintain a regular sleeping pattern.
- Wake up early enough to allow a small amount of leisure time before work.
- Make time to eat a good breakfast away from your computer before you start.
- Create a to-do list at the start of the day with clearly defined goals.
- Take regular breaks away from your workspace and stretch regularly.
- Limit social media use during work and keep your phone off your desk.
- Leave your apartment during lunch break, even if just for a walk.
- Communicate with colleagues often to maintain social interaction and team cohesion.
- End your workday on time and avoid doing work outside of work hours.
Start with the Right Desk
The desk is the cornerstone of the office. Its functionality and how it serves the flow of work will directly affect productivity, efficiency, and comfort. Take your time with this decision as it is a long-term investment with the ability to positively influence the direction of your office and overall workflow.
Consider the Workflow Your Desk Will Support
List all the functions your desk will serve and consider any potential future changes. Are you looking to get a bigger monitor at any point? Do you anticipate having clients or guests? How much extra space do you need for off-screen tasks? Which frequently used objects will require space on the desk?
This may mean having to rethink where you set up your home office, but keep in mind that this is a long-term solution that will continue to offer personal and professional benefits.
Prioritize the Ergonomics of the Desk
It’s easy to get caught up in the style and feel of a desk and forget the importance of ergonomics. But a desk that is not suited to your body size and workflow will hamper productivity and lead to aches and pains that can get worse over time.
Follow these ergonomic guidelines for a seated desk to ensure productivity and comfort throughout the full working day:
- The desk height should be 28-30 inches from the ground (higher if you are taller than average).
- When sat at the desk, your elbows should rest at 90 degrees with your hands flat.
- If you do a lot of typing, consider a desk with a keyboard tray to keep your wrists flat.
- Allow for enough chair space to easily stand up and sit down and access all parts of the desk without twisting or straining.
- Frequently used items should be easily retrievable without twisting or straining.
Consider a Standing Desk if Your Workflow Allows
Standing desks have been linked to a number of benefits, including increased productivity and awareness, reduced back and neck pain, and a lowered risk of weight gain. But keep in mind that going directly from sitting 8 hours a day to standing 8 hours a day is not advised. A safer option would be to buy an adjustable desk and slowly increase the amount of time spent standing each day.
The standing desk also comes with ergonomic recommendations, so take the following into account when considering different options:
- The desk should be set roughly to the height of your belly button.
- Your elbows should sit close to the body with forearms rested flat on the desk.
- Your wrists should rest at 180 degrees to the forearm, with fingers only slightly raised to type.
- Stand with a straight spine, shoulders back, and a level head to avoid strain on your vertebrae.
- Your screen should be positioned so that the top of the display area is just below eye level.
- Use a small footrest to shift the weight from leg to leg throughout the day.
- Be sure to wear shoes that are designed to offer support and comfort.
If you choose a standing desk, it’s advisable to also invest in one of the many available standing desk stools that allow you to sit, lean, or perch while working. Having this support will allow you to capitalize on the increased productivity standing desks offer without the strain of unassisted standing for long periods of time.
Choose a Chair Based on Support, Not Comfort
Don’t completely forego the in-store comfort test, but also pay close attention to the level of support the chair provides, especially lumbar support.
A good office chair should be slightly (or obviously) indented towards the bottom of the backrest so that the indent follows the curve of your spine and sits comfortably within the indent of your lower back.
Armrests are useful but not essential. If they are likely to hamper moving in and out of your desk or adjusting your chair to the correct height, choose a chair without as it is more common for our arms to be rested on the desk.
Here are the basic ergonomics to keep in mind when choosing an office chair:
- The height (preferably adjustable) should be set so that your feet can be placed flat.
- The depth of the seat should be enough for a fist of space between the chair and the back of your knee/calf.
- The width should easily accommodate your hips.
- The backrest should match the shape of your spine, offering sufficient lumbar support.
- The backrest should also be flexible, allowing a range of motion between 90-115 degrees.
- The backrest should be at least 18” higher than the seat.
Choose a Monitor That is Optimized for Multi-tasking and Efficiency
The display monitor forms the focal point of any modern office and also provides the most opportunity for increased productivity and efficiency. According to a study by the University of Utah, moving from a single 18-inch traditional-format monitor to a 24-inch widescreen display can reduce the time it takes to complete a task from 8 hours to 5-1/2 hours.
There is also evidence to support increased employee satisfaction due to decreased frustration from alternating between multiple tabs when working on a single document.
We previously published an article on choosing the right home office monitor, but the following are worth mentioning again in light of home office productivity:
The Single-cable Solution
A monitor with USB-C connectivity allows you to connect your laptop, or any other compatible device, through a single cord that provides data, video, audio, and power. This plug-and-play functionality allows you to effortlessly move your laptop between workstations and instantly connect back to your monitor with little to no start-up time.
The single-cable solution also eliminates cable clutter within the workspace that can otherwise be unappealing and distracting.
A monitor offering the complete ergonomic range can seamlessly tilt, pivot, swivel, and height adjust to best support individual workflows and tasks in an effective way.
For example, pivoting to the portrait mode is more efficient for coding, text-based work and reading websites. Tilting the screen back makes standing group discussions more inclusive. Adjustable height means better posture in any setup, be it standing, sitting, or a hybrid of the two.
Basic Monitor Ergonomics
After selecting a monitor that meets the demands of your work, follow these basic ergonomic guidelines to ensure good posture and to avoid developing aches and pains.
- The monitor should be placed directly in front of you to avoid any twisting of the neck.
- Place it at least an arm’s length away so you can see all parts of the screen without moving your neck.
- The top line of the screen should be 0-30 degrees below eye level (our eyes naturally rest in a downward position).
- The font size should be adjusted so all text can be read with ease.
Click here for a more detailed ergonomic checklist to follow when setting up a monitor.
Get the Right Lighting for your Home Office
If you are intent on creating a productive home office setup, all forms of lighting must be taken into account to avoid reduced energy levels, eyestrain, and headaches.
Natural light is the optimal light source, so look for a space near a window. Natural light is easy on the eye, keeps us awake and focused, and makes us happier by triggering the release of mood-boosting serotonin.
It’s best to sit facing the window (or at 90 degrees to the window) to avoid direct sunlight on the screen as glare should be avoided at all costs. If possible, position the desk facing north or south to avoid shadows being created by direct sunlight and fit the window with a blind for greater control of the amount of light coming in.
Ambient light refers to the light that fills the room. This can be natural light, overhead light, lamps, wall lighting, or any combination of these.
For home offices, be sure that the ambient light is not too dim as this will lead to drowsiness, but also avoid harsh fluorescent light as it can be draining and lead to migraines. Also, try to defuse any harsh or direct light by making use of lampshades or better positioning.
If your work entails focus-intensive tasks that are not computer based, it can be beneficial to equip your office with a task light. You may only need one flexible desk lamp that can be adjusted for differing tasks, or if you have multiple workstations, you may need more than one task light.
Just be sure to take shadows into account when positioning task lights. If you are right-handed and do a lot of writing or drawing, place the task light on your left-hand side to avoid your hand casting a shadow on the focal point of your work.
A Quick Summary of Optimal Home Office Lighting
- Natural light keeps us awake, focused, and happy.
- Sit so the back of the monitor is facing the window to avoid screen glare.
- Facing your desk in a northern or southern direction will reduce shadows and glare.
- Ambient light should be spread evenly, and harsh light avoided.
- Dim lighting can lead to drowsiness and eyestrain.
- Overly bright fluorescent light can lead to headaches and fatigue.
- Make use of task lights for focus-intensive offscreen work.
- Be sure not to create shadows in any focal points.
Choose Colors that Inspire You
Color makes a difference. It affects the way we feel, and the way respond to environments. Big companies make full use of this when designing their offices, so our home offices should be no different.
We associate each color with certain characteristics and emotions, so when adding colors to your home office (be it wall colors, lamp colors, or art pieces), think about the values you would like to represent in the work you do and how that might be expressed in color.
Use the below chart as a guide to the feelings and emotions that colors tend to evoke in us along with a few examples of the industries and companies already putting these colors to use.
Almost every aspect and object within your home office setup can positively or negatively affect overall productivity, so give careful consideration to each and every addition. Keep in mind that it is not a temporary solution but rather a long-term investment in your professional career.
Remote work is allowing us to rethink and reshape the way we work on our terms, but the responsibility lies with us to prove that it does not come at the sacrifice of the quality or quantity of our work.
If you enjoyed this article on home office setups, you may also be interested in these tips for transitioning to working from home, or visit our home office solutions page for valuable insights and performance-built display solutions.