Working from home is an increasingly viable and attractive option for both employers and employees, and studies now show that half of us could work remotely (at least some of the time). But a truly effective home office requires planning and organization.
To find out what it takes to set up a productive, professional, and comfortable home office, we spoke with Toronto interior designer Jane Lockhart.
Location, location, location
Lockhart, who has completed high-end home offices of all sizes, suggests a minimum 8 x 10-foot room, but admits, “if you use the whole area properly, size doesn’t necessarily matter.” Location, she says, is actually more important: your space should not be part of the main traffic flow in your house. This is both for your own sanity and to project professionalism during meetings by phone or Skype.
“A door that closes and locks is helpful,” she adds. Case in point:
Lockhart also suggests keeping your space free from disruption and distraction.
“You can only have a TV in an office if you’re not distracted by it. It’s also best to avoid mirrors. Sound-proofing can be helpful, so you don’t hear other house noises. Adding an area carpet and drapery can also dampen sound,” she says.
Every job is different, but almost all offices require storage — “Proper, ample paper and filing management systems,” Lockhart advises. “You should have lots of storage space and large surfaces, so you can spread out your work, or set up two computers at one time.”
If budget isn’t a concern, built-in cabinetry is the way to go. “It uses every inch of space,” Lockhart says, “with exactly the right size of shelving and drawers.” You probably, however, won’t want to tackle this alone; designers like Lockhart can “look at how you use the space, and design and install custom built-ins to accommodate every single function you require in the office.”
But even if you’re working on the cheap, with little more than stack-able plastic bins, the goal is to make the space as orderly and easy to use as possible. “There’s no point having bookcases if you’re not putting away your books,” Lockhart says. “And when you have a lot of loose papers and nowhere to put them, visual clutter can become brain clutter.”
Structure your world
De-cluttering goes beyond keeping your office looking good — it can boost efficiency, too. Especially if you’re using your home office as a touchdown space, and frequently trucking a laptop to and fro, it’s easy for a messy tangle of wires and cables to take over. Here, a little strategy goes a long way. “Install electrical outlets up high as well as down low,” Lockhart suggests. “Low, for things that stay plugged in all the time, and just above counter height for charging portable devices.”
The trick is to engineer an initial setup that makes it easier to stay organized than to let mess pile up. With that in mind, Lockhart suggests getting a good shredder, and keeping it close at hand, even in the very space you feel inclined to let junk stack up: “Instead of putting your old papers in a pile, this forces you to deal with them.”
Stay on track
Removing distraction goes beyond office clutter. Without the fear of a boss walking in at any moment, the temptation to waste hours on social media can be hard to resist. Luckily, technology is there to help bolster your willpower. Many new smartphones come with a “do not disturb” function, while tools like AppDetox and Offtime limit your access to time-wasting apps during office hours. For desktop computers, programs such as Freedom allow you to restrict the websites you can open during the day, letting your best intentions exert a little added control over your moments of weakness.
Of course, all this effort to maximize organization and productivity will go to waste if you never want to be in your home office — so making it a pleasant space matters, too. “The chair is important if you’re sitting at a desk, and will help your posture and comfort in the long run,” Lockhart says, “so don’t just reuse a dining room chair. Desk height is also important. I like to include a secondary seating area with a table so you can change positions, take a break, or hold meetings.”
And like any office, a home office needs to look good. “If you spend a full work day in your office, you should be in a space with lots of natural light,” she says. With artificial lighting, “More is better, because you can always turn it off.” Finally, introduce your own touches. “Add mementos, art, and photos,” Lockhart says. “Accent walls are good idea too.”
This is about more than mere aesthetics: “They help re-energize the eye when you’re looking at a computer most of the time.”
There you have it. Now get to work!