How To Set Up Your First Home Office
More people than ever are working from home, some for the first time. For many, that means improvising a workspace.
Cramped apartments, busy families and tight budgets make it difficult to build a dream home office. Many people are simply working wherever they can – from their closets to their beds – often at the expense of their productivity and comfort. According to professional organizer and interior designer Jeffrey Phillip, it is critical to be thoughtful about your workspace and to put time into the process.
“I think we underestimate what our workspace does for mental health and productivity,” said Phillip. “It causes chaos when you’re in a state of flux. The more permanent you can make your space – even if it’s a temporary work-at-home situation – the more productive you can be.”
Short of full-on refurbishments, there are simple ways to carve out a home office that works for your needs. Career Tool Belt spoke with Phillip as well as clutter expert Gayle Goddard, founder of The Clutter Fairy, about setting up your workspace efficiently, cheaply and realistically.
Set up a separate, designated area.
Goddard recommends setting up a designated workspace in your home, rather than free-flowing every day. The separation will do wonders for your productivity and organization.
“Claim a dedicated space that you use as an office, and create a barrier if you can,” said Goddard. “Even if it’s the end of a dining room table, make one section for dining, one section for work. It will help you keep that mentally separate and have a place to park. The biggest concern is having work walk all over the house so it gets lost in the landscape of your home.”
Keep the area as clear as possible.
When you’re working, you don’t want to look at a cluttered, distracting space. Phillip recommended cleaning up all the clutter in your field of view. Goddard even suggested facing a wall, especially if you live with a busy, distracting family.
“I can’t help it if a kid comes and crawls in your lap, but if you’re at least not looking directly at the laundry pile, or dishes in the kitchen or the kids running up and down in the hall, it’ll help you support your focus,” Goddard said.
Keep your office clutter to a minimum as well. Neatly bundle your cords with anything from velcro straps to hair ties, and try not to hoard supplies you don’t need, according to Phillip.
“All of that extra stuff can actually make it more of a stressful situation for you. Clear it up and start with as blank a canvas as you can,” Phillip said. “A home office set-up is very different than they used to be. For example we don’t usually have tons of paper. We’re not printing. There’s so much that we’re not doing, and so many office supplies are not necessary.”
Comfort is everything.
Comfort is key when it comes to your home office. If you buy nothing else, get an ergonomic chair.
“If you’re going to sit there for a long period of time, you need a good supportive chair for your back,” Goddard said. “Get up for five minutes every hour so that you can get the circulation back in your feet. In real offices, they spend a lot of money on office chairs and you don’t think about it until you sit in a dining chair for hours a day.”
Phillip suggested arranging your space in a way that opens up your body. For example, use a monitor stand and a real mouse instead of a track pad.
“Listen to your body,” said Phillip. “My body responds very differently when I get my computer screen elevated and I’m not hunched down, staring down at my laptop. Open your body up.”
Comfort doesn’t have to be ugly either, according to Phillip. For example, a neat stack of colorful books can serve as a monitor stand.
Aim for good lighting.
Good lighting is critical in a home office, and it can relieve eye strain if you’re staring at a monitor all day. Phillip said that natural light is preferable, and there are tricks to brightening a dark home.
“Natural light makes me feel more aware and sharp,” said Phillip. “If you’re not able to be next to a window, maybe you can position mirrors to bounce the light off the room to get a brighter feel. Swap out heavy drapes for sheer or linen ones.”
If all else fails, bring in a lamp, said Goddard.
If you need to shift your workspace around, consider some elements of portability. A lightweight chair and a laptop can easily move around, and Goddard strongly recommended using a file box.
“Get a file box from an office supply store. It can be picked up and moved,” said Goddard. “You can stash it away if you don’t want to look at it for some reason, and someday it can be transferred to the office.”
While a designated office area is recommended, some workers might benefit from occasional shifts in location.
“Sometimes for myself, a change of scenery helps me refocus if I’m sitting in my office all the time and I can’t seem to think straight,” Phillip said. “Try and keep as much structure as you can, but I think there is a benefit to moving every so often. Go sit on the couch from time to time, do a little work at the kitchen island. Things like that.”
Add some flourish with plants and art.
Greenery and art can make your home office more welcoming. You may already have these items somewhere else in your home, ready to move to your new workspace.
“I would prop up a piece of art that you like to look at. Something that you find soothing and restful, that you find pleasing,” Goddard said. “You could add a plant or some flowers just so you have something nice to look at. Facing the wall is kind of boring.”
Don’t tackle it all at once.
To make the set-up more manageable, Phillip recommended putting together your home office slowly.
“Don’t go out and complete the space overnight and shop for everything on Wayfair to create some Instagram-worthy office space,” said Phillip. “When I have clients who have grand goals, I try to dial it back and do it piece by piece. When you sometimes search for inspiration on Instagram or Pinterest, you could end up purchasing more than you need and going crazy creating this elaborate home office, and it’s not what you need.”
By assembling an office slowly, you can implement trial and error in small bites. It’s easy to replace a stapler or a footstool that doesn’t work for you. It’s much harder to replace a massive coordinated decor effort.
Don’t stress over the “perfect solution.”
People tend to feel extra guilty about their home workspaces, according to Phillip. They want to appear productive and checked-in for their employers. But while you will find some decor elements that you love, your home office may always be a work in progress – and that’s okay.
“There’s a lot to be said for just being kind to yourself,” Phillip said. “You may not know what you need if this is the first time you’re working from home. Experiment. As someone who has worked from home for the last 10 or so years, I always try to find the thing that will be the perfect solution, but I’m understanding that there really isn’t one. What works one day may not work the next.”