Tips for creating a productive home office in the remote work era


We spoke to two interior designers and a psychology professor to craft a roundup of tips to keep in mind when designing a dedicated home workspace.

Image: iStock/g-stockstudio

In recent months, millions of people have transitioned from the standard office to the virtual workplace due to the coronavirus pandemic. While some organizations initially adopted remote work policies to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus in the short term, some companies have made long-term commitments to remote work in the years ahead. Needless to say, working from home does come with its own set of challenges. To assist, we’ve compiled a list of tips to keep in mind when designing a productive, dedicated workspace in the era of remote collaboration.

SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Talk it over with household

The coronavirus pandemic has altered the way we work, learn, interact, and more. Aside from businesses, many schools and universities have also adopted online curriculums on short notice. As a result, the home now serves as an office and virtual learning center for many. That said, the first step in designing a dedicated professional workspace may start with an open discussion as a household.

“I think that it is important to talk through the workspace with your family. Where are you going to work comfortably while being able to Zoom when needed? Where are the kids going to do their virtual learning? What do you do when there is conflict over time and bandwidth,” said Larry D. Rosen, professor emeritus, California State University, Dominguez Hills.

Make a system and set rules

As part of this discussion, it’s also important to set basic ground rules and protocols around the workday. With multiple humans operating within a confined space, there are bound to be distractions and conflicts. An open discussion about potential challenges with proactive solutions in mind could be critical moving forward. Different households will require different approaches. At times, this may even involve creating simplistic solutions to minimize potentially major intrusions, Rosen explained.

“Is there a way to avoid interruptions? If you have children at home or someone else working, too, then perhaps put a sign on the work door showing a red side “I am working” and a green side “I am interruptible.” Then you have to have a family meeting to make it clear under what circumstances someone may interrupt you even if the red sign is on the door. If you have to, print the rules and put them on the door,” Rosen said.

SEE: Photos: These 23 home offices show the good, the bad, and the ugly of remote work (TechRepublic)

Choose the right environment

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to choosing the ideal work environment. Different people may be more productive in a particular area based on myriad preferences. However, understanding the types of environments one thrives in and others that may lead to distractions could help pin-down the optimal location, explained Lauren Cox, an interior designer and design program manager for Havenly.

“When it comes to your environment, ask yourself if you thrive with hustle and bustle in the background, or if you prefer silence to be your most productive self?  You may need an enclosed, private space, or you may need to set up camp in an area frequented by family or roommates to capitalize on impromptu conversations and more constant background noise,” said Cox.

Pick the right setup

While some companies provided employees with stipends to design their home offices many were not as fortunate. Consequently, people have, at times, opted to instead utilize less than optimal existing furniture during the workday. However, a slapdash setup may have major drawbacks on productivity and mood. Wendy Yates, principal designer at AE Design Studio, suggested individuals may need to have an honest conversation with themselves about their remote work routine.

“When designing any space keep asking yourself “What are the results I want to achieve from this space?” Thinking you can just work from your kitchen table or sofa is never a good idea because those spaces were designed for other purposes than being productive, resulting in getting easily distracted,” Yates said.

“Although many people love their jobs there are just some days that working is the last thing we want to do. Creating a space that we want to be in is key,” Yates continued.

Maximize the spaces

In smaller homes and apartments or in environments with multiple housemates, it can be difficult or even impossible to set aside an entire room as a dedicated workspace. However, there are design options to help maximize the productivity potential of dual-purpose spaces. Yates suggested using barriers and screens to create separation in a room and provide people with a sense of privacy.

Additionally, Yates explained that multifunctional furniture such as fold-down tables or adjustable height coffee tables could enable people to repurpose equipment for work and leisure. These dual-purpose options will offer functionality throughout the day without taking up valuable space between use.

Incorporate greenery

Once people have selected a dedicated space with accessories and ergonomic accouterments, individuals may want to consider adding some plants to the area. Research has shown that offices with plants can help increase productivity and enhance mood. Yates explained other benefits of incorporating proximal green space around the workspace.

“We are big on biophilic design. Elements of greenery bring spirit into a space that can otherwise feel stale,” Yates said. “Although many of us can’t have an outdoor office the simple act of positioning your desk in a way that one can look outside will make it easier to start working and remind us to take breaks, which actually makes people more productive.”

SEE: Big data’s role in COVID-19 (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Perfect the backdrop

As part of the modern telecommute, in-person meetings have been replaced by video conferencing. During the video collaboration, the visible background behind a speaker becomes an integral part of a person’s virtual office space. While it may be appealing to simply pull up a virtual background or settle for the existing wall color, a thoughtful approach to this choice could offer others a window into your world.

“Most of our conversations with coworkers and clients are all held on video these days, so it is also important to also think about what is behind you,” Cox said.

Virtual calls often lack the richness and engagement of face-to-face communication. That said, people should take advantage of opportunities to enhance this experience during video collaboration.

“This could be your chance to add color and patterns to your space, and give your coworkers and clients insights into your personality outside of their inbox,” Cox continued.

Keep it fluid and adapt as needed

En masse remote work has been a learning experience for many around the country. Creating a productive home workspace is a fluid process. People may need to make adjustments to tweak their environments along the way once they have a better idea of their individual needs. Cox noted this sentiment as individuals’ home offices evolve in the weeks and months ahead.

“It doesn’t matter whether you have a closed-off room or you have turned your dining room table into a multipurpose office space,” Cox said. “What IS important is that you have a designated area to clock in and clock out from at the start and end of each workday. Stay flexible, be creative, and make changes to your workspace as you learn what does or doesn’t work for you and your productivity.”

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