Though remote work was a steadily rising trend before the terms ‘quarantine’ and ‘social distancing’ were placed firmly in our current zeitgeist, for many, 2020 will be remembered as the year their relationship to work changed forever. With thousands of companies deciding to shutter their office spaces for good, opting instead to step into the future of managing a remote workforce, employees who had grown accustomed to traditional offices are now looking to fine-tune their makeshift home workspaces.
The fact that a remote work model facilitates customized workspaces (as opposed to enforcing a one-size-fits-all office scheme) may be one of the reasons why it’s shown to boost productivity and all-around employee morale. It’s important to remember that the perfect home office setup won’t look the same for everyone, as it depends on a number of factors — what type of work you do, what sort of equipment you need handy and, especially, what shape your ideal conditions for focused productivity take on. Here at GroWrk, we specialize in helping companies and their teams reap all the benefits of remote work (find out how!), and this week we’re taking a deep dive into the components that make up an ideal home workspace, whatever the circumstance.
“My first step when taking on a new client is to understand their lifestyle and pinpoint their specific needs,” says Luis Martínez, an interior designer based in LA and Mexico City, “and the next step is to analyze the space we have to work with.” It is worth stating that ergonomics and general safety is of the utmost importance when setting up a remote workstation.
“No matter how many chic design elements a space can have, if it isn’t thought out with the health and safety of its user as the top priority, it won’t fit the criteria for a perfect workspace”, says Martínez. Ergonomic equipment has come a long way in recent decades, now ranging from furniture to accessories and gadgets which address all aspects of physical wellness. Because striking the perfect balance between form and function is the founding principle of design, it’s helpful to ask yourself certain questions before you start setting up a workspace. Below, Martínez shares his go-to questionnaire for designing home offices:
What are the basic requirements of any home office?
To check off the essentials, you need an ergonomic chair, a sit-stand desk, and an extra monitor. The chair is a clear staple of ergonomics, yielding many health benefits as well as improved mood and productivity. A sit-stand desk, on the other hand, has gained popularity in recent years, as studies have shown that combining a suitable chair with occasional 30-minute periods of standing is the ideal scenario for workers who spend several hours a day in front of a computer. Which leads to the third tool for a perfect at-home work set-up: the additional monitor. In an article for OneZero, Medium’s tech and science vertical, writer Angela Lashbrook reports that workers using two or more monitors “got started on work 6% more quickly, worked 16% faster, and had 33% fewer errors.”
What equipment do you work with on a regular basis, and how much space does it take up?
This is perhaps the most important question to answer. Whether you have a spare room or just a small corner to designate as your home office, your first step will be to determine how much desk space you need to comfortably carry out your day-to-day tasks. Once that’s settled, be sure to factor in what Martínez calls “breathing room” around it. “You need to have enough space to move around your work area comfortably, not just for safety purposes, but because a cramped workspace can make you feel confined and uninspired.” If your desk is facing a wall, you’ll want to have ample space behind you to step away and stretch every so often.
Does your work involve regular video conferences?
If so, you’ll want to consider not only what you’ll be looking at when you sit down to work, but what view you have behind you as well. While funny Zoom backgrounds were all the rage for a brief moment once working from home became the collective experience of Spring 2020, the time to step up your own, professional backdrop has arrived. Avoid windows and other sources of light in the background that will obscure your image, opting instead for clean, nondistracting visuals, such as a plant, or a framed piece of art.
What time of the day do you usually enter your most productive work state?
For those who need little more than their morning coffee to enter an ideal work zone, indirect sunlight can work as an ally to boost their mood and make them feel like they’ve seized the day. “Ideally, windows should face north or south, so they can be open without letting in direct sunlight,” says Martínez. As for those who work best at night, studies have shown that mid to cool lighting improves alertness, mood, and productivity, but beware: forgoing your regular sleep hours for work is notoriously bad for your health when done long-term, so try to keep the all-nighters at a minimum!
What are the distractions you deal with at home?
This could mean anything from noisy neighbors to needy pets, or even just an all-too-tempting bed. “There’s only so much interior design can do before gadgets and technology must step in,” says Martínez, explaining that noise-canceling headphones are a must-have item on his list for home workspaces. As for keeping the coziest areas of your home off-limits during work hours, he says that delineating your workspace with plants, screens, and other elements that create physical and psychological boundaries will help avoid distractions, as well as promote a sense of work-life balance.
What visual elements make you feel energized?
“Depending on the mood that a client wants for their space, it’s always important to add certain bold elements to their workspace, to signal a difference between that area and the parts of their home that are dedicated fully to leisure and comfort,” says Martínez. Pops of color in furniture or accessories, large-scale photographs, or other forms of motivating visuals will keep you on your toes, and away from your couch.
No matter how much or how little space a worker has, with the help of high-quality equipment and some basic design thinking, it’s possible to set up a workspace that is ideally suited for their home and lifestyle. Examples of this abound online: Rae Lambert, a product marketer for tech companies and writer of the blog Small Space, Big Taste, recently gave the site 6sqft a virtual tour of how she transformed a nook of her home into a pop-up office; writer Molly Young had previously offered the same site a look into her loft, featuring a small office space where she concentrates during the day. But companies that are preparing to take the plunge into a full-remote model should remember that they can’t leave their workers to their own devices when it comes to setting up their workspaces; it is their responsibility to work with their employees and ensure their needs are identified and covered, ideally by specialists in remote workstations, like us!