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  • Lily Dittschlag & Dennis Dittschlag

PLANNING YOUR HOME OFFICE


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Many people's main work area has transitioned from a designated company office to working from home over the past year. While some people will go back to the office full-time at some point, a significant share of the workforce will continue to work from home full-time or part-time after the pandemic. Companies and government entities have already changed or are changing their remote work policies and incentives.

The home office is here to stay!

For those people who already worked from home before the pandemic, there really was not much of an adjustment. Most others probably scrambled to set up suitable workplaces, especially families with two working parents and school-age children.


In the meantime, there have been many guides on how to set up your home office online. But before getting straight into the setup process, let's talk about some planning considerations.


What is your use case?

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The main thing you want to figure out is how you want to use your home office. This will dictate where you can locate it and what you need to do next.


Here are a few examples:

  • An online content creator or a salesperson on regular video conferences with customers may want to think backward from the end product they want to display by considering backgrounds, lighting, banners, logos, or product displays.

  • Software developers or day-traders may focus more on their technical setup with multiple computer screens.

  • Parents with a school-aged child may want to work and monitor the little one's homework at the same time. A co-located workspace may work best for this.

  • Small business owners may run their operations from home and receive client visits. Parking, access, and a clean and welcoming environment are just some things to keep in mind.

Imagining yourself in the final environment and really honing in on your must-have features are helpful tools in starting your planning process.



Productivity and Privacy


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To work efficiently, you need a space that supports your productivity. That means avoiding unnecessary distractions and most likely creating privacy. Naturally, this increases your ability to focus on what you need to get done. At the same time, you can have conference calls and create some level of noise yourself without distracting others.


At home, the obvious distractions are typically TVs, video games, or the kitchen with lots of traffic from other household members. Kids will be high on the list for any family, of course.


Many people are used to an open office environment, cubicles with partition walls, or shared office space. People comfortable in this type of setting most likely have a pretty good ability to focus on their own tasks and zoning out their surroundings. Not all people are so lucky and have this level of concentration throughout the day.


The first level of defense is headphones, preferable noise-canceling. Similar to an office, you can have room dividers at home to create segregation of different areas. And actually, these dividers can also serve double duty as storage units or video backdrops. Other options include increased distance by setting up in a different area of the house or running a fan at low speed to create white noise that drowns out other influences.


But ultimately, nothing beats closing a door behind you for getting some privacy and better noise cancellation.



Multi-Purpose


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Let's face it: Real estate is extremely expensive these days. So, designating a whole room in your house to be just an office is probably an unreasonable expectation. Most people living in smaller spaces, like condos, will know that a room needs to fulfill more than just one function. Making the best use of the available space is the name of the game. The same goes for the home office.


If it's in the bedroom, the home office should have the option to be hidden or at least completely shut off because bedrooms are for rest. It's important to have the separation between work and rest, but sometimes there is no other choice.


In a kid's playroom or basement, the office area can also be used for homework, crafting, or board games.


For some, it may be unavoidable to work from their dining table. This is not ideal, but it helps to have storage nearby to put office items away for meals and on weekends.


In our research, we have found some creative solutions and locations that people have put their home offices in, e.g. under the stairs, on stair landings, in closets, using a cabinet with a fold-out desk, the entryway, and even a shed (probably not for Canadian weather unless the shed is insulated and heated).



Ergonomics


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A proper workplace setup is hugely important. An improper setup may cause injury over time. With the amount of time most home office workers spend in front of their computers, it is important to take care of your body.


When in the office, employers are responsible for a safe working environment, and this includes ergonomics. At home, this cannot be guaranteed and you will need to ensure a proper setup yourself. Fortunately, most companies offer basic ergonomic training online and some have ergonomics specialists in their health & safety teams that you may consult for any questions. If this is not available, we recommend researching basic training on workplace ergonomics.


A major part of an ergonomic office setup is a good office chair. From our own experience, we can attest to the value of a good office chair that is well padded, adjustable at multiple points, and provides lumbar support. Ergonomic chairs are not cheap and they may lack a bit in style, but they are worth their money in the long term.


Another trend these days is standing or height-adjustable desks and desk risers that allow you to transition back and forth between sitting and standing. We have started to experiment with this as well. It takes some getting used to in the beginning but we can certainly recommend a more flexible desk setup. (Cable management to be improved)

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Aside from the equipment, it is also important to build the right habits, like taking breaks, going for walks, relaxing the eyes, and stretching --- just to name a few.



Lighting


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In the best-case scenario, good lighting can be achieved with natural light alone and by positioning the home office with you facing towards the window. Natural light is not just good for seeing what you are doing, but it also helps provide the lighting for your video calls, gives you a sense of time of day and season, and an opportunity to view the outside world and connect with nature.


Most likely, though, natural light doesn't suffice and you need to supplement with artificial light sources. In this case, it's best to use a mix of regular overhead lighting and task lighting (for example with a desk lamp).


Many people now work with flexible schedules and around the schedules of their kids, which means early in the morning or late at night. Other people take training courses or do personal work (like blogging...) after putting in a full workday. Coupled with shorter winter days in Canada or a basement office, and it becomes clear that additional lighting is needed.


It's never a good idea to only look at the blue light of your monitor, laptop, and phone. There are lamps that either mimic daylight to offset the blue screen light waves (and can even help cope with seasonal depression) or lamps that simulate the light as the time of day changes. This is known as "Circadian Lighting" and in fact, it's one aspect under the WELL building standard. So, if your home office is in a darker location without much natural light or you're working a lot outside the standard 9 to 5 hours, these lamps might be a good option.



Storage


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Realistically, everyone needs some sort of storage for their home office needs, whether it's for work or private matters. From papers and files over computer accessories to knickknacks, we all have stuff!


Especially if your office shares its space with another room or function in your home, it's nice to be able to clear things away. As a matter of fact, it's a good idea to also have your own clean desk policy. At work, this is mostly done for confidentiality reasons. At home, you should do it for separating work from private life and by setting yourself up for a productive day to come with an organized and efficient work area.


Many people use bookcases or open storage racks for their office supplies and files, which can look great when it's well organized and coupled with a few decorative items. It may also be coupled with book storage to look more like a library. For our home office storage, we have designated a small bedroom closet at the moment.


No matter which solution you chose, going vertical is the most effective use of space to maximize the remaining footprint of the rest of the room.



Style


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So far we have mostly talked about functionality, why certain things are a must, and what to look out for. But style is actually an important factor for your home office, too.


In most offices, the options to decorate and personalize are limited. You may have some pictures or certificates, but for the most part, everyone's workspace in the office looks very much alike. Maybe managers or officers get a nicer or larger office space, but they also lack personalization.


At home, you have the freedom to make the workspace your own. It's good to have some fun here because, ultimately, a space that you like will inspire you and keep you motivated and productive. You almost want to spend more time there. And who wants to put a soulless cubicle design in their home anyway?


For new homes, builders and designers are focusing on the home office trend by planning one into new projects from the beginning. Designers involved with selling existing homes today are including a work area in their staging. Almost every listing today will feature a home office setup of some sort. The home office is becoming more and more of a feature now and it is definitely an interior design trend.

Final Thoughts


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The top priority for any office is to get the work done efficiently, so you can move on with other things in your life. But this doesn't mean the office needs to be boring and uninspired. It's actually quite the opposite: Your office can be efficient, comfortable, stylish, fun, safe, flexible, and show off your own personality.


Before setting out into searches like "best home office setup", think about what you want out of the space and take a look at what you have to work with. There may be needs and options you have not thought about so far.


Good luck with your home office planning and have a productive day!






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