After over a year of working from home, some workplaces are beginning to slowly consider safely reopening and welcoming employees back to the office. However, many companies will be transitioning to a "hybrid" model permanently, offering employees the choice to split their time evenly between the office and the home office. If you're planning on working from home for the long haul, here are five science-informed tips and tricks to set up your dream home office.
Hide What You Hate
It's your office, so you get to make the rules. Hate looking at the bulky printer sitting on your desk? Stash it in the closet or in a cupboard that seals shut. Can't stand the look of the cord monster dangling in a ball off the side of your desk? Invest in a cable organizer to tame your unruly nest of cords.
Clearing your workspace of unsightly clutter isn't just a superficial fix for a scattered brain: science confirms that "when our space is a mess, so are we." Research on the effects of physical environments on cognition, emotion, and behaviour shows that cluttered spaces can affect everything from anxiety levels to eating choices, to the quality of our sleep. Stress and mess are deeply interconnected — a cluttered desk has been proven to create emotional exhaustion and delay decision-making in office workers. Make sure your home office is a haven of focus and clear-mindedness, by nixing the clutter and keeping the ugly necessities hidden from your everyday sightline.
Give Yourself Something To Look At
The ideal desk placement will vary from individual to individual. For some, placing their desk in front of a window could lead to constant distraction, and more people watching than working. For others, looking at a wall could feel claustrophobic, confining, and under-stimulating. Either way, it's important to set up your workspace so you are looking at something you enjoy and don't mind looking at every day.
The ideal viewpoint is pleasant, inspiring, and not too distracting — both a busy street and a blank wall could stunt your creativity. Alternatively, having some of your favourite artwork, a couple photos of your loved ones, or even positive self-affirmations nearby can be a great way to help personalize your space, and stimulate your brain when you're feeling blanked out.
Learn From Ergonomics
Ergonomics, a word stemming from the Greek "eron" (work) and "nomos" (laws), is the study of how people work. Integrating ideas from the principles of ergonomics into your home office life can increase your productivity and, most importantly, be a huge benefit to your long-term health. The basic rules are simple and intuitive: keep a neutral posture, allow for frequent moving and stretching, and minimize excessive reaching overexertion, and repetitive movements.
Initiate these principles in your daily life by setting up an ergonomic workstation that prevents excess strain and being Iiligent about taking frequent breaks to move around. There's no reason to spend a fortune on your home office space; however, if there's one thing you should splurge on, it's an ergonomic office chair of decent quality. Additionally, keep a yoga mat nearby to make it as easy as possible for you to leave your desk for a few minutes to stretch and move. Learn more about ergonomic office design and preventing injuries while working by visiting the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety website.
Pick Your Lighting Carefully
If there's one factor that has the greatest impact on the quality and quantity of home office work, it's lighting. The tone and amount of light illuminating your workspace will have a profound effect on your happiness, energy, productivity, and sleep. If you have the gift of natural light in your apartment, be sure to keep those blinds open and work in close proximity to your natural light source. A 2014 study out of Northwestern University found that office workers who experienced exposure to natural light had longer and high quality sleeps, engaged in more physical activity, and overall reported better quality of life.
As a general rule, warmer-toned yellow or orange lights tend to have a more relaxing effect, as opposed to cooler-toned blues or whites, which evoke a sense of alertness. Unlike at the office, in your home you have total control over the kind of light you're working in, so try experimenting with using different lights at different points in the day, depending on if you're trying to wake up or wind down. Be cognizant of how dim or bright your computer monitor screen is at any given moment, as both extreme can cause eyestrain.
Invest In Privacy
One of the key downsides of working from home is the erosion of the boundaries between work and life, as well as new and unrelenting distractions not found in the traditional office setting. It's easy for well-meaning family members or roommates to throw you out of focus, or cross privacy boundaries that you never had to think about when your work lived a commute away. Shifting your brain into a flow state while you're completing deep work is critical to feeling a sense of satisfaction at the end of the workday. Therefore, it's crucial to prioritize setting up preemptive measures to protect the fragile thing that is your focus.
Not all of us are lucky enough to have a dedicated private room to work in with a door that shuts out distraction. If you're sharing the space with others, invest in noise isolating or cancelling headphones to shield yourself from excessive chatter. Simulate the private nature of a cubicle by protecting your desk with a room divider, which sends a clear message to cohabitants that a multi-use space is being designated for work at that moment. If your job requires you to work with sensitive information, or perhaps you just want an extra level of privacy, invest in a small cabinet that locks, so you never have to worry about misplacing critical documents or having them end up in the wrong hands.