Move over kitchens, step aside bathrooms. When it comes to getting renovation bang for your buck, the home office is gaining real star power.
There are quite a few reasons for the growing popularity of home offices and even more benefits. Whether you’re an entrepreneur or work for an organisation that’s based in the CBD, space is at a premium. Because we’re more connected than ever, employers see the value in cutting down on rent by opting for hot desks and encourage staff to work from home.
There’s an environmental factor, too. Even if governments are dangerously slow to introduce the policies required to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, many corporate bodies have their own sustainability pledges. Allowing employees to work from home reduces commuter emissions and goes a long way to meeting their greening-up goals.
Of course there's a downside to this trend. Easy and faster digital connection is wonderful for staying in touch with far away loved ones. Unfortunately that connectivity feeds the growing assumption that if we’re connected 24/7, we should be working 24/7. This leads to the dreaded pressure to take our work home with us at night and even on the weekends.
If you fall into this camp, I’m sorry. As glorious as a home office might be, having one shouldn’t be necessary for this reason alone. Sigh.
The fact is, no matter how much or little you work from home, the need to allocate space to punch out emails or jump on video calls is a trend that we're bound to see more of. So the question is: how best to make this space worth the investment?
Make a Plan
There are a few factors to consider before putting in a home office. You first need to map out not only how the space will be used, but who will be using it? Are you an entrepreneur that will be spending the better part of your 40+ hour work week here? If so, you might want to consider putting in a coffee machine or small fridge, but if you’re only working remotely here for a day or two a week, this might not be so important.
Do you have kids? As they get into high school this might be a good quiet place for them to study without being closed off in their bedrooms for hours upon hours of unfettered internet access.
Maybe both you and your partner work from home, so your home office will need to accommodate both of you spending most of your day there.
I can’t stress this enough, if you can find a way to close off the space, even if it’s just with a curtain, do it. For over a year, my office was in the converted sunroom portion of my bedroom. Without doors separating my office from the sleeping quarters, it created real problems for me.
When you work from home, you know it’s often hard to get started, but it’s actually even harder to call it quits for the day. I often find myself working until 7 or 8 pm, and after having dinner and watching a bit of TV, it’s time for bed. Trust me, if you spend a full day and the better part of the evening working in your bedroom, you’re in no hurry to go back there when it’s time to get some shut eye. This leads to crashing on the sofa and that is no way to live-- or sleep. Delineating the space will do wonders for your psyche and is totally worth it.
Escaping the Cubicle
Congratulations, you’ve escaped the cubicle life! Now it’s time to embrace it! Don’t brings its claustrophobic-yet -strangely-exposed bad juju into your home office sanctuary. Nix the urge to cram your desk into a dark corner. If you can, position it instead near a window, preferably close enough to be able to soak up the natural light and appreciate the view during short mental breaks.
For me, one of the biggest advantages of working from home is that you get to spend all day with your pet if you’ve got one. Australia is not as down with the whole “bring your dog to work” thing as we Americans are, (literally everyone has a “support” animal in California). Not having the social and collaborative daily interactions with colleagues can be an isolating tradeoff, so being able to pop on a podcast and walk my dog in the middle of the day does a lot to fill that void. This aspect alone is a true luxury.
I also recommend thinking about what other feel-good items you can incorporate that you couldn’t get by with in a cubicle. A comfy armchair and footstool or chaise where you can relax and read. There’s no reason you have to be chained to your desk to be working. This way, you’re staying in the zone without the lure of the sofa and television calling you to the lounge room.
While beautiful design is important for keeping you motivated, functionality and ergonomics are paramount. Who doesn’t crave a Pinterest-worthy home office, but carpal tunnel is real, y’all.
Invest in a proper desk chair. Yes, a gorgeous vintage dining chair might be total insta gold, but if you’re spending 40+ hours a week in it, you’re either going to end up avoiding your desk or paying the physically painful and long-term consequences.
Don’t Sacrifice your Sanity
Finally when it comes to designing the space, you have to focus on your mental wellbeing. Since the home office is, well, in your home, it’s important that you dedicate thoughtful space to items you need. You don’t want to be running to kitchen every time you need scissors or post its.
Prioritise storage. Installing vertical shelving with enough space to comfortably fit storage bins and baskets is a great way to keep items within easy reach, especially if you’re one of those people who tends to accumulate clutter. I’m guilty of this. If it’s not in front of me I forget about it.
For this, I like to keep a basket tray that’s large enough to fit A3 files and even my laptop. At the end of the day, I can stack my daily necessities in it and stow it away under the chair until the next day. I found this system particularly useful on those days where I need a change of scenery or a bigger workspace. This allows me to bring all my work items into the dining room in one trip.
If you’re converting a spare bedroom, max out that closet space. You can even consider running power to a closet so you can close away bulky printers. And don’t be afraid to use filing cabinets. I know they seem so utilitarian but they are affordable and you can swap out the hardware and have them powder coated to an amazing effect.
Finally, keep the palette in your eye line neutral. A bold colour or pattern can be really distracting and irritating in the long run. Bring in colour and texture with other accessories. A sensuous rug can be the perfect item to sink your feet into while bringing understated interest to your space. Same goes for cushions and throws. Bring in plants to add life and think about other little luxury items like a scented candle that you could never get by with burning at a corporate office.
These little touches will serve as daily reminders of just how fortunate you are to be working from your very own abode.