Tips on how to create an ideal home office space

The use of home offices is a trend in society that has been growing in recent years.

And the COVID-19 (coronavirus) crisis has given the trend a major boost as more and more people are now working from home out of necessity.

But many people, who have been thrust into this situation, have found it’s not as simple as just having your computer and your phone handy.

Working from home has presented several unique challenges especially since everyone else is likely to be at home now including the children who are not in school – and the pets.

It’s also likely that the current trend will continue into the future with more people working from their abodes and perhaps potential homebuyers will be specifically looking at properties where home offices are featured and in place or at least space within a home that could easily be turned into a working area.

So what are some of the key things you should be considering in setting up your home office?

The Government of Canada, on its Natural Resources Canada website, says people’s home offices may not be as comfortable initially as their work offices.

Here’s some key things to think about:

  1. Ensure you have some privacy. A room with a door would be ideal so the rest of the household knows you are working when the door is closed. “Get creative if you don’t have a door. Use a room divider or a low bookcase to separate your workspace from the rest of the house; the bookcase can serve as storage for your office supplies, too. You may also wish to make a sign to let others know you’re working (e.g., “Quiet please” or “I’m on a video call”),” says the government website.
  2. Find the right lighting. “Work in a room with a window to get as much natural light as possible; otherwise use a combination of general and task lighting. Even with a window, task lighting will be important on cloudy days or if you have to work late. Place the task lamp behind your monitor or laptop to reduce contrast.”
  3. Create a work surface. “If you don’t have a desk, consider using a nightstand or two filing cabinets with a board or door across them. You can also use a kitchen counter, ironing board or an upside-down clothes hamper as a desktop so you can alternate between sitting and standing during the day.”
  4. Make a comfortable chair. “If you don’t have a proper office chair, use a chair with a backrest to help you maintain good posture. If you need lumbar support and don’t have a lumbar pillow, use a rolled towel instead — you can even secure it in place with an old tie or scarf. Sit in a relaxed position, with your thighs parallel to the floor and your feet flat on the floor. Use a footrest, a box or your old university books to keep your feet elevated if they don’t touch the floor.”
  5. Be active. “It’s important to stand up, move and stretch for a few minutes every hour. To avoid eye strain, focus on objects 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes and periodically focus your eyes on distant objects.”
  6. Stay organized. “Keep all your work in your workspace so you’re more efficient. This also helps you separate your work life from your home life. Establish set hours of work, and stick to them as best you can. It’s easy to keep working when you’re at home and don’t have to catch the bus or drive the kids to music lessons.”

Donald MacDonald, Certified Ergonomist and VP with EWI Works in Calgary, said the key for people in setting up a home office is getting their computer keyboards and monitors at the correct height. The right height is the keyboard being in line with your elbows and the top of the monitor at or below eye level. That may include separating the keyboard from the laptop.

Not doing it right could lead to physical issues. The longer it occurs the more likelihood of people having a problem. 

“The way the body works if we do something and the body is not real happy about it, we feel some discomfort and if we keep doing it that discomfort increases to the point where we’re getting pain. That’s our body’s way of saying hey stop doing that. If we ignore that long enough, the treatment or reversing whatever we’ve done takes longer and that’s really the biggest challenge,” said MacDonald.

Ana Cummings of ANA Interiors, said home offices right now are extremely important and people need to have them function for optimal productivity and concentration.

“We’re finding a lot of people who are making their makeshift office in their dining room and their kitchen and it’s just not working for them,” said Cummings. “So if they can carve out a particular space or have a home office they’re lucky. And it’s creating that atmosphere that lends to a proper working environment.”

That includes having proper light, air circulation, access to different supplies and equipment like storage space and printers.

“The ideal would be to have your own private space where you can have a Zoom conversation or a conference call that will not get interrupted. Ideally a room where you can close the door and have some privacy. You have to think about sound because everybody’s going to be hearing your dog or kids in the background. Think about the acoustics in your space,” said Cummings.

“You want to have draperies and rugs and things on the wall that will absorb the sound. You want to have a good headset. Good lighting. All of those things are very important and will just show your professionalism while working from home.”