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How-to: Three ways to create the perfect home office

Smarter Writer
Smarter Team

The Smarter Team is made up of business and technology journalists who write to offer insights to small and medium businesses about technology, business know-how and emerging trends.

Smarter Writer
Smarter Team

The Smarter Team is made up of business and technology journalists who write to offer insights to small and medium businesses about technology, business know-how and emerging trends.

Take our tips for setting up a home office that helps you stay as productive as ever while you work from home.

Man working in home office

More and more of us are using our homes as the base for our businesses – and many of us may be working from home for the very first time. Perhaps you’ve been running your home business for a while now and finally decided it’s high time you transformed your makeshift setup into a professional workspace.

A home office can be a perfectly productive work environment, so we’ve pulled together some tips to help you make the perfect one – from using the latest tech and tools, to making sure your furniture is ergonomic, and more.

1. Creating a productive environment

Lighting can have a huge impact on how a room feels and can be a great way to increase productivity, so start by perching in a spot that enjoys an abundance of natural light. It not only feels good, but studies support the idea that people crave it for good reason.

The Harvard Business Review reports on a survey by Future Workplace, a North American HR advisory firm, that found that access to natural light and outdoor views is the number one attribute people want in their workplace environment. A study by City University London in partnership with Philips goes deeper on the connection. Put simply, they found that good lighting leads to well-being, which leads to productivity.

Sure, adequate task lighting is essential, but an overly bright space can be an assault on the senses. Somewhere you can turn off the fluoros and throw open the curtains is ideal. And if you need lighting, look into how you might vary it during work hours in line with your circadian rhythms.

While it’s now a workspace, first and foremost it’s your home – the place where you recharge, rest and play. There’s nothing wrong with bringing the things that make it a comfortable home into your workspace – so don’t be afraid to inject some personality and liveliness into the room. Think indoor plants, family mementos or some artwork on the walls. But try not to overdo it: too much of a lived-in vibe can be distracting when you’re trying to get stuck into some serious slog – it’s important to be comfortable but still be focused on work. Aim for uncluttered and organised, yet inviting, to enhance – not detract from – your productivity.

And if space permits, consider incorporating a break-out space – a feature chair by the window, say – as a pleasant spot away from your desk where you’re able to get some work done, or put complex challenges to the back of your mind to simmer away, from a different perspective.

2. Using the latest tech and tools

As you make the transition to working from home, the good news is there’s an abundance of tech and tools out there to make it work for you.

There’s one part of working in a shared office that you might miss the most: face-to-face time. But today’s tech has your back. Stay connected to your team through video conferencing. It does require some minimum hardware requirements – like a webcam and microphone, enough RAM and an internet connection with enough bandwidth – but most of today’s computers and internet connections can handle it. And provided your hardware is up to scratch, video conferencing will allow you to have the kind of face-to-face meetings that are otherwise impossible when working remotely. Highly rated tech in this space include Cisco WebexSkype for Business or Google Business Hangouts.

Now, maybe more than ever before, working with the cloud will prove to be helpful. As we make the transition from working in an office to working from home, the cloud’s ability to wrangle ‘living documents’ can be incredibly useful for your productivity. These living documents are essential to remote working because they let people collaborate on a single document in real-time despite being in different locations – and even better, they can help make the “Is this the latest version?” question obsolete. Check out the likes of Google Cloud, Microsoft OneDrive for Business or Microsoft’s integrated cloud system Azure.

Working remotely means digitising your work and your communications, but that’s only one half of the deal. Digitising your workflow is the other half. In the absence of popping over to your colleague’s desk for a chat, getting in a room for brainstorms, having regular catch-ups, or working through complex journeys with butcher’s paper and Sharpies, projects need an extra level of digital assistance. Project and task management platforms are already used widely in offices, but their added value is that they’re incredible for facilitating remote work. Put simply, project management platforms do exactly what they should: they’re powerful and useful tools to oversee a project from start to finish. The best part? They’re all online. Check out Trello, Asana and Airtable.

3. Keeping comfortable

What do you need to furnish your home office and maintain your comfort?

“Somewhere to sit and a flat surface for your computer,” says Barry Hatch, the less-is-more founder of commercial office furniture vendor Innerspace Queensland. Mobile technology – the ability to pull up anywhere and create a smaller workstation with a laptop or device of choice – has made the enormous power desk obsolete, Hatch says. The home office should reflect this new reality.

“Go the flat surface and chair option with as much flexibility as possible – it’s good to be able to move it around to take advantage of different outlooks or lighting,” he says.

Adjustable standing desks are in vogue, but working healthily by getting up for a break every hour can achieve the same effect without the price tag. And if funds are limited, Hatch’s advice is to skimp on everything but the chair. ”A good chair influences your health, your ability to concentrate and allows you to work longer stints without being tired,” Hatch says. In fact, many retailers will feature a dedicated section for specialist ergonomic office chairs, so don’t just grab a dining room chair.

Looking for some bookshelves and filing cabinets for your papers? No longer de rigueur in the digital age, according to Hatch. “Utilise technology and purchase as little physical file storage as possible,” he counsels. “Assess what you need to keep in the home office and rigorously store or archive. If you need archival storage for some documents, think a cheap-as-chips, four-drawer filing cabinet that can be stowed in the garage, leaving your workspace clear for working.”

So, think aesthetics, technology, and ergonomics – your mind and body will thank you, and your productivity levels will be better for it.

Originally published June 1st 2015. Updated on March 27th 2020.

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