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More office employees are working from home than ever before. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau found that the number of people working from home tripled from 2019 to 2021. If you’re among these employees, you may spend eight or more hours per day in your home’s work space. This means you likely want a comfortable, functional, and beautiful area.
When designing your home office, keep your physical and mental health in mind, not just your job’s technological requirements. A perk of working from home is the ability to customize your work space. Take advantage of this benefit and think through all the factors that go into creating a happy, healthy work environment. Here are some tips.
Invest in the Right Furniture and Equipment
Most home workspaces are designed around a computer. If you’re spending a substantial portion of the day looking at a screen and typing on a keyboard, opting for properly designed furniture and accessories is essentially a health investment. Furniture that doesn’t support proper posture can put you at risk for repetitive strain injuries (such as tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome) and back, neck, and shoulder pain.
Princeton University’s Environmental Health and Safety department recommends doing computer work in a neutral posture. That means having your back straight with your lumbar region supported, typing on a keyboard at forearm-height, and placing your computer screen at eye level. Choosing a high-quality, comfortable office chair will help you maintain healthy posture. Depending on your height, you may want to invest in a desk with a recessed keyboard tray. This will help keep your forearms parallel to the floor while typing.
The right computer accessories also help with posture. If you use a laptop, buying a separate ergonomic keyboard and vertical “handshake” mouse will ease wrist and finger stress. A laptop stand keeps your screen at eye level, and you should invest in multiple monitors if you find yourself frequently swapping screens.
Focus on Natural Light
When possible, choose a work space within your home that gets lots of natural light. Sunlight can help you feel more alert and boost your mood, making you more productive throughout the day. A 2017 study on natural light’s workplace impact showed that workers in offices with natural light experienced 84% less eye strain, blurred vision, and headaches. To increase light in your home office without letting in too much heat, consider replacement windows with low-emissivity (low-e) coatings or at least two panes of glass. Window treatments can also help.
Space and budgetary restrictions can make increasing natural light difficult, if not impossible. Plus, not everybody works during daylight hours. If this is the case, make sure there’s enough light to easily see without straining your eyes. Choose a simple desk lamp that fits your home decor, or opt for a sun lamp that replicates the full spectrum of visible light.
Add Elements to Help Your Physical Health
The more sedentary our culture has become, the more we’ve started to understand the risks that sitting all day poses to our health. Regular exercise and stretching can help combat these risks, so adding something to your home office that encourages healthy movement is a good idea. Adjustable and standing desks are becoming more popular, since they can help you avoid shoulder and back pain and keep you more active during the work day.
If you’re really feeling ambitious, invest in a treadmill or stationary bike that fits under your standing desk. Of course, not all work can be done while walking or biking—these pieces of equipment are often better used during conference calls than while typing. When you need to sit, consider an inflatable exercise ball instead of—or in addition to—a desk chair. These stability balls require core activation in order to remain upright, promoting small movements that help counteract long periods of sitting.
Have Proper Organization
Whether you’re a minimalist or a packrat, it’s important to stay organized when it comes to your work. That means having a storage system to protect the important documents and keep the useful items within arm’s reach. Desk drawers, mail sorters, paper trays, and more can help keep track of important documents. Many remote workers find filing cabinets helpful, especially if certain files need to stay locked up during off-hours.
There are plenty of ways to get creative when it comes to preventing visual clutter. If your desk lacks surface or drawer space, consider wall-mounted shelves or cubbies. Use a label-maker, particularly if you have a lot of cords that need organizing. There’s even storage furniture on caster wheels to help you make the most out of a small space.
Create a Happier Work Environment
Better organization and physical health aren’t the only reasons to elevate your home office. Creating a pleasant, low-stress environment can improve your mental health, too. Display pictures of family and friends to help you maintain perspective, or create an inspiration board if you’re seeking motivation. Print or cut out pictures or quotes that resonate with you and pin them where you can see them.
If you’ve already increased your office’s natural light, consider adding some low-maintenance houseplants to purify the air and liven up the space. If you want a nice scent, skip the artificial air freshener and pick a soy candle or an essential oil diffuser. Although essential oils aren’t a cure-all, some studies have found certain oils have modest effects on mood, including reducing fatigue and increasing focus.
Ideally, you’d have complete control over the amount of background noise in your office—but of course, home offices are subject to the sounds of residential construction, other family members, and more. For outside noise, take some steps to soundproof your windows. For noises coming from indoors, consider a white noise machine or earbuds. Although they’re a little more expensive, noise-canceling headphones are often well worth the price.
Elevating and decluttering your home office can go a long way toward making working from home more pleasant. Everything from your windows to your furniture can add to your space’s comfort and utility, so take the time to rethink your office decor every so often. Anything that’s distracting or ineffective can go, freeing up more space for elements that make you more comfortable, focused, and productive.