How to Have a Healthier and More Productive Home Office
We’ve written in the past about some of most awesome company offices in the world. But is it possible that the ultimate office is right in your own home?
Working from home can be a dream come true: convenience, comfort, and complete control. Today, more people are working from home than ever before – whether they’re telecommuting to their job or just using the Internet to make their own income like me.
I’ve been working from a home office for two years now and in that time I’ve learned that working from home is a double-edged blade. Do it well and it’s the best work experience you’ll ever have – but do it wrong and it will bring down your work and home life simultaneously.
Here’s how to make sure your home office is a healthier and more productive one.
Table of Contents
- Establish Your Home Office
- Separating Life and Work
- Communicating with Your Co-Inhabitants
- The All-Important Chair
- Quality Desk Chair
- Exercise Ball Alternative
- Get a Big Desk
- Why Size Matters for Desks
- Big Desks are Safer Too
- Standing and Working
- Healthy Home Office Lighting
- Natural Light
- Good Lighting for Video
- Task Lights
- Healthy Home Office Design
- Planting Productivity
- Paint the Walls
- Get Out of Your House!
Establish Your Home Office
“The biggest problem home workers have is the loss of distinction between work life and home life.”
Separating Life and Work
The first thing to do is to pick the area that you’ll be working in. Ideally, it’s a special room set aside specifically to work in. If you’re going to be taking appointments from clients, you’ll want to make sure the home office can be accessed without going through personal or communal spaces.
But separating life and work is about more than just physical separation. You also have to make a mental separation. This might mean setting very specific hours during which you’ll be “at work” and “at home” (even though they both have the same address). You may also want to wear different clothes to work so as to signal to yourself that you’re working and not at leisure.
If you don’t clearly separate your home and professional lives, you’ll find they bleed into one entity – and that entity isn’t particularly good for relaxing or for being productive.
Communicating with Your Co-Inhabitants
Chances are you don’t live alone. Whether you’ve got roommates or a family, the next step in working from home is sitting down and talking with the people you live with about where, when, and how you plan on working from home.
Establishing some ground rules from the onset will help avoid confusion and unpleasantness down the road.
The All-Important Chair
“Nature gave men two ends – one to sit on and one to think with. Ever since then man’s success or failure has been dependent on the one he used most.”
George R. Kirkpatrick
Quality Desk Chair
Good work starts with a good chair. The right chair will help you to have a better posture, more energy, and more focus. From there, you will be able to work more efficiently, happily, and for more hours at a time.
I could tell you to pick a chair with sufficient lumbar support and adjustable height so that it can match up with your desk but really the most important thing is how it feels to you when you sit in it. I recommend going to office supply or furniture store and test out their wares to see what’s most comfortable for you.
I recently invested in a new chair for my home office and my only regret is I wish I had done it sooner.
Exercise Ball Alternative
There’s a trend towards sitting on exercise balls instead of traditional office chairs. The idea is that you’ll get more exercise, have better posture, and be healthier while at work.
If you’re thinking this is a little far-fetched, you’re probably right. According to The New York Times, sitting on an exercise ball does help you burn more calories (about 4 more per hour) but “the evidence that it improves posture is lacking.”
Exercise balls aren’t very expensive and can be rolled into the corner pretty easily, so you may want to consider picking one up as a change of pace from your more traditional office chair.
Get a Big Desk
Why Size Matters for Desks
A desk isn’t anything too special. Essentially, it’s a glorified table.
But there is a big difference between a small desk and a spacious one. A larger desk will allow you to spread out, which is especially important if you’re brainstorming visual or relational ideas. It also leaves more room for extra equipment, like a second monitor (pictured above).
One way to have more desk space is to opt for an L-shaped, corner desk. This also gives you the possibility of having two separate work spaces for different parts of the same project.
Big Desks are Safer Too
Drinking water while you work is an important part of a healthy lifestyle and if you’re anything like me then you probably drink your fair share of coffee when you’re on the job too.
But liquids on a small desk can be dangerous, as you have no choice but to place them in spilling distance of your keyboard and other valuable electronics. This may seem like a fairly trivial point – but it wouldn’t feel so trivial if you lost an expensive piece of equipment due to a cramped work environment.
Standing and Working
There’s also been a lot of buzz lately about the health costs of sitting at a desk all day. If you’re looking for a change of pace that may help you work better and live longer, try standing up and working from a counter or another high surface. If you like it, you may want to invest in a stand-up desk as a healthier and more productive alternative to the traditional option.
Healthy Home Office Lighting
“To love beauty is to see light.”
If you want to be healthier, work in a room with a window.
A review from the Natural Renewable Energy Laboratory found that natural light in a workplace is linked to “general well-being,” “increased productivity”, and “better health.” The review also states that natural light “decreases the occurrence of headaches, SAD, and eyestrain.”
If natural light is simply impossible, then make sure you buy full-spectrum light bulbs. According to the review, “In buildings where daylighting is not or cannot be integrated, using full-spectrum bright lights has been shown to positively affect the workers in the buildings.”
Good Lighting for Video
Communicating with strangers across the globe is a big part of my job description – and I suspect the same is true for many of you. Because so much communication is non-verbal, video calls are a great way to build a more personal connection from afar.
But bad lighting in your home office will render your expressions unreadable and make you look unprofessional. If you’re going to be video chatting or video blogging, then you ought to take the time to create lighting that works well in your home office.
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. The most important thing is to have a soft, diffuse light that’s hitting your face evenly. This can be as simple as a household lamp with shade, but you might want to try a few different approaches to see what’s best for your particular space.
The biggest problems that I see people have with lighting is (a) too much light in the background causing the foreground to be darkened in comparison and (b) a harsh light coming from the top or sides that’s casting long shadows across their face. If you can avoid these issues and get some soft, diffuse light shining across your face then you’ll be golden.
Consider getting an adjustable task light for your home office. You’ll be able to aim the light at whatever area of your desk your working on and it’s directional light will help you to focus on the task at hand.
“To me, a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug.”
If you add just one accessory to your home office, make it a plant. Research shows that with plants around, “workers were more productive and had a 12 percent quicker reaction time. They were less stressed and had lower blood pressure.”
Plants that are dead or dying won’t be of much help at all, so when you get a plant for your home office you had better be ready to take good care of it – either that, or get a cactus.
Paint the Walls
One of the very simplest and least expensive ways that you can transform your work space is with a coat of paint. I recommend a neutral color or a shade of green, which is associated with harmony, balance, and refreshment.
Here’s what Colour Affect has to say about green:
“Green strikes the eye in such a way as to require no adjustment whatever and is, therefore, restful. Being in the centre of the spectrum, it is the colour of balance – a more important concept than many people realise.”
Get Out of Your House!
Even if you’ve done everything I’ve mentioned above and you’ve got an extremely healthy and productive home office, eventually you’re going to want to escape it.
Go for it.
One of the great perks of working from home is that you don’t actually have to work from home at all. Depending on your line of work, you can be anywhere – be it your front lawn or a nearby park. In fact, as I write this I’m sitting in a local coffee shop.
A change of scenery will be a nice change pace… and will help you to be more productive when you’re back in your healthy home office.