The ultimate WFH guide: Everything you need to create the perfect home office space
| October 12, 2020
Working from home is the new normal for millions of Americans. In the past, you may have occasionally worked from home — which typically involved balancing a laptop on your knee or creating some space on your kitchen countertop. But now that you’re working from home on a regular basis, neither the “knee thing” nor working next to your blender is a viable option.
However, creating an effective (and comfortable) work-from-home office space includes various components. Where should the office be? What should it include? How can you stay organized? What else do you need to know?
We rounded up a variety of interior designers, organizers and other experts, along with some of the coolest WFH items, to create the ultimate WFH office guide.
Selecting the Right Location
If you don’t already have a home office, your first dilemma is how to stop being a nomad in your own home. According to Susie Hayman, productivity consultant and owner of InYourBizness, and president of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO), creating a permanent workspace is important. “Having a designated office space is key to being productive, as it reduces distractions, increases your ability to focus, and provides a clear delineation between personal/professional or work/play lives,” she says. “When I’m in my office, that’s when I work; when I’m in the kitchen, that’s when I eat/cook.”
However, if you don’t have the luxury of a separate space, your options are limited. “I always advise against setting up work in the bedroom,” Hayman says. “If need be, a specified area of a family/living space could be an alternate solution, or a corner or area of the living space would work, as long as it is comfortable.”
To give you some ideas, Lexington Homes and Optima Signature in Chicago provided the photos above as examples of how the niches in some of their apartments and townhouses are being used for dedicated office space.
Choosing a WFH Desk
Selecting an office desk may depend on where you plan to place it. For example, if the desk is going to be in an exposed area, you may want it to look nicer. However, Cristina Miguelez, remodeling specialist at Fixr, says it’s really more about how it works for you than how the actual desk looks. “There are a lot of ways to dress up a desk and make it look great, but a flimsy desk or one that isn’t suiting your needs isn’t going to last long term,” she says.
In fact, she’s strongly against those flimsy desks that you can put together with an Allen key. “Pressboard will only delaminate the first time you spill your coffee on it.” Miguelez recommends a simple, timeless desk — ideally made of hardwood. “Reclaimed wood makes a great statement if you want to be on trend, and it will still last forever.”
In addition to solid wood options like the Zona Desk, standing desks, like the Vari Electric Standing Desk and the Seville Classics Tempered Glass Desk, are popular options because you can adjust the height (with the press of a button) so you can work either standing or sitting.
Another consideration is what you’ll be doing at your desk. “If you need a lot of storage, then opt for a desk with a lot of different types of drawers, as this will be really versatile,” Miguelez explains. If you don’t need drawers for storage, she says you can often find a much bigger desk for the same amount of money. “Need a lot of space but a little storage? Still skip the drawers and invest in some shelves as well; you’ll be able to spread out over the larger surface.”
Lastly, to make your space neater, she recommends getting a desk that will let you thread cords through it — or one that you can drill a hole through.
Organizing Your Workspace and Hiding Clutter
“Pieces of clutter — whether binders, piles of paper, or that extra filing cabinet you need to squeeze around — are distractions and productivity thieves,” says Christopher Grubb, interior designer and founder of Beverly Hills-based Arch-Interiors Design Group. “I believe in ‘out of sight, get more done.’” Productivity aside, clutter is also unattractive. “So, hide computer CPUs, printers and shredders in credenzas and cabinets — think something stylish you would put in your living, family, or dining room.” However, you need to make sure that it’s deep enough to hide your equipment — and he recommends drilling a small hole in the back for your cords to pass through. In addition, Grubbs suggests adding colorful or textured baskets to a bookcase or shelving unit to add style and hide clutter.
The cool thing about working from home is that you get to choose your storage options, so you’re not required to stick with the boring options usually available at your company. “Stylish baskets can hold bulky items, even in plain sight, such as on a shelf or in a corner,” says Frank Keshishian, founder of L.A. Design Concepts, a direct-to-consumer supplier of trade-only home decor, textiles and furnishings. “These items turn unsightly clutter into an organized trove.” He also recommends creative bookends to turn your books into a work of art.
According to Kevin Busch, vice president of operations for Mr. Handyman, most people aren’t utilizing the wasted spaces in their home office space. “We always recommend finding ways to ‘go vertical’ and use wall space rather than floor space when possible,” he says. “Hanging storage shelves rather than adding another bookcase or filing cabinet is a good option and keeps the room feeling less cluttered.” Busch also recommends hanging dry-erase boards, chalkboards and cork boards.
Using Ergonomic Tech Essentials
Working on your computer for long periods of time can result in carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis. The Humanscale/Razer Productivity Suite includes an ergonomically designed wireless mechanical keyboard with white LED backlit, fingerprint-resistant keycaps. The Pro Click Mouse is also ergonomically designed to position the wrist at a 30-degree angle, which prevents discomfort and injuries. The Pro Glide mouse pad is made of thick, high-density rubber foam, with a textured micro-wave cloth surface.
Another option for stylish and practical tech goodies is the Satechi Collection, which includes a variety of accessories, including a wireless compact backlit keyboard, aluminum Bluetooth rechargeable wireless mouse, eco-leather water-resistant desk mat to protect your desk space from scratches, and aluminum wireless presenter for controlling presentations.
Handling Virtual Meetings
Most people think about their appearance during virtual meetings. However, Mindy Godding, owner of Abundance Organizing in Richmond, Virginia, and NAPO board member, believes you should also pay attention to your virtual meeting background. “Spend time considering the items in view when you participate in video conferencing, and display items that tell your personal story or share your interests,” she says.
“In the absence of ‘water cooler’ opportunities to relate informally with colleagues, background visuals can offer a means of connecting with co-workers.” However, Godding warns against computer-generated virtual background images, especially if you have a trust-building role in your organization.
If you don’t have a dedicated office, Grubb recommends considering the layout as it relates to virtual meetings. For example, if your office is going to be in the guest room, he thinks a sleeper sofa is a good choice. “By day, a sofa with art above is a great Zoom background, and then, when a guest is over you can pull it out and make up the bed.” Another recommendation is a Murphy bed with surrounding shelves. “By day it looks like a cabinet that you can add lots of great accessories to, but you can pull out the bed when in need,” Grubb says.
Working More Efficiently
Control clutter and add some elegance to your workspace with the pebble-grain Italian leather Courant Catch:3 accessory tray. You can charge your phone on one side, and keep your glasses, watch, keys, pens, and other items on the other side. There’s also an option to add a silver or gold foil monogram to the tray.
The Quartet Glass Dry Erase Computer Pad can fit between your keyboard and monitor, providing a convenient non-absorbent glass that lets you write, erase, and rewrite notes. It also has space to hide various items.
With the 42-page Rocketbook Smart Reusable Notebook, you can write ideas and lists or fill out your weekly or monthly planner (using a Pilot FriXion pen, marker, or highlighter), and save your information to the cloud. Then, you can wipe the pages clean with a damp cloth, which allows you to reuse the notebook over and over again.
The cost of printer cartridges can quickly add up. However, the Epson EcoTank Cartridge-Free Super Tank Printer uses large, refillable ink bottles instead. So, you only need to refill the color that’s empty (black, yellow, cyan, magenta). Epson projects that this results in up to a 90% savings increase compared to ink cartridges.
Maintaining a Schedule
When you’re rolling out of bed and taking a few steps to get to your office, it can be difficult to separate work time from non-work time. “Keep the same schedule you had when you were going to an office — take breaks for snacks, meals, and movement,” advises Hayman.
“Get up at the same time each morning, as if you’re going to work, get dressed, schedule your work time with breaks, just as you would in an office setting,” she says. That’s another reason why both your location and your office set up are so important. You want to avoid the temptation to stop and do housework. On the other hand, if your environment is uncomfortable, you’ll look for opportunities to keep leaving it.
Godding recommends creating a daily schedule and to-do list. “Share the day's goals with your ‘co-workers’ at home so everyone agrees on schedule, quiet times, break times, etc.”
She also recommends using a voice-controlled tech assistant like Alexa or Echo. “These auditory devices can provide reminders when it’s time to move from one task to the next, providing structure to your day.”
Making Your Work Area More Comfortable
One way to create a WFH environment that is conducive to productivity is by eliminating what’s causing you discomfort. If you hate those plastic chair mats that slide around whenever you move your chair (and also tend to turn yellow), consider a Vitrazza Rectangle Glass Chair Mat. The 1.4-inch thick safety glass has polished edges, is coated to resist fine scratches, and has been tested to over 1,000 pounds. As a result, your chair glides smoothly, and the mat will never move inadvertently.
Instead of squinting at your tiny laptop screen, consider getting a large computer monitor instead. Then you can put the laptop in a vertical monitor stand to save valuable desktop space. Another option for increasing your screen size is to add a portable monitor to your laptop setup. The Vissles 15.6” Portable Touchscreen Monitor plugs into your laptop and provides a second monitor. It can also be used to turn your phone into a tablet.
If your chin is resting on your collarbone as you work, that’s a good sign you need to raise the height of your monitor. The Grovemade Monitor Stand is 4.2” in height, and can improve your posture by bringing the monitor closer to eye level.
Don’t underestimate the importance of light. If possible, Gena Kirk, VP of corporate studio at KB Home, recommends setting up your desk near a window with plenty of access to natural light. “Light can energize you and make you more productive and alert.”
According to Keshishian, lighting is also an opportunity to marry beauty and efficiency. “A desk lamp and a floor lamp combine to create a glow that’s comfortable and inviting — everything commercial office fluorescents are not.”
And depending on the direction that your home office faces, Busch says you may want to invest in some good blinds and/or curtains. “This will better regulate how much natural light you want, or don’t want, coming in while you work.”
Now that you’re connecting more computer equipment, don’t neglect the need for adequate power without creating a rat’s nest of wires. “Having a designated power solution with both multiple outlets and USB ports adds accessibility for whatever device is being used,” says Chip Wade, HGTV star and professional contractor. “Keeping things off the floor and making them mobile will give you the greatest flexibility for needs as they change.”
The Plugable Triple Display Dock has three video outputs (HDMI 2K, HDMI 4K, and DVI/VGA), in addition to five USB 3.0 ports, an Ethernet port, and a headphone/microphone jack.
If you’re using a Mac, the HyperJuice Dual Wall Charger for MacBook Pro computers is compatible with laptops, tablets, and smartphones, and allows you to quickly charge up to four devices at one time. It’s also foldable and operates at a low temperature.
The Legrand Wiremold Power Strip has a slim design that can be mounted on your desk. It includes two power outlets and two USB charging ports that have a smart chip, allowing them to charge as rapidly as OEM chargers.
Factoring in Wellness
Sitting at your desk all day while you’re at home is just as bad as sitting at it all day in the office. Godding recommends building time in your day for both movement and stillness. “Movement can energize the body and mind, eliminate body fatigue, and relieve stress,” she explains. “Calming activities like meditation, mindfulness, a short restorative nap, etc., can help protect your state of mind against stressors like isolation, distraction, anxiety, and uncertainty.”
And she has another suggestion: get a plant. “Workers report improved concentration and perceived better air quality when there is a plant in their workspace.”
Creating Good Vibes and Cancelling the Noise
Kirk recommends having access to music in your home office. “Play soothing sounds or your favorite music between conference calls,” she says. “Music can improve efficiency and provide inspiration, and it can also help you relax and get your creative juices flowing.”
You can listen to music and block out noise with Sony Noise Cancelling Headphones, which have 35 hours of battery life. When you don’t want to use the wireless option, the headphone cable allows you to plug in, and the headphones also have a mic for making phone calls. If you prefer in-ear headphones, the Creative Aurvana Trio Wireless neckband, noise-isolating headphones include an extra pair of silicone and foam tips, and provide up to 20 hours of playtime. They also work with Siri or Google Assistant to make phone calls or play music.
If you’re looking for portable speakers to use in your WFH setup, the light grey Cambridge Audio Speaker can keep a battery charge for up to 14 hours. It includes a USB charging port, and the Bluetooth and built-in mic allows you to make and receive calls using the speaker. The black Belkin SoundForm Elite Smart Speaker has voice-controlled features and can be used with either Alexa or Google Assistant. It also has integrated wireless charging, so you can charge your smartphone while you’re listening to music.
Starting the Day Right
A cup of Joe is a great way to start every workday. If you like making coffee using pods, the Instant Pod Coffee & Espresso Maker lets you brew single servings of both K-Cup pods and Nespresso capsules. The 68-ounce water reservoir provides hot water on demand.
However, if you prefer brewing pots of coffee, the stainless steel Mr. Coffee 10 Cup Brew Thermal Coffee Maker has a double-walled thermal carafe to keep coffee hot. And if you’re the type of person who can’t wait for the entire pot to finish brewing, the auto-pause function lets you grab a cup before the brew cycle is over.
Studies reveal that most people don’t drink enough water during a typical workday. Often, it’s just a matter of not wanting to stop working and get up to refill your glass. However, the Fluidstance Fillup Personal Water Tower holds 70 ounces of water, and has a double-walled tank that can keep water cold for up to 24 hours. It doesn’t take up much space on your desk, and there’s also a convenient leather strap to carry it by.
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