Before 2020, remote work was already trending as an option for many companies. But once the coronavirus pandemic hit, that trend became a daily reality for a large swath of the American public.
Moving forward, it looks like working from home may be less of a temporary solution and more of a permanent shift. A recent study from Harvard found that 1 in 3 workers felt their performance and quality of work were better when they worked from home, and 1 in 3 also said they were better able to focus. Eighty-one percent of respondents said they don’t want to return to the office or would prefer a “hybrid” schedule going forward. Plus, companies such as Twitter, Slack, and Spotify have adopted either a fully remote or hybrid work policy.
With all of that in mind, the home office has become more essential than ever. So if you anticipate you’ll be working remotely in the near future, it’s high time to smarten up your office space. Below, our design and real estate experts share some must-tackle projects with a range of budgets and time constraints in mind.
If you have 5 minutes
In just five minutes, you can add beauty to your space and clean the air by bringing in a houseplant.
“If you don’t have a green thumb, succulents are the way to go,” says Andrey Doichev, a resource consultant for entrepreneurs and the founder of Austin, TX, firm Inc. and Go. He recommends placing a small succulent on your desk or putting a larger one in a corner in a planter.
Another quick fix is to give your laptop a lift. Studies since the pandemic began show that many people are not using their laptops efficiently, especially because they have smaller screens and often rest at a much lower height than regular desktop computers.
“Monitors should be at eye height,” says Chris Alexakis, a contractor who specializes in rehabbing home offices and co-founded Cabinet Select in Venice, FL. “A simple laptop or monitor riser is a much more affordable solution than an adjustable-height desk.”
If budget is an issue, a stack of magazines or books is an option.
Cost: Free to $20
If you have 30 minutes
Marla Stone, a professional organizer based in Irvine, CA, believes that deploying basic feng shui principles can help create an office space that is efficient, organized, and aesthetically pleasing.
“Whether you’re at a desk or sitting on a couch in your living room, your workspace should face the door or opening of the room,” Stone says. “Just look at the president of the United States. His desk is in a position to greet and welcome. It’s also a power position. Facing out of a window and having your back to the room entrance can create uneasiness.”
She also suggests making sure there is an easy path between items of furniture and the entry and exit.
Now, look around. Do you see papers and office gadgets everywhere?
“Keeping your office clean is crucial to productivity,” says Aaron Haynes, CEO of the digital marketing company Loganix in Seattle. Haynes has spent a lot of time consulting with experts and coaching workers on ways to make working from home effective.
“I give workers who are new to working from home the same advice: Get rid of everything you don’t use every day,” Haynes says. “You don’t need fancy filing cabinets, because so much of our work is digital now. Dedicate a simple box or drawer for documents and office tools you may need in the future. Having a clean and tidy office space boosts productivity.”
If you have 1 hour
A solid hour will give you enough time to tackle the lighting situation. Maximizing any sources of natural light and making the most of interior lighting will help boost productivity. Plus, everyone is spending more time on videoconference calls—and bad lighting can be less than flattering.
“If you have a window, upgrade the curtains to maximize light,” says Jessi Buyer, a Seattle-based author and expert on ecotherapy. Stick with curtains in a light and airy material like cotton or linen. If your home office is private, you can even opt for sheer curtains to let the natural light in.
Experts also say an overhead light is ideal, but barring that, a desk light is essential. Change out the lightbulbs for ones that mimic natural light. Plus, if you have a ton of video chats on your calendar, experts also advise investing in a ring light.
Cost: Curtains, $30-plus per panel; lamp, $30-plus; ring lights, $20-plus.
If your lighting is on point, consider adding shelves, which serve two purposes: aesthetic and organizational.
“Get rid of bulky storage furniture, and install floating shelves,” Alexakis recommends. “Two large, high-end shelves will take care of the bulk of your storage needs and keep your office clutter-free.”
Shelves also help define repurposed areas (like closets and storage sheds) as office space.
Cost: $15 to $300, plus labor for installation, if needed.
If you have 3 hours
If you have an afternoon to devote to an office rehabilitation, take the time to do a furniture assessment and shop for some new pieces.
“The desk is the most important part of the home office, and it should be proportional to the space,” says Mark Feldman, chief home officer at Riverbend Home in Boston. “The last thing you want is a crowded office space. If you’re not sure what type of desk to go for, a modular and minimalistic desk is most practical.”
Feldman also recommends an ergonomically designed chair to combat bad posture and desk fatigue.
“Adding a rug if your office is large can anchor the space, and choosing one with bright pops of color can bring the room together,” Feldman says.
Cost: Desk and chair, each $100-plus; area rug, $100-plus
An under-the-radar solution for workers who are handing valuable documents or information is a biometric safe.
“Having a safe installed in the home also adds value, and takes two to three hours to do properly,” says Kristen Bolig, founder of Charlotte, NC–based Security Nerd.
Cost: Safe, $250-plus (not including labor)
If you have a weekend
If your office essentially translates to a seat on your living room couch, you can take a weekend to carve out a real space in your home or apartment, even if it’s small.
The most popular and effective solution is a “cloffice,” says Dalas Dodd, the residential real estate design team leader at Sundae in Hermosa Beach, CA.
“A cloffice is essentially a repurposed closet,” Dodd says. “It has a door, which you can close, and it often includes shelves, which you can use for decor to brighten the space or to store office documents.”
Dodd and others also suggest putting up temporary wallpaper to transform the space. You should also add a desk lamp or LED lighting under a shelf to brighten the space.
Cost: Small desk, $100-plus; temporary wallpaper, $50-plus; lamp, $30-plus
“If you’re lucky to have a designated home office, or if you’re taking over a spare bedroom or a part of the basement, a fresh paint job will transform the space,” says Kelsey Stuart, CEO of Bloomin’ Blinds, a window treatment franchise based in Dallas.
“Lighter tones reflect light, which makes a home office feel roomier,” says Stuart. “Go for a light, simple color scheme to promote high energy and creativity. It will also provide a professional background for videoconference calls.”
Cost: Supplies and paint, $150-plus
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