With the return to school and the summer months gone, which for many of us means a busier work schedule, I thought it would be helpful to share some ideas to make flexible work and study spaces, that work for you, in your home. With a particular focus on solutions to address pain-points when working in smaller spaces.
I think the most important thing to keep in mind when setting up a flexible work-space is you know yourself best! Don’t get caught up in how you think you’re supposed to be working or what office experts say is the most efficient and effective work environment. Do what works for you! Many of us have been working from home now for over 5 months – and many more have always worked from home- so you’re really an expert at this too.
Is the Dining Room the New Center of the Home?
For those living in a home with a separate dining room and eat-in kitchen, the dining room is probably a very under-utilized space. With busy schedules, family meals (when they even happen) are usually eaten in the kitchen. So, these more formal spaces may only get used on rare occasions. If your dining room has a table and a sideboard, you pretty much have all of the furniture you need to set up a highly effective workspace.
If you are in need of space for you and your family to work and study, the dining room is the ticket. Empty out your sideboard and repurpose it for office supplies. Assign everyone a cupboard or drawer for their laptop, and give everyone a box for their supplies so that at the beginning and end of each work or school day, everything can be quickly put away and your dining room is left the way it was found.
Power outlets can be a problem for laptops that need to go on for 8 hours. Investing in a lay-flat extension cord so that you don’t have to worry about accidentally tripping is a worthwhile investment. Also, make sure you have good lighting. Natural light is always the best option, not just for your sight but also for your mood. If you don’t have space for your workspace conveniently located near a window, consider investing in a good lamp.
Balancing Work & Life.
Keeping a clear distinction between work time and personal/family time is important when working from home so that work doesn’t slowly bleed into your personal and family time. Get yourself and your family into the routine of putting away your laptop and supplies at the end of each day. With one box assigned to each person, it should be a simple task! Putting your work gear away is also a great physical and visual reminder that your workday is done.
Keeping your work gear organized and minimal will also help those whose dining table is also their everyday kitchen table. If you don’t have a side-board, consider one. They may not have seemed like an important piece of furniture if you didn’t have an abundance of dishes, but they are useful pieces to create a home office (they can even hide the printer!).
Mount Your TV.
If you are really pressed for space, reconsider how you have set up your TV. If your current TV is sitting on a console opposite your sofa, this is the perfect space for a desk. Mounting your TV on the wall will give you space to place a small desk under it. Consider a desk with a solid back so that the wires from your TV are hidden from view. A desk with a long slim drawer is perfect for hiding your work gear at the end of the day. Make sure to get a piece of furniture that is not too deep, (no more than 22”) so that it looks appropriately scaled under the TV.
Invest in Comfortable Chairs.
It’s probably time to invest in a good chair. Humans were just not designed to be sitting for so long. Picking a comfortable and supportive chair is going to be important to your long-term success while working at home. At the same time, you don’t really want to be staring at office chairs around your Dining table. It’s not a great look.
There are many great hybrid chairs to pick from. They’re stylish enough that you would want them around your table but supportive and functional enough to sit on for an extended period. Look for a chair that swivels but does not have wheels. The wheels is what makes screams office, but the swivel adds an enormous amount of usability when getting in and out of the chair, it’s worth the extra cost.
Routines are the hardest things to break, and for most people paper-use is a habit-based activity. How many of us say “I just can’t do this on the screen, I need to print it”. Getting used to learning to do tasks in a new way, especially when we already do them efficiently, is really difficult. But it’s possible! Practise makes perfect. At the very least make sure to set time aside at the end of each week to dispose of any work-based paper that has piled up.
Whether or not you are trying to relearn an existing task on a new medium (computer instead of paper), trying to maintain better boundary’s between professional and work life, or just trying to keep a more tidy house, don’t quit just because it doesn’t work at the beginning. Once you’ve developed it as a new habit, your hard work will pay off in spades.
Practicing What I Preach.
With all that said, here is a photo of my “at home” office over the last 6 months. I decided not to set up a dedicated area as an office space. All of my at-home work is done on my laptop. I usually set myself up at a small table by this window in my apartment that gets amazing light. At the end of each day, I unplug and put my charger, mouse, ear-pods, notepads, and pens in a box, which go onto the shelf of my bookcase, with my laptop. The whole setup takes 30 seconds to get out at the start of the day. At the end of the workday, away the laptop goes, and it doesn’t come out until the next morning (at least most of the time!).
Director, Design Services
Jim believes in ignoring the rules and creating spaces that are personal and tailored to the client. His design style leans toward layered, saturated spaces with an identifiable history. His pro-tip: In small, open-concept spaces, make the kitchen as seamless and integrated as possible.