It’s becoming more acceptable for people to work from home. I’m finding that it’s even expected that working at home will be more productive than being in an office (what a turnaround that is!).Now that I think about it, my last three employers over the last eighteen months did not offer me a desk at all (I sat at whatever desk was free or a hot desk area).
Which leads to thoughts of what sort of furnishing should a home office have ? Plus Ethan & I have been discussing the topic in the last month or so.
I’ve found that many people don’t consider their requirements for working from home. They just sit somewhere and start working without any preparation or attention to detail.
I wrote out this list of key items to consider when building a home office.
Sound like a lot, doesn’t it. Here is my thinking.
Walls are a source of audio and light reflections.
Audio: The acoustics of the room will impact how well you communicate with colleagues and the impressions you create. Many offices are designed to minimise audio problems but you probably aren’t aware of it.If you have brick walls or a larger room that is mostly empty, then you could have a lot of audio interference.
Video: Walls are your backdrop when doing videoconferencing so make sure that the wall behind you looks professional.Lighting: You need enough light in a room to show your face and posture for videoconferencing. Light coloured walls will reflect light and improve the image.
Floors are a source of audio reflections and the scrape of feet or chair. Think about putting down carpet for noise control (and it’s nice to have bare feet on the floor). Wooden floors can work but some other compensation for audio problems.
Although there is less need for cupboards or shelves, you still need some. I recommend getting cupboards with doors to minimise distractions. I’m easily distracted by looking at textbooks that I should be reading, or a toy that I will get up and fiddle with when I should be writing. Also, you can close doors on untidy shelves and pretend that everything is OK.
I use modular office cupboards (Galant) from Ikea so I can go back and purchase bits and pieces as my needs change. Like a filing drawer – I didn’t have paper files when I first started working independently and ten years later I have a fair amount of paper related to banking, company papers etc.
A desk is a place to put a computer and accessories on. Therefore, it should be a piece of wood with adjustable height legs.Wood because it absorbs sounds and doesn’t cause problems with audio. I recommend spending as little as possible on a desk – use the extra money for the chair.
I use Ikea “Galant”.Get height adjustable legs so that you can set it to exactly the right height for your body. Your arms and back will thank you.
Aside from the obvious need for lighting in a room, you need to put light on your face for videoconferencing. When people can see you face they are more likely to listen and comprehend your discussion. Use a low power bulb in a desk lamp and point it at your face.You can go nerd on this. The correct way is to have three light sources:
- one pointed at you and highlighting your face ( a USB-powered light on a bendy
- one overhead light that show your shoulders and hair (body language must be visible)
- a floor light, pointing upwards, behind you that highlights the wall around you.
That’s probably a bit much for most people so just go for a cheap USB light that you direct to your face so your audience can see you.
I’ve never used videoconferencing for my £dayjob but have used it for other types of meetings. If you are using videoconferencing and you have a company laptop (ie. Dell / HP / Lenovo computer) then you should invest in a decent external camera. Two reasons. The camera in the laptop is almost certain to be cheap and poor quality. Second, the angle of the screen doesn’t present a good view of your face.
Now lets gets to serious stuff.
The second most important aspect of working from home is to have the best possible microphone so that people can hear your clearly. The solution is, surprisingly, simple and cheap. Buy a USB headset. A headset means you don’t need to have technique to “talk into the microphone”, it’s always in the right place. And the earpieces mean that you don’t get feedback loops.A USB Headset is easy to configure. TIP: Make sure that you buy a headset that has NOISE CANCELLATION as a feature. Your fellow workers will thank you.
Audio quality is further improved by having a room that absorbs audio. The easiest way is to have curtains on the windows which strongly reflect sound waves. After that, carpet on the floor. Then consider
UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you use the inbuilt microphone on your computer. It’s the social equivalent of holding a meeting by talking through a toilet door.
It’s quite difficult to sit through a two hour technical review meeting with team members that you can barely understand and have a successful outcome.
I’ve saved the most important topic for last. With perfect hindsight, the office chair is probably MOST important furniture decision that I have ever made. Most people spend more time choosing a computer or lounge suite than they do a chair yet are likely to spend many more hours sitting in the office chair. And it matters more to your health than you realise.
And to be honest, except for lucky chance, I also would have done the same thing.
I own a Herman Miller Aeron. It’s probably the fanciest and most pretentious thing I own after my MacBook laptop. Simply, I love this chair. It caresses and supports my posterior, encourages me to sit straight. It adjusts to my personal body shape because it’s adjustable in several direction and the mesh bottom ensures that you don’t get swamp ass during extended periods in the ‘zone’.
Yes, they can be expensive but you can buy them second hand at less than half price. With some patience you can find them at 30% of the list price (mine cost £250 instead of £1200 by watching eBay for a few months). And I didn’t spend thousands on a desk, or drawers, or other useless furniture. I spent 70% of my budget on that chair. And totally, absolutely, everyday, that has been worth it. There are days when I’m sitting in that chair for up to 14 hours.
Mine doesn’t have the arms because I don’t like them. I found that the arms took up a lot of space around the chair ( my home office is very small at less than 8 square meters). And I find my posture is bad with the arm.
I bought the headrest as an after market accessory because sometimes I lean back to have a think or a doze (don’t tell anyone).
The EtherealMind View
Working from home is fast becoming a requirement for the £dayjob and I’m doing a lot of extra hours when writing and recording and creating a “palace of productivity” has been my goal. I’ve also been investing in dual monitors and Kontour monitor arms to lift my screens to eye level so I’m “looking up” at my screens instead of being hunched over a laptop. It’s all small things but it’s helped me to become more productive and get more done.
But I’m also looking to present a professional image to co-workers and managers. In the same way that I dressed in business clothes to present the positive image, your home office should also present the same image of you. Sadly, image and perception matters as much as delivery. On the bright side, clothes are more expensive than the technology I’ve outlined here.
Give some thought to the home office and make it something that presents the correct image.