Nearly a quarter of Americans work at home, so why not create the perfect space?
Last year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that nearly a quarter of people in the U.S. did at least some — if not all — of their work at home. As they spend more time in their home offices, homeowners have started to not only see, but feel the imbalance of form and function in their workspace.
“Balancing comfort, function and aesthetics is sometimes a challenge, and the client needs to consider the importance of each and prioritize them,” says Leslie Bisharat, owner of Techline Studio in Rancho Cordova, California.
If you’re not sure where to start in renovating your home office, your body might be able to tell you. “People usually find out what they need based on where their bodies are hurting,” says Roger Hockett, owner of Work Spaces in Newcastle, Washington. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration also advises telecommuters to listen to their bodies. OSHA reported work-related musculo-skeletal disorders to be a common cause of lost or restricted work time. Three home office experts shared three steps to designing a comfortable home office.
Light It Right
The average American worker spends seven hours a day in front of a computer screen, according to the American Optometric Association. Although we may assume brighter is better when it comes to productive workspaces, glare on monitors causes us to squint and strain our eyes even more. OSHA actually advises workers to direct light away from their line of sight.
Here are some more lighting tricks you can try at home to avoid glare on your screen:
- Use a supplemental desk lamp that shines down on paperwork rather than the computer screen.
- Position your monitor so that windows run alongside the workstation rather than in front of or behind the screen.
- Tilt your monitor so that you don’t have to bend your neck.
Combine the Right Furniture
If you don’t have a budget for revamping your whole home office, Hockett suggests starting with the chair. All three professionals we talked to discourage folks from merely buying something off the shelf or online without actually sitting in it for a while first. Even then, be sure that there’s a long enough warranty so that you can return or exchange the chair if aches and pains begin.
Each component of the chair should be adjustable. But don’t stop at adjustable. Make sure the lumbar support, armrests and seat height adjust to you and your body. “Movement is key,” says Jen MacKaben of Fully, an ergonomic furniture manufacturer in Portland, Oregon. MacKaben suggests a chair that moves 360 degrees and allows rocking and bouncing.
The partner for an adjustable chair is a desk with flexible height. “Fixed-height desks lead to a lot of back pain,” MacKaben says. “The difference is felt almost instantly.” Standing desks are all the rage in downtown offices these days. Experts from furniture manufacturers such as MacKaben are seeing a lot of employees getting so hooked on the trend that they’re investing in one for their home.
As you continue to improve your home office, you may be interested in the following ergonomic accessories:
- Anti-fatigue mat (for standing) or a flexible footrest (for sitting)
- Stool to perch on
- Movable monitor arm or lift for laptop
- Adjustable keyboard platform with a padded wrist rest
After you start working in your new home office, or even as you transition to different roles within your company, you might assume different work habits and positions. You might find that you pace while you take conference calls or that you no longer use your file cabinet as often as you did before. Therefore, consider an office layout that’s flexible rather than permanent. “The furniture should fit the space and be designed so that you can change things around as needs change,” Bisharat says.
As much as you listen to your body, don’t forget to respond to your mind too. If you begin each workday feeling anxious, it might be time to organize all that paperwork. Or maybe you end the day feeling depressed and isolated from the rest of your family. Personalizing your workspace could be a great first step in designing a comfortable home office. No matter where you start, you should continue to address other areas of the room to eventually end up with an ergonomically efficient and thoughtfully decorated space.