How to edit your office for work-from-home productivity

July 20 |
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My studio is the most productive office I've had. SO LOVELY HERE.
Fast Company recently ran an article about office features which can hamper productivity. I've worked in some crappy, dank offices, and their claims rang true for me. But now I work from home — what about us? What do we need to know to select a room or a nook in which to office — or to improve the space we've already got?

Ventilation

So Fast Company started out a little iffy on this one: researchers collected "some evidence" that "poor ventilation" decreases productivity. That statement lacks any sort of concrete facts, but who's going to argue when I say a pleasant breeze will improve any workspace?

Vornado Vintage Whole Room Air Circulator
Vornado Vintage Whole Room Air Circulator

Let freshly-oxygenated air into your work cubby by opening a window or adding a fan. Overhead ceiling fans can be useful for controlling the temperature, too — let them turn one way and they'll suck hot air to the ceiling. Reverse them, and they push warm air down.

If a ceiling fan isn't an option, how about a hot-stuff desk fan? If all else fails — you don't have a window and obtaining a desk fan is an insurmountable task — bring in a plant or two to change out the air for you.

My studio has a lovely east-facing window through which I get breezes most of the year — I even crack it open in the winter to keep the air moving.

Temperature

Ugh, my last office was 63 degrees — if we were lucky. At home I keep the thermostat set at 68 in the winter about about 80 during the summer. A study out of Cornell suggests we should keep workspaces pretty warm — when researchers raised one office from 68 to 77, they found typing errors decreased by 44%, and overall typing output increased 150%.

Try not to be weirded out by the girl smooshing the gloves into her face.
77 degrees seems pretty warm, but I do have to admit: the toastier my fingers are, the smoother my typing. If you want to keep the furnace low in the winter, try these USB-powered gloves.

Light

Most people long for offices with windows, not florescent-lit boxes. Another study found productivity rises 15% when natural light hits an office. If you're selecting a room at home — try to go for one with windows.

Dedicate a desk

I'mma throw another one in here; it's worked well for me since I started working from home. If you are a crafter or artist, it may be useful for you as well. I have three desks in my studio, and each has its own purpose: one is for messy/assembling work: clamping, working with glues. Another is for drawing on. The third is my very small school desk, used ONLY for computer work and occasionally writing by hand. It's too small to even fit other tasks.

I used to use all three desks for whatever I wanted — and I was much less productive. My "main" desk was too big; covered in papers and knick knacks and half-projects. Now it's got my laptop, a monitor, my mouse, and a pen. The two cubbies hold notebooks and… well, crap. But the whole desk situation is like night and day, productivity-wise.

What about you? What makes a home office better for your productivity?

  1. What's worked for me was not limiting myself to a ROOM. We do have a 2nd bedroom, which we've since turned in to a guest room, but I didn't like the lighting in there, nor the carpet. Instead of saying "My office must have its own room!" I decided to make space in the nook off of our kitchen. My partner has to be quiet and careful if he needs to come in here while I'm on a call, but otherwise it's great. The kitchen/nook have epic skylights, great views out into the charming pasture behind our house, and windows to let breezes in. I've literally turned on the lights in here maybe once or twice in the past 2 months. It's money.

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    • Do discuss this with anyone else who shares the space though. When my dad started working from home he'd get bored in his office and wander through the house while on the phone, bring his laptop into the dining room, or do filing in the living room.

      But it rapidly changed from him working from home to the rest of the family living in his office. Everything and everyone worked around him. If he was using the table I did my homework on the floor, if he was on the phone everyone in the house stayed quiet, no matter how long the call lasted.

      It did get worked out so everyone was able to share the space, but doing that first would have saved a lot of frustration.

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      • Valid point. Right now it's just my partner and I in the house, and he's gone working during the day the majority of the time. When he is home and needing to make work calls of his own, he can shut the door to the other half of the house and set himself up at our other tiny desk in the dining room.

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  2. You're right, especially about needing good ventilation. I just love having all the windows open in my little work area. I kept the knick knacks down to nothing by getting a really small desk. I mainly use my computer for editing photos so I have no need for paperwork or really anything on my desk at all. No distractions!

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  3. are the images not working on this post, or is it just me?

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      • Hmmm they seem to be behaving now. Trying to make me look crazy, that's what my computer is trying to do.

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  4. The reason for the ventilation is actually valid and does have scientific proof behind it. Offices and buildings that are poorly ventilated generally suffer from what is known as "sick building syndrome", essentially the air circulation system is underperforming, thus as the person works throughout the day the levels of CO2 in the workspace rises. The higher levels of CO2 cause workers to become more sleepy and less productive as the day progresses. Also, levels of air pollutants are also higher in these buildings, thus many people are also suffering from allergens in the air at the same time.

    Many universities suffer from this issue, so if you find yourself falling asleep during a lecture it may not be your prof causing you to sleep ;)

    Unfortunately its an incredibly common problem in most buildings built and designed from the 1970s-1990s. Most houses are better, but definitely have a nice open window in your home office. If you can't have that, take a break go for a short 10-15min walk outside it will rejuvenate you immensely!

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    • Huh! I'd heard of sick building syndrome but I thought it referred to mold and pathogens. Very cool info.

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      • It contains those as well, its really one name for a whole lot of things. But the main issue is poor building circulation.

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  5. I need me a pair of those gloves! They look UH-MAZING!

    When Husband moved in, he was all "I"ll study at the kitchen table" and I was all "no! I don't want to be quiet/tip-toeing around you when cooking, nor do I want to move my crap from my desk". So now our study has 2 desks in it and it works really well for us. My desk was an old kitchen table handed down from a friend. His was an old desk (lol) handed down from a friend with Ikea legs added.

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  6. Agree about the cold fingers typing slower. In the winter I had to sit on my hands for a few minutes after coming in before typing.

    I've found that regular drawer-cleanouts immensely help work. Nothing is more distracting than looking for a push pin and then spending half an hour digging through a drawer full of junk going "THAT'S WHERE THAT WAS"

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  7. My best advise for people who get distracted easily: Windows are great, but don't seat yourself at the window. Since I moved my desk into the darkest corner of the room, I've been way more productive! (I'm a writer, there's enough going on in my head already.)

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  8. OK this is going to sound a little odd, but who knows, might help someone out there!

    I find rearranging a desk so that I don't have my back to the rest of the room makes a huge difference to how happy I am sitting by myself and how productively I can work.

    I'm not sure why, but ever since I turned my desk to face the door, rather than the wall- I can focus for much longer and in general feel a lot happier and more creative. Something to do with not feeling boxed in I think. *shrug* works for me!

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    • I never understood why I worked so much more focused and fast when I tried my dad's desk as opposed to mine… and this may be it! I think you just solved a BIG mystery for me!

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  9. Try to keep your office and bedroom separate! I learned a long time ago that office is for work, bedroom for sleep… and play. If you can see your desk from bed you'll think about work, when you see your bed from your desk you'll think about taking a nap. If you can't keep them in separate rooms like I can't right now make sure to create partitions! I have an ikea expedit book cakes which separates my "bedroom" from my office and a coffee table separating my office/bedroom from my yoga area. It can be hard to separate regular life from work anyway when you work from home so physically give them some distance if you can.

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  10. Oh yeah and one more thing, try to keep everything within arms reach. I was a chef in my previous career and we were huge on minimizing steps to do something. I have my desk and work station set up so I can do just about anything without leaving the area. The big reasoning behind this is the rest of my life is in the rest of my house, if I have to go to another room to print or even into my bedroom area likely I'm going to get super distracted by something shiny and take a "break" that inevitably lasts way longer than i expected.

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