Neil Jacob, a 30-year-old Indian entrepreneur, operates his newly launched marketing agency from the living room of his one-bedroom Dubai Marina apartment. But while working from home eliminates the additional office rent, his children often seem to appear out of nowhere when he's on a videoconference with an important client.
Working from home has its flexibilities, but if the office is not adequately segregated from the home, it can impede your productivity, prevent you from organising your day and striking the perfect work-life balance.
When space is at a premium, get creative. Some unexpected spots that can be altered into a small office are wide hallways, an upstairs pantry, a storage room or even an alcove under a staircase, says Hiba Zarour, Interior Design Manager, HH Investment and Development, a Dubai-based development company.
A seldom-used formal dining room can double as a temporary home office. Closets can provide a multi-functional workspace. "I am, however, not in favour of creating a workspace within a bedroom," says Hiba. "Keep this as your last resort. Always aim to keep work, along with all electronics, outside the bedroom as this is a place to unwind and detach from the stresses and strains of the day. Filling up the bedroom with papers, phones and laptops can only make you feel more anxious and overstimulated."
For optimum utilisation of space, it is critical to ensure that your furniture accommodates all the necessary equipment. Although the integration of office furniture with technology products is a relatively new concept, it is steadily gaining traction in the UAE.
"In today's wireless world we are no longer bound to a traditional home office where space was once dictated by the size of our electronics and need for excess filing. Electronics are shrinking, becoming more mobile and pushing us towards a paperless or paper-saving lifestyle. So home offices can now be more flexible and at the same time functional," points out Hiba.
Though planning for technology infrastructure while purchasing furniture may be expensive at first, it can result in a significant rise in productivity and assure the owner that everything in his office is designed to work together, both functionally and aesthetically. "With many furniture manufacturers offering innovative and multifunctional pieces, we are now able to integrate what you can call a ‘pocket office' into almost any space at home," says Hiba.
Markets are flooded with space-saving yet sleek furniture and all you need is creativity to turn a corner of your living room or a guest bedroom into a truly functional work pad without spoiling the overall look of your house.
Maudalene Wagner, Interior Designer at Dubai-based Zen Interiors, says that the design of a home office should be done in such a way that it becomes an extension of one's home. "A comfortable chair in front of your computer desk, for instance, is an important factor when it comes to planning your office at home. It does not have to be a traditional office chair, but a chair that connects and complements the rest of the space," she says.
Rachel Savage, Design Manager of interior design firm City Space, often takes work home. She says, "Although I work from office, my company promotes activity-based working, which involves developing a work culture that allows an employee to work in the best way to get a task done efficiently. We try to provide a variety of work settings that enables people to choose how they prefer to work. The best part of a home office is that unlike working in a corporate office, you can design it to reflect your own personal taste, style and identity."
However, before you begin designing your pad, assess how you would like to use the space: will it be your primary workspace or just a support area to another existing set-up? Will you be working on your own or will you be meeting clients here as well? Whatever the case, say design experts, don't forget to effectively separate workspace from the rest of the home environment to avoid distractions. "Creating zones can help differentiate spaces. By using an area rug, for example, you can create a visual separation and also add colour to a space. You can also use a storage unit or a free-standing screen to create a separate corner to work in," says Savage.
If you are spending long hours in your home office, invest in an ergonomically designed chair and desk to keep your posture in check. "With our tendency to slouch in front of the computer for hours it is essential to choose the right furniture systems for our body and size, which in the long run can help us avoid headaches, back and neck problems and other discomforts," says Hiba.
Lighting impacts the look of the workspace and your productivity. Create a balance between natural light and electrical sources, say designers. If you cannot grab a place next to a window, opt for ergonomic task-lighting fixtures that often come fitted with dimmer switches. Never install overhead lighting directly above the computer screen. You may also use curtains to reduce glare.
Given that the keys to any modern home office are flexibility, simplicity and functionality, make provisions for ample storage to ensure a clutter-free environment. The success of any effective home office design always depends on how you can seamlessly integrate technology with the design of the room. Buy an all-in-one computer, an iMac, for instance, instead of a laptop to work.
It is also critical to get a properly integrated cable management system for every electronic requirement. "Cable management involves organising and efficiently bundling all your cables for each electronic equipment neatly, thus optimising cable routes between desks, floor boxes and other devices. They can increase system durability and ultimately help you maintain a tidy home office environment," says Hiba.