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How to set up your home-office

Here’s how to get the perfect space when working from home

  • If you are going to be working from home for long periods of time, good-quality furniture is not an expense buImage Credit: Supplied picture
  • The filing cabinets under andre Meyerhans’ table disappear when friends come over for dinner. Image Credit: Supplied picture
  • Nelson swag leg desk with Eames wire basket side chair, from Herman Miller. Image Credit: Supplied picture

We have all encountered that prissy phrase: there is a time and place for everything. When it comes to work today, however, it doesn’t just stop when you shut down and leave the office. Thanks to mobile technology and the digital revolution, emails are answered while dinner’s in the oven, video conferences are done out of bedrooms and post-recession, clients demand (and get) responses in the fastest time possible. Yet working from home is far from a pajama party.

With an imploding economy, more people have turned entrepreneurs, are exploring additional sources of income or simply cutting down on the expense of running full-fledged offices. Thus the home office today is not just a place to get bills done or play computer games, but a means to stay competitive and solvent. In this mash up of the personal and professional, how can design ensure you have a winning edge?

1. Put up those barriers
Just like corporate workplaces, homes today are increasingly open plan. Flexibility can boost productivity, yes, but a lack of boundaries can be problematic. Easily the biggest challenge while working from home is separating work and personal space. Akhnaten Mallya, managing director, Carpe Diem Advertising Consultants, has his business registered in the Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) Free Zone but the taxing commute means he often operates from home. He advises: “The fact that you operate from home shouldn’t make you forget that it is still your office from 9 to 6. Socialising during those hours is a definite no-no; leave it for after hours. It is important to fall into a rhythm and live a life as close to the real working one as possible.” Achieve privacy using screens that double up as bookshelves, acoustic panels and moveable partitions. A good pair of headphones not only blocks out ambient noise when you need to focus, but is an effective Do Not Disturb sign as well.

2. Invest in ergonomics
If you are going to be working from home for long periods of time, good-quality furniture is not an expense but an investment. The laptop hunch can cause lasting damage. Spondylitis, eye strain and carpel tunnel syndrome are just a few of the painful conditions that can be avoided with good ergonomic furniture. The distance between your eyes and the computer screen should be between 60 and 90cm; when seated your chair should support your lower back and knees should be in line with your hips. Invest in the best chair you can afford; it will last a long time and is cheaper than regular trips to the chiropractor. You could even roll in a Swiss ball as a seat so you can strengthen your core while crunching numbers.“A laptop docking station that cost Dh200 was my greatest investment,” says graphic designer Sree Kanth. “Not only is typing less stressful from a bigger keyboard, it also keeps the monitor at the recommended eye level.”

3. Cut back on the paper
Staying on top of the paperwork is a constant challenge in a home office. Architect and designer Andre Meyerhans poetically describes this as the distance in space and time; and between work and personal life. “Just as workaholics at home extend their work far into leisure time, a similar thing occurs with the space: work expands beyond the designated space, documents find their way into what is supposed to be for home. “You can develop a filing system that works for you. For instance, I used Ikea’s vertical magazine holders for archiving. Quite quickly I ran out of shelf space, so I now cut out and file articles instead,” Andre says. Tabbed accordion files are another useful aid to sort out papers – they let you separate paper by topic, while keeping them in one place and at hand.

4. Lighting is critical
Quite often a home office or study is set up in residual space: a storage room, an empty maid’s room or a basement. The first casualty of this arrangement is often the lighting. “Natural light is important for your psychological health and reduces your requirement for electricity if sufficiently available. Direct sunlight can create a high contrast and glare on the computer screen which can be tiring,” says Andre. Home office lighting should be a mix of natural, task and accent lighting. Stylish lamps can help the décor blend in with the rest of the home while being functional.

5. Be sustainable
Working from home lowers operating costs, takes cars off the road and reduces consumption of packaged food and styrofoam cups. Make green choices in your home office: print less, use upcycled furniture, avoid VOC paints and use
eco-friendly cleaning supplies.

6. Be stimulated
Working from home doesn’t mean that your need to be stimulated and inspired by our workplace goes away – in fact in the absence of the social energy of office interactions, that need may even increase. Feel free to decorate the way you see fit: with your favourite concert posters or your children’s drawings, framed photos on the desk and memorabilia that holds a special place in your life. Do away with sterility. If painting the walls purple is your thing, indulge your wild side or paint it with chalkboard paint and voilà! a giant scribble pad. A stimulating space need not be the most efficient, says Andre. “While at the most efficient workplace everything would be reachable from the office chair, a less efficient layout requires you to get up and walk around, activating your blood circulation and giving you a chance to interact with other people. “A good thing about working from home is that I am surrounded by things that inspire and bring me pleasure. While regular offices follow a clear and efficient design, homes enjoy a more personal note of design,” says Andre. “I do not distinguish between my working table and the table where I socialise. The reason is simple: why should I not spend most of my time at the nicest place in
my home?” 
7. Comfort is the buzz word
Over the past few years, comfort has become increasingly important – there’s no such thing as getting “too comfortable”. Supplement your home office with accessories that will help you work in different locations if you need a break from your usual desk –like the Brada laptop cushion from Ikea.
8. Tame the technology
The lifeblood of a home office is technology and managing it well makes your office safer and more efficient. To get rid of the spaghetti of wires behind the desk, use plastic cable ties, Velcro bundlers and clips. Label cables near the plug head. To avoid dust bunnies, take wires off the floor and run them through brackets fitted to the underside of your desk. Wherever possible, opt for wireless peripherals
to cut down on cables.

9. Bust the clutter
Clutter wastes time and makes us feel overwhelmed and out of control. Get an organisation system that suits your personality and the amount of space you have to work with. Do you tend to stack on your desktop? Get tiered trays or get shelves above the desk and file documents and pull them out when needed. Do you prefer retaining hard copies? Get filing cabinets. Or are you happy digitising everything? Consider more CD storage space. Set daily, weekly and long-term goals for office organisation. The in-out tray must be cleared daily. Bills, receipts, invites and business cards can all go in a storage basket to be tackled once a week – easily done while watching TV. A good purge every few months of books and CDs that are no longer needed will help.

10. Storage solutions
Cool and functional storage solutions are key to getting it right in a home office. TV presenter Anthea Turner has her basket obsession and most home office owners swear by their sturdy labelled boxes, available at Home Centre, Ikea and Daiso. Buy them in the same size and colour (that’ll make your home office look neater), stack them on shelves and use them to store everything from stationery to CDs. An indispensable organising aid to create labels for all the storage is the Dymo Letra TAG label maker, available at major supermarkets.

11. Plan for the future
For men of the Don Draper era, a promotion meant a plusher office with a thicker pile carpet, a bigger desk and a view. This inspiring look is still something to aspire to when designing your home office. It’s easy enough to fall into the trap of overspending on fancy furniture and frills at the outset, so why not reward yourself with these extras when you achieve a business goal? The perfect home office will not only help you do your work better, it could transform your life.