How to make the most of your home office

When the pandemic struck, like many of you, I went from working in an office to working from home full-time. I was in the midst of my home renovation at the time, so I still had the opportunity to design my ideal home office.

Now, many office workers are looking at a hybrid scenario, with some days in the office and some days at home. This means our home offices are here to stay, so let’s look at how to make it the best space to spend the majority of the working day.

Jennifer Sheahan. Picture: Joe McCallion

COLORS

According to color psychologist Angela Wright, colors impact (among other things) our productivity, emotions, creativity, mood, and our state of physical alertness – all of which are important influences on our effectiveness at work. Angela’s research has shown it is primarily the intensity of the color – rather than the color itself – that dictates how stimulating a color is. Highly saturated colors are stimulating, while pale, low saturation colors are more soothing.

Angela breaks colors into four “psychological primaries” as follows.

Ed affects the body. If you need to be physically stimulated to perform best at your job, red is the color for you.

Blue affects the mind. If you need to think and concentrate deeply for most of your day, blue may be the best choice for you.

Yellow affects emotions, ego, and self-confidence, making you more optimistic and creative. Yellow is a great choice for designers and innovators.

Green stimulates balance between the mind, body, and emotions, creating a calming environment.

Furthermore, combining colors provides the stimulation of both. Therefore, picking a mix of the above might be the optimal way to set you up for all the various tasks you need to perform to have a great day at work.

The home office doubles as a guest bedroom at Jennifer Sheahan's home.  Picture: Moya Nolan
The home office doubles as a guest bedroom at Jennifer Sheahan’s home. Picture: Moya Nolan

Personally, I went with green – I liked the idea of ​​feeling calm and reassured as my job can sometimes be busy and stressful (like anyone else’s!). I also use this room for recreational hobbies and as a guest bedroom.

Plants are always a great way to incorporate green into your decor, and generally improve the air quality in your office – especially succulents, Kentia palms, and snake plants.

LIGHTING

Up there with color in terms of importance, lighting has a big impact on our mood and energy levels. Ideally, positioning your home office in an area that receives lots of natural daylight will have the optimal influence on your productivity. Also, consider what time of day your office area receives the most sun – I like to work in the mornings and finish early evening, so my office window is east-facing to get the best of the morning light.

If natural daylight is not possible in your office space, the California Lighting Technology Center recommends using smart LED bulbs to simulate natural daylight.

With the explosion of video conferences, ring lights have become hugely popular. These circular lights cast an even sheen of lighting onto our faces, removing unsightly shadows created by overhead or lamp lighting. Diffuse lighting is best to avoid glare – lampshades will help to diffuse light from bulbs. And, if you are lucky enough to have natural light in your office, or if the sun shines directly into your eyes or onto your computer screen for part of the day, you may need to consider sheer blinds.

You may need direct task lighting in some areas of your office – for instance, a lamp to light your writing desk will help you avoid eye strain.

SITTING COMFORTABLY?

Admittedly the phrase “ergonomic chair” doesn’t typically spark much excitement. Aesthetically pleasing ergonomic office chairs are increasingly available, but I say always choose comfort over style for a chair you sit in for most of your day.

Ensure it is height-adjustable, stable, has armrests, good lumbar support, and can recline or at least tilt. If you can afford it, Herman Miller is a great manufacturer of beautiful, comfortable office chairs that will last a lifetime.

Your work will dictate how much desk space you need: L- or U-shaped desks – or even parallel desks – are excellent for those who need more space. Mine has two surfaces – a desktop for daytime working on my laptop, which lifts up to reveal my keyboard underneath, allowing me to use my home office as a music room after hours.

Storage in the form of shelves or drawers is also key for reducing clutter, which is distracting. Standing desks – or risers which can be placed on regular desks – are excellent for incorporating more movement into your working day. Check out Flying Elephant for great value Irish-made standing desks and risers.

ZOOM BACKGROUNDS

Personally, I’m a fan of virtual backgrounds on conference calls. I’m not sure that we need to see the inside of our colleagues’ homes – especially those who may be sharing the space, struggling to keep a tidy background with kids or pets in the house, or who simply prefer to keep some separation between home and work. But in many workplaces the line between work and personal lives is blurring, so if you do prefer a real background, think about the message you want to convey to colleagues.

Neutral with a few plants is never a bad look, but maybe you’d like to show more of your personality by displaying a favorite artwork, your impressive library, or your knitted cat mitten collection.

  • Information on color psychology taken from the book The Beginner’s Guide to Color Psychology by Angela Wright, FRSA
  • Got a question for Jennifer Sheahan? Email [email protected]

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