5 quick ways on how to improve your working space at home during the lockdown.
Oh gosh, another lockdown-article. LOL
I would never consider this topic to be my first one, I always envisioned it to be something more majestic, like sustainable design, which I’m passionate about, but I guess this came naturally at the right time.
As we are all in the same boat “stuck at home”, some lucky people enjoy comfort of their large homes as well as their own company, others less fortunate, are struggling with the transition from big offices, studios, or outdoor type work, to being locked inside smaller homes, apartments or even sharing flats with others, and desperately trying to claim a small piece of land for themselves…
The transition has not been easy for everyone. Our homes which usually serve our daily habits very well, suddenly become our new work space, exercise studio, 24h kitchen-dinner and simply stopped working for us as they used to.
Our work environment got disturbed without us even noticing it and we are now more distracted than ever.
It’s hard to focus during a Zoom call to your client or colleges when your excited “I love to have you back” dog is barking in the background or the kids are having a fight.
During the lockdown, work time has become divided between actual work, home duties, extra family responsibilities, pets enjoying a new dose of attention and our fitness time. It’s hard to juggle them overall but doing it now in one place… ufff that’s even harder.
For some of us the dream to “work from home” came true, (ahh, no more long travelling and boring office meetings to attend!) but for others it’s not the easiest transition. Working from home can be challenging during the lockdown, even if you dreamt about doing it for many years.
So how can we help ourselves to get thought this time and create a better work environment at home, where we don’t have to elbow each other over the table?
I always say to my clients, if you would like to improve you work-life balance, improving your home is a good place to start.
These are my 5 top tips that I would love to share with you:
1. Claim even the smallest island as yours.
If you are lucky enough to have a spare bedroom that you can dedicate to gym-work-meditation, “you name it” studio then it’s great. However leaving your laptop or yoga mat there for one night might not allow others to understand this is your new working space and stop disturbing you during working hours. Therefore you need a bit bigger transformation.
Moving things around and creating a real studio or office feel is a key. So don’t be shy and have fun in transforming your new space, by changing layouts, moving furniture around and even painting the room if you dare to.
I recently transformed a small nursery room (1.5mx2m) into a very practical office with a floating desk and large storage space above. A bit of planning can go along way.
Other simple and quick ways is to have your office hours displayed on the door and invest in a internal lock, or a “do not disturb” sign or “call-meeting in progress” which also helps other household members to stop popping in and disturbing you.
If you don’t have a spare room to use, you can create your “work corner”, however it should be easily recognised by others as yours only.
The best areas are the ones used less frequently such as your bedroom during the day, or a temporary desk in the dining or living room as far away as possible from any entertainment (TV, play station) as you want to keep your attention undivided. You can get a temporary desk from a secondhand online shop fairly cheaply or even use your garden table if it’s not too large.
You can put up a fun sign on a wall (without drilling) or on your desk “my new work space ” or “new office”, and keep your belongings like a favourite coffee mug or blanket on display all the time. This will remind others about your new working zone.
Extra tip: Good quality noise cancellation ear plugs or headphones are very useful when sharing the space in busy homes.
2. Declutter, declutter, declutter.
The truth is that we own too much! Absolutely more than we need and I think the majority of us don’t even realise how much “stuff” we have until we need to move out.
Cluttered space is usually a mental distraction and we don’t pay attention how much it can affect our ability to focus. The most cluttered homes are large family homes when the “stuff” can multiply into an extraordinary amount.
It’s very important to take some time and declutter your new working space as much as possible and repeat it at least once every two weeks. Having it decluttered once does not guarantee it won’t get cluttered again.
We are creatures of habit that are living in mass consumption world. It’s hard to resist amazing sales targeting us from every angle: media, shop displays, street advertising etc. We don’t even notice that each day we bring something new to our homes, like unnecessary shopping, gifts, free magazines, kids toys. We simply bring more “stuff” in, but don’t consider giving things away, and it all quickly adds up.
To start the process, it’s good to clear up the visual mess first. Therefore I suggest to invest in magazine racks, boxes with lids (so that you won’t see colourful toys), jewellery boxes or closed documents trays or files, also putting away into kitchen cupboards things that are not used daily is good way to go: do you really need 3 cooking oils on display?
Next, you can start removing unwanted furniture and accessories that have no use and they’re simply there just because we got use to them. So scan the room and ask yourself: do I really need that spare chair that no one sits in? Can I give away those old books, DVD’s (really you still have them?) to friends or a charity shop? Should I finally clear up the stack of papers and magazines piling up since 1970's?
Do it. Trust me, you will feel much better after, and the lack of visual mess will help you to focus later on a difficult work tasks.
During the home design consultation with my clients, one of the first things I check is their home lighting system and ask how they live in their home throughout the day and into the evenings.
You would be surprised to know how many of us don’t pay attention to the lighting we live in as we simply got use to what we have. However it doesn’t mean that the light in our home is good for us, and it couldn’t be improved.
Good lighting helps us to feel more active, protects our eyes and it can contribute to our positive mood.
Therefore you should investigate your existing lighting, perhaps you feel like you’re living in a cave right now?
There are a few costs effective ways to improve your lighting.
For example: if the ceiling light is not sufficient, it might be just the case of replacing bulbs with brighter new ones. I recommend a day light 2700K bulb of at least 5 to 7 watts. They imitate the natural light of the morning hours. It would be good to check what type of bulbs you have, and if they are halogen bulbs, try swapping them to new LED bulbs. Just double check if your existing light fitting allows for the change before your press “pay”.
If you don’t have multiple down lights, such as a single fitting, this can also can be improved by simply swapping a single bulb pendant for an arm that can hold 2–5 bulbs. I would recommend to buy a dimmable version and change the switch to dimmable too. These small changes won’t break your bank but will definitely improve the lighting around you.
Always get a qualified electrician to change the fitting for you.
Getting a table/desk lamp (even if you have to put on a dining table for now) or a floor lamp that can diffuse the light around rather focusing a light beam onto the ceiling or floor, is a great way to introduce more light into the space. Again use high quality LED bulbs and go for a dimmable options (bulbs + lamp).
You can also try to move your desk or home fitness studio from the darker corner of the room to area facing the window or placing a multiple bulb floor lamp if there is no room to move furniture around.
4. Protect your back
If you are a glued to a computer screen type of working soldier, you are likely to sit at your desk all day long. You might realise by now how all “this sitting” is taking a toll on your back. If not yet, trust me, you will at some point.
At home we tend to work longer hours with shorter breaks. We travel less and our on-the-go-lunch breaks are swapped for a short walk to the fridge. The lockdown time also contributes to our “lazy sofa – feel like watching Netflix” weekends.
As we didn't expected to stay and work at home for such a long period, most of us have not invested in quality office chairs and chose a kitchen stool or a dining chair instead. Unfortunately those are not suitable for the long working hours.
As many of you have heard by now, short breaks are highly recommended every 60–90 min during the sitting time. But do we really take them? When we are so focused on completing an endless task list, or last weeks report that should have been sent yesterday… We just want to get things done.
There a few good ways to protect your back that you should definitely consider.
You could invest in a top up standing desk that has an adjustable height. Because it’s fairly small, it can be placed onto any table. I already tested a Vari desk (VariDesk® Laptop 30™) model, this is a great tool when you have limited space and don’t want something permanent, or don’t want to splash the cash for a new desk. It will allow you to work several hours in a standing position, giving needed rest to your compressed spine.
Back supporting cushions can also help top up the uncomfortable dining chair or a sitting cushion can bring you knees to the correct position.
Another option is to invest in a new desk and/or quality office chair if you don’t have a good one yet. 2 in 1 desks (standing and sitting) are really fantastic options, they can be adjusted manually or there are powered versions. It might seem a lot to spend on temporary items, but is your health not worth it?
If you like walking and talking, you could also consider to schedule all your calls in one hour window and go to a local park for a walk. This way your back can get some needed rest and you will get that extra exercise time, win-win. Again good quality noise cancelation headphones are useful here.
5. Make it special.
As a designer I look into spaces and see what can it be improved, not only in a practical, but also in aesthetic way. I find that most of our working spaces lack a personal touch or “fun” elements, therefore I like to inject a bit of personality into them.
The easiest way you can personalise the space is simply by hanging above your desk (or in your working zone) your favourite art, painting or picture gallery.
A DIY gallery, made up from printed and framed “motivational text”, pictures of love ones or even cutout photos from glossy magazines (the ones on your decluttering list!) is also great idea. If you don't have time to DIY, there are plenty of online websites that sell beautiful readymade galleries, categorised by colour or theme.
For example Desenio.co.uk has many fab choices, you just need to measure the wall so the gallery fits well. You don't even need to drill into your wall these days, all you need is picture hanging strips. Easy!
If you are considering a mini office makeover including painting walls or adding wall coverings, a magnetic paint undercoat is something you might want to add. It’s an undercoat that can be covered by any desired paint or wallpaper and gives you magnetic properties. You don't have to paint all the walls, only the section where you're working.
After it’s dried, you can easily hang photos, sketches or working notes without damaging the wall with a sticky tape or oily blue tack. I often use the magnetic paint in kids bedroom designs (soooo fun!)
Adding a bit of greenery to your working areas is a must. Any plant will lift up the space and enhance it with the “happy green colour”. You can also rest your eyes on it when they're getting tired. You don't have to buy a real plant, it can be a faux plant if you don’t have time to look after it, there are so many fantastic options out there! Choose the one that makes you happy and watch how it transforms your space in a positive way.
I really hope you can pick up some of the ideas and implement them into your new working space, even small changes can make big improvements in both your productivity or wellbeing.