Build your dream home... office!
Physical Work Environment

Build your dream home... office!
Setting up your home workspace for maximal productivity

Hindering productivity?

Working from home has the obvious benefits of flexible hours, more time with loved ones, no noisy coworkers and a more comfortable workspace. But does a comfortable workspace equate to more productivity?

For those of you who have chosen the work from home life as a more permanent way of life, it can be hard to stay productive beyond the first couple of weeks. It's easy to fall into the trap of working from your bed or sofa. While these are both comfortable places to work in, they are by no means conducive to productivity – short or long term. Sitting in bed/sofas for long hours while hunched over a computer can lead to back and shoulder pain and over an extended period, may lead to musculoskeletal pain. Additionally, your brain is tuned to associate your sofa with relaxation and your bed with sleeping. So working from these areas can reduce sharpness and you're more likely to just doze off.

So how do you retain your comfortable lifestyle but retain “office level” productivity? Well, the answer lies in finding a better place to work. Start by deciding how long you intend to work from home, and what is your budget to set up a workspace at home? If you're only going to be working from home for a few weeks, it's probably not worth the investment to get a new chair. On the contrary, if you will be at home for at least a couple of months or more, a new seat might not be such a bad idea.

A comfortable space

Now that you have a plan and a budget, it’s time to scan your home and find the best location for a workspace. This depends on several factors; space you have, the nature of your work and the needs of your body. Let's break each one of those down.

First, let's come to space. Realistically, it’s not possible for everyone to have a spare room that they can turn into a home office. If you do, great! If you don't, it might be worth exploring other options such as a desk in the corner of the room or the kitchen etc. While you're deliberating, it makes sense to also think about the nature of your work. If you're a professional who has many conference calls during the day, you will need a quieter space with limited distractions like a desk in the corner of a room. Also consider what backdrop you present when teleconferencing – dirty dishes or kittty litter don’t signal professionalism, a bookshelf with “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” might be better! But if you're a working mom who also has to take care of kids at home, the kitchen aisle from where you can keep an eye on everything may work better.

Listening to your body

Coming onto the needs of your body. Designing a space by listening to your body is the only way to ensure you're doing it the right way. The go-to solution is a chair and a desk. But you may find that sitting in a regular chair for long periods leads to back pain and sore muscles. This is why you should consider an office chair with lumbar support, reclining and bouncing action, a desk with an adjustable height and a separate keyboard so you can keep your screen at eye level and still have the keyboard within reach. Your body is the happiest while perching. Perching works because your spine remains in an elongated S-shape (not a slumped over C-shape), and your leg muscles remain activated, which spurs production of an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase, which burns fat from the bloodstream and prevents that locked up feeling.

how sitting all day affects the body

Another popular trend you may have heard of, or have even been using in your office, are standing desks. Have you ever thought about why standing desks are so popular? Let's get into the science of it. Studies show that sitting for prolonged periods may increase your risk of heart disease by a whopping 147%¹. Prolonged sitting (defined as sitting for more than 6 hours) was associated with a 19% higher rate of death from all causes ( cancer, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease, suicide, lung disease, liver disease, peptic ulcer and other digestive disease, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, nervous disorders, and musculoskeletal disorders) combined__²__. Research also shows that standing instead of sitting while working reduces lower back pain by 32%³ and upper back pain and neck pain by 43%. Since standing has proven to be so beneficial, it also boosts productivity. If you are someone who regularly finds themselves in need of stretching or a back massage after a long day of work, consider investing in a standing desk. Or opt for the best of both worlds – a variable height desk!

Shine a light

On the brighter side of things, literally! Any workspace, whether at the office or home, must be well lit. This can be achieved in one of two ways: setting up shop near a window or investing in lamps. It’s not always sunny, and you may work at night, so you should go for both. Although we may assume brighter is better when it comes to productive workspaces, glare on monitors causes us to squint and strain our eyes even more. Experts advise workers to direct light away from their line of sight. A couple of tricks to try are:

  1. Use a supplemental desk lamp pointing downwards on your desk rather than the computer screen
  2. Position your monitor so that windows run alongside the workstation rather than in front of or behind the screen

People have different needs, their body reacts differently to different situations, and they find themselves more productive in different situations. A writer may be more productive on a sofa with the TV on in the background and a coffee mug beside them, but a research analyst may need two screens perched on top of a desk and absolute silence. So it is essential to design a workspace that not only maximises productivity but is also comfortable and in tune with your body's needs. At the end of the day, the goal is to deliver outputs. Whether you do it from a kitchen aisle or a desk in your basement is entirely up to you!

__¹__Wilmot, E. G., et al. 2012. Diabetologia 55 (11): 2895-2905. doi:10.1007/s00125-012-2677-z.

__²__Patel, Alpa V, et al. 2018. American Journal Of Epidemiology 187 (10): 2151-2158. doi:10.1093/aje/kwy125.

__³__Thorp, Alicia A, et al. 2014. Occupational And Environmental Medicine 71 (11): 765-771. doi:10.1136/oemed-2014-102348.

__⁴__Pronk, Nicolaas P., et al. 2012. Preventing Chronic Disease 9. doi:10.5888/pcd9.110323.

Physical Work Environment