Back in 2019, a home office was a nice-to-have feature in every middle-class home. Since COVID-19 hit our shores, however, and remote and hybrid working operations have become the new normal, a home office is now a must-have in many family homes. During the first lockdown, many of us made do with the kitchen table or a bedroom corner.
Now that remote work has proven successful and becomes an expectation for every knowledge worker offered a new role, many are looking to invest in a purpose-built or at least purpose-designed home office within a dedicated room or outbuilding.
Colours & Space Impact Mood
Research suggests that the colour of an office can significantly impact the thoughts and output of the workers who occupy it. Colour directly influences productivity, creativity and mood.
As well as offices, colours have been shown to affect mood in Police holding cells. According to this TEDx Talk by architect Scott Wyatt a Police Chief in South Seattle, painted a room pink – all four walls, the floor and the ceiling, in an attempt to keep people from being “booked in” to the Police Station, from acting aggressively. The theory and the hope were that pink would help people remain calm and relaxed. If detainees were placed in “the pink room” for 17 minutes, they calmed down significantly more compliant.
Green is a great colour for an office. Green represents balance and nature, while blue is a logical colour that conveys trust and logic. The best colour for productivity is said to be red. Red is stimulating and energetic. However, if focussing is ever a problem, then a neutral and comforting shade of beige-grey is less stressful on the eyes and less distracting.
The height of an office ceiling can also have a surprising impact. An office with a high ceiling will tend to improve a person’s ability to think spatially and conceptually; conversely, if you have a low ceiling, your ability to think and carry out mathematical tasks increases. So if you are a software engineer, for example, your ideal home office would have a relatively low ceiling. Using low-hanging lamps or lights can make a ceiling feel lower. Engineers have been known to hang fabric at different points from the roof to create the impression of a secondary, lower roof.
Plants & Wellbeing
With burnout now officially recognized as a condition by the World Health Organization, well-being is often at the centre of any office design. One feature of offices that are explicitly designed to promote well-being – in the presence of plants. Nature has a way of making us feel calm, and it also prevents us from unnecessary rumination – a key feature in depression and anxiety. A walk in nature or time in the garden has been shown to reduce blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormones tend to drop sharply too.
While it would be nice to have an office in the trees or amongst the flowers, it’s not a practical idea if you live in an apartment. Starting small with herbs or a single plant in your office can still have a mood-boosting effect. Plants are also great for air quality. Some of the best plants for purifying the air include Mother-in-law’s Tongue and Aloe Vera.
Productivity improvements of around 10% are a typical result of better air quality in the workplace.
Prospect & Refuge
Back when our ancestors were still hunting and gathering, they would seek out a home that provided the ability to prospect prey, look out for danger, and provide a place of refuge. We tend to feel less anxious when we can see what is in front of us, with a wide or panoramic style view of our surroundings.
In a home office, for example, placing your desk facing into the room and, ideally, out of a window is a good idea if you are looking to reduce stress and anxiety. In addition, having a wall directly behind you, instead of in front of you, provides the sense of safety and “refuge” that we would seek out if we were still living out in the wilderness.
What we can see and how we use our eyes has a direct impact on our mood. Looking side to side, for example, can reduce anxiety, while looking upwards tends to increase our energy levels. Having a window, ideally looking upon greenery and nature, is excellent for our well-being. Looking into the distance can help exercise our eyes to prevent short-sightedness associated with working on a computer.
While well-being is rightly a priority when designing an office, productivity has to be a primary consideration. It’s great to feel happy and content, but you’ll also want to get some work done!
As mentioned above, improving air quality with good ventilation and plants can improve productivity. A study carried out at Harvard University as part of their Healthy Building initiative found that improving ventilation, reducing carbon dioxide levels and removing toxic chemicals led to an 8% increase in productivity, compared to a control group.
A comfortable seat is also essential for productivity and well-being. It won’t do your productivity or spine any good if you are slouching in a chair that’s not designed for long hours of work at a computer. Sit-stan- desks can be a great way to mix up your day with periods of sitting and periods of standing to help with posture and core strength. If the budget does not allow for custom-built standing desks, using a stability ball as a seat will help keep your core strong, and an attractive ironing board can always be used as a make-shift standing desk!
Lighting is also crucial. Working at a computer is strenuous on the eyes as it is, so getting a moveable desk task-lamp can be a great addition to your home office. Task-lamps can serve as a functional, retro decoration too.
Adding a bit of technology to your office can also be a great help with productivity. Having a smart office with an Apple HomeKit or Google Nest can allow you to automate the lighting and the heating, for example. If you are self-employed and working remotely, signing up for a phone answering service can be a great way to reduce unwanted phone calls, which will help you to focus on the work at hand. Research has shown that a single interruption can take, on average, 23 minutes to recover from. With this in mind, a smart video doorbell might be worth the investment too.