As many of us have become telecommuters, at least for the time being, we are taking a look at how flipping the recent Resimercial Design trend could be beneficial to our productivity and well-being. We asked a few of our interior designers to suggest some commercial office design features that could be applied to our home workspaces.
Liz Koch: Start by clearing out a space that is optimal for work performance, and then add a few extras to help you function. I found it helpful to maintain a few accessories for my office set-up. I used a stack of books to elevate my lamp for better task lighting, but this low-tech height adjuster could also be useful for ergonomics if you need to elevate your computer screen. A couple of houseplants were another addition I used to soften the space. Plus, studies have shown that interior greenery helps improve focus and mental acuity and, particularly beneficial during a pandemic, also reduces stress and anxiety.
Jessie Shappell: If you have the space, it’s a good idea to set up a work area that is separate from high traffic areas in your home. This not only helps with focus when you are working, but also when the workday is done, you can shut down and “leave” the office. This will help you maintain a separation between your professional and personal life—even if it is only by a few feet.
Creating workspaces that are comfortable and encourage correct posture and employee health is a focus for office furniture manufacturers. This attention to ergonomics is equally important for working at home.
Kristin Novak: Your body position while at work can have a lasting impact on your overall health, especially when you sit in that position for 40+ hours a week! Most commercial office settings have a task chair and possibly even a stand-up desk or alternative seating, such as a perching stool or even a swiss-ball! Consider the ergonomics of how you sit, the position of your monitor/screen, and the position of your arms on the mouse and keyboard. Ideally, this includes a chair with adjustable height and back support and an adjustable workspace that allows you to sit or stand as comfortable throughout the day. Remember to get up and move about, just as you would in a traditional office. Take a call in the kitchen or living room to get up and stretch your legs.
Liz: Set alarms to remind yourself to get up and stretch. Using a door way is a great way to help stretch out your chest and avoid slouching. Keep your computer screens at eye level so you are not causing strain on your neck (this is when books may come in handy). The baseline goal should be to have the top of your computer screen at eye level, or just slightly below. When viewing the middle of the screen, your eyes should look slightly downward—definitely not up which can strain your neck. Try to keep the monitor at least 20 inches from your eyes, even farther than that for larger screens.
For more information, see HumanScale’s Healthy Workstation Guide.
Today’s offices feature a mix of workspaces to provide flexibility for different tasks and stimulate creativity and productiveness in different ways. It’s not necessary to limit your workspace to a single area in your home either.
Jessie: The resimercial trend in office design promotes a mixture of soft seating, residential-like materials, and non-traditional workspaces. Take advantage of your time at home and find your favorite spot to curl up with your laptop. A number of unique and flexible office spaces are featured in the Steelcase inspiration page with places that “blend design, materiality and performance.”
Stand-up desks are increasingly popular, and healthy initiatives like the Well Building Standard encourage movement throughout the day. Consider standing up and walking during that conference call—although this could be challenging with the increasing number of video conferencing options.
Jessie: Have a kitchen island? Consider sitting or standing there for part of your day to provide a welcome change in position, get circulation flowing and mimic the standing desk left behind at the office. Consider rotating use of a stability ball with your office chair to work on core stability and balance. Be sure to follow recommendations for proper posture.
Studies have shown that workers in various industries are more productive when they can see outdoors. If the main workspace you’ve carved out in your home does not include a window view, you can take cues from today’s offices where biophilic design strategies like live plants and nature artwork fulfill our human need for nature connections.
Liz: If you do not have an area with window space, take a walk around the neighborhood (keeping proper social distance) or sit outside to enjoy a cup of coffee to connect with the outdoors during a break. If there are tasks that do not require being hooked up to large computer monitors take your computer to a chair by the window for that work.
A definite priority is finding ways to connect with others when working from home; whether to coordinate a project, bounce ideas off one another or just provide basic human connections.
Jessie: Being isolated at home can lead to loneliness and impact your mental wellbeing. As productive as it can be to have no phone calls or meetings, make sure your workspace is set up to allow video chatting and conferencing, and be sure to connect with co-workers on a daily basis. After hours, consider a “virtual” get together with friends or family using video chat services. There are even online multi-player games you can play to help pass the time and have social interaction even while social distancing.
Liz: Take time over your lunch break to connect with your loved ones by sitting down at the dining table to have your meal, or if you live alone, set up a video chat with co-workers and friends, or even better, a virtual happy hour!
Achieving the right level of acoustics can especially challenging for a home office that will not have the benefits of soundmasking or the acoustical ceilings and other design measures for noise absorption and sound containment found in today’s commercial offices.
Kristin: It may seem that the louder a sound, the easier it is to hear, but that convention does not hold true for an enclosed interior space. A small interior office space can have many hard surfaces, such as drywall walls and ceiling, wood floors, and windows which encourage sounds to bounce. Add two or more family members typing and taking calls at the same time and you have a lot of sound ricocheting around the room. To soften the space in my home office, I added an eight-by-ten-foot area rug to absorb sound on the hardwood floors, which had the added benefit of making the office feel more homey.
Jessie: For those of us who work in an open office setting, transitioning to a home office can be eerily quiet if you suddenly have a workspace to yourself all or most of the day. Music and podcasts can be great to fill that void, but when your need to focus, white noise is the best bet. You can find white noise apps on-line, or consider a small desktop fan to add noise and provide air circulation.
Working from home provides opportunities, and perhaps a few challenges, for integrating pets into your new office routine.
Jessie: The trend for pet-friendly work environments is growing, but if your pet is not welcome at the office, take advantage of your time together and set up a cozy spot for them near your desk. Having your pet nearby can help to reduce stress (or sometimes add to it when barking during your conference call!).
Lighting is important not just for illumination, but also for preventing eye strain and creating a pleasant atmosphere.
Kristin: My home-office had a one-lamp ceiling mounted light fixture, vintage 1972. To increase ambient lighting, I installed a new semi-flush fixture with the light bulbs. The new bulbs have a color temperature of 3000K with a 750 lumen output, both of which are important to achieving the correct light balance. To supplement this fixture, I added a desk lamp which provides additional lighting for focused tasks on the work surface.
Color Temperature explains the color of lighting emitted by a fixture and ranges from 1000 Kelvin to 6500K. Typical light fixtures used in Interior environments are:
2700K-3000K – Warm White, Warm, cozy, and inviting, used heavily in senior living communities
3100K-4500K – Cool White, Bright, vibrant, used in commercial environments
4600K-6500K – Daylight, Monitor/screen output
Kristin: Lumen is the brightness of a light fixture. Many people are used to the output of a 40W or 60W light bulb and new LED light bulbs achieve similar light outputs but with significantly less energy. For me, since I had 3 light bulbs, 750 lumens per bulb was plenty.
FINAL NOTE ON WORKING FROM HOME
We hope this month’s blog will help anyone who is able to or must work at home at some point. As architects, interior designers and other creatives, we have appreciated the opportunity to create our own twist on Resimercial Design. All of the images in the top header for this post are RLPS staff offices. However, we are looking forward to the day when we can return to our office and life as normal. In the meantime, we truly appreciate the opportunity we have to keep working. It would have been much more difficult, if not impossible, just a few years ago. Take care everybody and stay home for now!
Liz Koch, IIDA has almost seven years of experience and earned a Bachelor of Science in Interior Design from Drexel University. Her office niche reflects her skill with using color, texture and just enough accessories to create functional, yet visually interesting and comfortable spaces for our clients.
Jessie Shappell, IIDA, RA, WELL AP, LEED AP BD+C earned a Bachelor of Science in Interior Design from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and a Master of Science in Interior Architecture from Chatham University. She is also a Board Member for the Council for Interior Design Qualification (CIDQ). Jessie focused on ergonomics for her home workspace with an adjustable height table and chair, as well as comfortable accommodations to keep her dog nearby. We also appreciate the interactive virtual game night link Jessie shared above.
Kristin Novak, IIDA, LEED Green Associate earned a Bachelor of Arts, Studio Arts and History of Art & Architecture from the University of Pittsburgh and a Master of Fine Arts, Interior Design from The George Washington University. She is in the process of a home office revamp, drawing on the design principles she uses every day for our clients, to provide a more comfortable space for herself, her husband and their dog, Cotton. Stay tuned for before/after views of Kristin’s office revamp!
Jodi Kreider, LEED AP, Blog Editor