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The best, most practical ways to design your home office

Speaking to a leading designer about how to give your home office that professional touch (with or without bookcase Zoom backdrops) to enhance productivity 

Natural light is a huge plus  (Yasmina H/Unsplash)

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Design has a huge impact on productivity, and as we enter a third year of working from home – for many, a permanent situation now – many of us are still struggling to create that ideal space in our crowded 2-3 bedroom flats. With many companies making work-from-home mandatory and non-negotiable, it is time to stop telling yourself that this is temporary, because most companies will follow a hybrid workplace models even when the pandemic ends. 

We speak to Swati Santani, Vice President, Design R&D, Design Café, about the best, most practical, ways to go about creating that space. Edited excerpts from the interview:

In 2022, when we have been working from home for almost two years, how has being out of conventional office spaces affected the way we work (from a design thinking point of view)?

Initially there was a lot of enthusiasm and relief that one could work from home. Now two years on, there is more pragmatism in the way we deal with this new (or not so new) way of working. Earlier one would find a specific type of people working out of coffee shops, and this was a small percentage of professionals. Now we see people in all roles – even at senior levels work out of coffee shops or from anywhere. Some people are also working from their hometowns. In most cases the line between home and work has blurred. And this is why we had to bring a part of the workplace home. We witnessed a spike in the number of people investing in a dedicated work space to regain a sense of permanence. So we’ve designed multifunctional rooms for our clients that ingeniously accommodate workspaces within bedrooms, living rooms, and also convert the guest room into a study.

What should an ideal home office setup look like? Keep in mind that not everyone would have access to a separate study or den which can be set up as an office and may be using a corner of their bedroom or drawing room as a workspace…

Whether it’s your dining room or the balcony or a study desk, having a dedicated table in the least brings permanence to the work area. It’s also easy to switch off and leave the table when you are not working.

What are the absolute must-haves in this situation?

A clean background, an uninterrupted space, balanced lighting - next to a window or a light source are must-haves. This ensures least distractions for you and for those looking at your screen over virtual calls. You can also get a desk designed with dual functionality that will make your work fun every day - install a pin up board or a peg board to keep notes and accessories handy. Use organisers smartly and keep your books, notes, gadgets in a neat clutter free space. Place the desk such that it’s against a wall - afterall you don't want everyone else becoming a part of the moving backdrop.

Are colours distracting or energising? How much colour should one incorporate in the home office space?

There’s no thumb rule here. It should be personalised based on the type of work you do. You can incorporate colours in the form of design elements such as tapestry and simple art work on plain walls. Beware of creating too much contrast between dark and light colours.

What are some of the best colours to have around if we want to enhance productivity, feel more focused etc?

Most people gravitate towards whites and neutrals, but a dash of colour never hurts. It does not have to be a cardinal red or an electric blue - instead olive, coral or pale tiffany that can add subtle yet fun vibes to a space. And there’s always the colour of the year Veri Peri to work with, which combines beautifully with greys and neutrals.

What are some of the easy ways to enhance the look and feel of a home, make it look more 'professional' in a sense, without making big structural changes?

Move your desk or work table against a wall. Spruce it up with some art work and do not be against the light. A small additional unit with adjustable shelves can cleverly tuck in the cables, devices or your stationary.

Bookcases make for very popular Zoom backgrounds -- why do you think this is? And how else can one create a pleasing and real background for video calls?

It comes from the conventional idea of a study room or a den that is filled with books. It’s one way to impress your coworkers with your literary prowess. Interestingly, you could also consider adding some plants to improve your virtual backdrop game.

What is the impact of lighting on one's mood when it comes to working? Could you also share the best ways to light your desk for video calls?

General lighting is a must to remain focused and to work with a clear mind. When the room is dimly lit, your body will start reacting to the dull light and make you feel tired. White or natural light improves focus and concentration. Place a desk lamp in a way that will allow the light to drape across your face, but not directly. You don’t want to get blinded by direct light nor look like a yellow blob of light.

Any other tips and suggestions to make a home workspace interesting and motivating?

Personalise your workspace and keep it simple. A floating or foldable desk/table is the best option, it is space-saving and innovative. You can also add another storage rack for books, so the table has enough space for storing both the device and the books.

Also read: Johann Hari wants us to pay attention to why we lose focus so often

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