A safe haven, a refuge; our homes have never signified a more literal ‘safe place’ than right now. Across the country people have swiftly found themselves in their very own home offices – for many these places were formerly known as the kitchen table or the sofa. Whether you’re fortunate enough to already have a designated office space, or navigating new territory, now is the time to consciously consider your home working set-up. If we’re homebound for the long-haul, a considered and deliberate space will pay dividends for your productivity and mental health.
Start by creating a designated working space and try to return to the same spot every day. By reinforcing a new association to work you’re giving your brain signals to get into that mind-set, even if you’re in a place with much stronger connections with leisure time. It might take time to re-train your brain but before you know it you’ll be effortlessly switching into work-mode whenever you’re there.
Resist the sofa – I’m sure some of us have succumbed to the allure of working from the sofa (or dare I say it – bed). You might think it’s what you’ve always dreamed of - grabbing the laptop, a cup of tea and getting back into bed. The novelty will soon wear off and you’ll be left with backache, stiff legs and a fuzzy head. Start your working from home transition right, sit at a desk or dining-height table, use an adjustable task chair if you have one. There are still plenty of online retailers open for business so it might be well worth investing in a decent piece of office furniture early on.
Bring the outside in – An increasing body of research is highlighting the importance of biophilia. The term "biophilia" means "love of life or living systems." It was first used by Erich Fromm to describe a psychological orientation of being attracted to all that is alive and vital. It is now a workplace trend with increasing traction, and known to aid concentration, increase productivity, and improve health and wellbeing. Natural light, fresh air and a view of nature contribute to this wellbeing effect.
Fresh air is key so sit near a window for natural ventilation – a recent study by Harvard University found that improving air quality in the office caused mental cognition to greatly increase. Also add plants to your office – the calming and enriching effect plants can have on our wellbeing, is an easy one to implement in your home office.
The reason light is so important is that it sets our circadian rhythm, or body clock, helping us sleep better at night. Often taken for granted, natural light is regularly substituted for artificial light in the workplace, without much thought given to the negative effects. On the bright side, many home workers will now benefit from daylight compared with their previous work space in large deep plan offices, basements or windowless spaces. When working at home, try to set up your work station near a window with direct sunlight and if possible a view of the garden. We know we can’t always rely on the sun shining so enlist an adjustable desk lamp to increase the light output and flexibility of your workspace.
Start your home-working right and you’ll find your productivity maximised, stress eased, and we will all hopefully come out of this situation having learned a bit about ourselves and our extraordinary abilities to adapt.
This piece first appeared in Cambridge Independent, March 2020