Work-from-home solutions to keep you comfortable all winter long
It is truly amazing how long we humans can live in flux. By now, many of us have been working from home for nine months. It has become, if not the new normal, at least the new routine. Despite our daily commutes to our basements, kitchen tables, guest rooms, couches, closets, or laundry rooms, many of us are working in spaces that still feel provisional, using furniture we dragged from other rooms to create a make-shift office space. If you’re feeling like you’re ready to start 2021 in a more functional, intentional workspace, you’re not alone. We’ve tracked down suggestions big and small for optimizing your room, corner, or counter to make the most of the new routine.
Andy Mallar, owner of Maine Business Furniture in South Portland, is a big supporter of separating work and home space. “[It] follows the same principles as the separation of your work time from your home and family time. It’s super important.” Admittedly, the more centrally located your workspace is, the harder it is to get away from it at the end of the day. If you can’t dedicate a room or a space to your work, a commitment to organization is your best bet. Don’t allow work papers and files to clutter your home. The goal should be out of sight, out of mind when you punch out. “A bookcase with doors on the bottom is a great place to store your work items at the end of the day,” Andy says. The open shelves above allow you to display pictures, books, and other home decor items, so the space can morph from work to home simply by putting office items away.
Regardless of where your workspace is located, Andy recommends making an investment in your seat. “ There is nothing more important than selecting the proper office chair,” he says, and he stresses that ergonomics should be considered above everything else. “Sure, your chair needs to look good, but it needs to perform great.” Luckily, he says, most multi-function task chairs can be adjusted to accommodate about 95 percent of the population. The most basic task chairs will move up and down, but that’s not enough customabilty to make a chair really work on an individual basis. Look for an option that allows you to adjust the seat and back to fit your specific body type and address any physical issues you might be dealing with. Andy also highly recommends sit-testing the chairs you’re considering, although this is trickier than it was nine months ago. If you decide to order online, try to select a chair you can return if it doesn’t work out. Although costs vary widely (a quality multi-function task chair can run $250-$1000+), the most popular models generally fall in the $350-$400 price range.
Once your seat is situated, it’s time to think about your work surface. If your budget allows, experts agree an adjustable-height desk is the way to go. “They are as stylish as they are practical,” Andy says, “[and] the benefits of having the ability to stand versus sitting all day are well documented.” According to the National Institutes of Health, standing burns more calories, may lower the risk for heart disease, and appears to reduce back pain. Standing also improves mood and energy levels throughout the day and could even boost productivity.
Even if you’re not planning to stand, having the option to adjust height is beneficial for seated work as well. Standard desk height is 29 inches high, while an adjustable-height desk can be set anywhere from 23 to 50 inches. Seated, the ideal positioning for a five-foot tall woman is of course going to be different than it will be for a woman closer to six feet. If an adjustable desk doesn’t fit in your budget, Andy suggests purchasing a base to fit under an existing desktop, or even under a flat door or piece of construction wood.
Once you’ve got your seat and your work surface sorted out, the final element to consider is lighting. Natural light is always preferable. The health benefits of natural light versus artificial light are profound. A study out of the Cornell University Department of Design and Environmental Analysis found that workers in daylight office environments reported a 51 percent drop in the incidence of eyestrain, a 63 percent drop in the incidence of headaches, and a 56 percent reduction in drowsiness.
Andy suggests using natural light to set the ambiance of your room and says “layering it with additional task lighting will help illuminate your specific work space for the day.” You may also need a retractable shade to avoid squinting during the brightest hours, especially if your desk faces a window.
Whether you love your current work-from-home scenario or can’t wait for it to end, it’s hard to deny the benefits of a well-appointed workspace. Even small changes to existing spaces can make a big impact on your health, comfort, and overall well-being this winter.