Working from home definitely has its advantages and disadvantages. On one hand: unlimited trips to your fridge for last night’s leftovers and wearing slippers during conference calls. The drawback? You’re suddenly sharing a workspace with your entire family.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic between March and April of 2020, 31% of employed Americans swapped their in-person roles to at-home work. Chances are that between work and school, you’re not the only person trying to carve out space in your home.
If you’re lucky, you have a spare room you can use for your home office. If not, you might need to get a little creative with what you have to set up your office space.
Home Office Space Ideas
In a perfect world, you’d be able to find space in your home with plenty of natural light and zero distractions. Even if you love working from your living room, having a designated home office can help you strike a better balance when working from home.
A 2020 survey by employment services company JDP found that not only were 33% of respondents working more hours from home than they normally would in the office, but 54% said there were more distractions, and 49% blamed a lack of boundaries between home and work life.
A home office space can help you focus and feel more productive, but it’s all about location, location, location. Before you start hunting through your house for a place to work, ask yourself these questions:
- Can I shut the door or otherwise delineate between work and family?
- Do I need privacy?
- Is there enough light in the space? (Natural is best, but artificial light is sufficient.)
- Do I have all the necessary electrical outlets I need for my electronics?
- Are other members of the household sharing the space with me?
- Do I need to purchase more office furniture to make the space more functional or can I use existing furniture?
These questions should help you take a closer look at some of the spaces in your home. Still need some guidance? Consider setting up shop in one of these unused rooms or corners of the house.
1. In a Spare Room
If you’re fortunate enough to have a guest room, it makes for a great office space. Sure, it’s nice to have somewhere for guests to sleep, but a healthy workspace may be of a higher priority.
Convert your spare room into an office and you can score tax advantages too: If your home office is your principal place of business and it’s used exclusively for work, you can use the square footage to lower your tax bill. The standard home office deduction is $5 per square foot up to 300 square feet, but the area must be required by your employer and used exclusively for work to qualify.
The benefits of a spare room for a dedicated office space are clear. You can delineate between your home and workspaces and can close the door for privacy or when work is done for the day so you aren’t tempted to blur the line between home life and work life. Still, a “spare room” doesn’t necessarily have to be an empty guest room. It could be any room that isn’t used regularly and that could be better served as an office space.
Think about a walk-in closet that gives you the privacy you need, or even a laundry room where the door can be shut when work is done for the day. Even an attic alcove or unfinished basement can house a desk, chair, and computer. It might not be glamorous, but all you need is a bit of practical space.
2. In a Formal Living Space
Your home might have a few “formal” living spaces; that is, rooms that aren’t meant for casual or daily use. Even if you love your formal dining room, it doesn’t make sense to reserve it for special occasions when you need office space now. The same goes for the formal living room you usually keep for company.
Remember that turning your formal space into a home office doesn’t have to be a permanent change. You can always swap in your dining room table or sofa when and if you go back to your in-person job or plan to host company for a special occasion. Think of it as borrowing the square footage for a little while. Use removable hooks to use wall storage space, using existing shelving, and put down a rug to avoid scratching your floor with your desk chair and you can always go back to using the spaces more formally later.
3. In a Common Area
According to a survey by Nulab, 72% of remote workers don’t have the luxury of a dedicated home office space. Whether you’re in a small space or just sharing spaces with other members of your family, a dedicated office space might be hard to find. Still, you shouldn’t skip setting up a proper home office, even if it happens to be in one of the common shared spaces in your home. With the right setup, you can still carve out a functional place to work. Here are some tips to make a shared office space work:
- Clear the Clutter. Only outfit your workspace with the absolute necessities. If you’re working from the kitchen table, you need to be able to quickly convert the space for common use and back again. Store filing cabinets, bulky printers, and other large supplies in another room.
- Reduce Noise. You’re bound to get distracted in a shared home office space. People coming in and out, TVs, music, deliveries, and other disruptions can cause you to lose your train of thought. If you can’t minimize distractions in the house, invest in a good pair of noise-canceling headphones to help tune out noise.
- Schedule Around Your Family. If you have a flexible schedule, use your family’s natural routine as a guide for when you’ll realistically get the most work done. Try to schedule Zoom calls during quiet times or carve out time to work before your partner or kids get up or after they leave for school and work.
- Set Work Hours. Set work hours so your family knows when a common area is an office and when it’s available for them to use. If you’re working from your living room, for example, work hours let your kids know when it’s OK to turn on the noisy TV or use your desk for homework. That way, everyone’s on the same page as to how and when the common area is being used.
4. In Your Bedroom
The National Sleep Foundation warns against using electronics like laptops and smartphones in your bedroom, especially at night. The light emitted from electronics can disrupt the circadian rhythms that regulate sleep, so a glowing laptop screen doesn’t exactly help you wind down at night. Still, it’s possible to have an in-bedroom office as long as you make a conscious effort to separate your work and home life.
Avoid working from your bed so that you can reserve it for sleep only. Instead, set up your home office at a separate desk or table. If you can, visually block your workstation so you can’t see it from your bed. Try angling your desk so that your computer faces a wall or using a folding screen to section off your office space. Make sure that you set and adhere to strict working and sleeping hours and stop staring at your screen at least a few hours for bed.
5. In Unused Nooks
Your office doesn’t need to be in a full room in your house. Get creative and hunt for some unused nooks that might suit you better than using a room or sharing a space. With some clever rearranging, it’s possible to turn even a small nook into a fully functioning home workspace. Consider some of these creative small space solutions:
- Under Open Stairs or on Larger Stair Landings. Opt for built-in shelves to maximize the space you can squeeze out of awkward angles and give you plenty of storage.
- Your Kitchen Command Center. Some kitchens have “command centers,” or lower counters typically used for phones, sorting mail, or dropping keys. Clean it off and use it as a convenient workspace that keeps you close to all the action.
- Behind a Couch. You can often find unused square footage tucked behind your living room couch. You only need a few feet of space to install a narrow-profile desk and comfortable chair.
- In Your Entryway. If your home has a larger entryway or foyer, it makes for a creative office space. Although you might be interrupted by people coming in and out, working from your foyer means you stay separate from the hubbub inside your home.
A dedicated office in a spare room of your home would be ideal, but it’s not always possible. Still, balancing your laptop on your knees or trying to work from your bed isn’t really a long-term solution. Working from home means getting creative, using what you have, and planning a space that works for you. A comfortable home working environment might mean rethinking the way you and your family lives and works together, but it’s well worth the investment of time and space.