More and more Americans are working from home on a regular basis. The National Bureau of Economic Research found that about half of Americans who were employed pre-COVID-19 are working from home regularly.
When transitioning to an at-home workspace, making do with a laptop in your bedroom or a computer at the kitchen table might have seemed OK at first, but it’s not ideal. When you’re in sudden need for a home office for more than a day or two, it’s time to create a long-term workspace. Of course, in a smaller home, office space might be hard to come by — especially if other members of your family are working or learning from home.
Getting creative with your existing space should help you find at least a few square feet to use as your home office. It doesn’t need to be fancy — just functional. Rethink the way you use furniture and find spare space to make room for your work. You’ll be surprised at how some of the unused areas in your home can be converted into a space that works for you.
Tips for Creating a Home Office in a Small Space
1. Keep Necessities Within Arm’s Reach
Before you embark on an office space hunt through your home, consider your wants and your needs. With small spaces comes the necessity of paring down and only setting up with the necessities in mind. Sure, a coffee machine was nice to have in your old at-work office space, but you probably don’t need one on your dining room desk. Once you know exactly what you need to have in arm’s reach, it’s easier to find a spot that accommodates you and your gear. For some, it might just mean a laptop. For others, printers, filing cabinets, and other office supplies will dictate how much space you need.
Consider everything you need to do your job and choose a space that allows you to have everything within arm’s reach. The more you get up from your office space, the more chance you have at being distracted or disrupted. By ensuring that your small space allows room for your printer, files, and other supplies, you’ll minimize the need to constantly get up and walk to other areas of your home — and risk getting sidetracked by a trip to the fridge.
2. Find Dedicated Space If Possible
Working from home is challenging and distractions are always there to pull focus. If possible, try and make your office space a dedicated area for work. Keep your work separate from your other home activities so there’s a delineation between work and home life. Otherwise, it’s difficult to stop working or suffer from a lack of motivation. A dedicated space — even better if there’s a door — helps you keep focused and maintain a healthy work-life balance. Even if you don’t have a spare bedroom, consider these smaller dedicated spaces in your home:
- A Closet. Walk-in closets give you the most space, but you can adjust a reach-in closet to use it as your home office. Adjust or install shelves so they can pull double duty as your desk and storage. Open the closet and pull up a chair to start work and then close it away when you’re done.
- Under And Around Stairs. Stairs are a surprisingly handy resource for spare space in your home. If you have open stairs, tuck a desk underneath them. Or, consider setting up a workspace on your stair landing so that your work doesn’t seep into other areas in your home.
- The Dining Room. If you’re lucky enough to have a dedicated dining room, it can become the ideal space for a home office. Move your eating space into your kitchen or add stools to eat at the kitchen counter and co-opt the dining room table as a desk.
- The Basement or Attic. They’re not just for storage anymore: Your basement and attic make up some of your home’s precious square footage. Do a cleanout and condense your storage to give yourself dedicated — and probably quiet — home office space.
3. Sketch It Out
It might sound strange, but take the time to sketch out a rough floor plan of the space you’re considering for your home office. It’s important to recognize the position and accessibility of electrical outlets and potential space layouts. This alerts you to problems before you start moving furniture, adding shelving, and creating your home office. It’s possible to become so used to your home’s layout and its quirks that it’s hard to think about it objectively. What seems like a usable space isn’t so usable if outlets are inaccessible or the space doesn’t function for your setup.
A quick hand sketch is enough to help you visualize your office space, but a site like RoomSketcher is helpful too. A free account offers floor plan sketching, drag-and-drop furniture and features, and the ability to share your sketch with others for collaboration.
4. Use Wall Space
If floor space is in short supply in your home, look up. Hanging baskets on the walls or tall bookshelves give you much-needed storage without sacrificing floor space. Or use a pegboard to keep pens, pencils, and other small supplies off your limited desk space. Think vertically and use every nook and cranny so your office is an all-in-one workspace.
5. Use Double-Duty and Built-In Furniture
There’s no need to cram a new desk and bookshelves into an already-tight space. Besides taking up precious space, new office furniture is expensive. Instead of adding furniture, think about how you can reuse your existing furniture to stay within budget while outfitting your office. Some furniture to repurpose includes:
- Your Dining Room Table. Let’s face it: You’re probably not throwing a lot of dinner parties during the workweek anyway. In the meantime, your dining room table makes for a convenient desk with the right seating. Use a dedicated desk chair or adjust your current dining room chairs using cushions or yoga blocks. When properly adjusted, your eyes should align with the top of your computer screen, your elbows resting at a 90-degree angle, and your feel flat on the floor.
- A Storage Ottoman. It’s home to your throw pillows and blankets now, but a storage ottoman can easily stand in as a filing cabinet. Move your pillows to another closet or store them under a bed and free up the space in your ottoman to organize documents and forms.
- Your Bookcase. When you’re working from home, flat space is prime real estate. Clear out a shelf or drawer to keep your printer and scanner nearby without taking up desk space.
- A Dresser. Have a tall dresser in your bedroom? Turn it into a standing desk. Standing desks offer benefits like increased physical activity and focus. A study published in the June 2016 issue of the Journal of Physical Activity and Health found that standing while working burned more calories than sitting. With limited space in your home, burning extra calories is just an extra benefit of repurposing a dresser or vanity into a standing desk. An adjustable computer stand is an economical way to put your computer at the right height, which is at eye level.
6. Consider Ergonomics
Hunching over your laptop on the couch might not seem like a big deal for a couple of days, but it’s not a long-term solution. A spartan home office shouldn’t come at the cost of your comfort level. Although you might reuse furniture as a desk or for storage, invest in a dedicated desk chair. A chair can be easily adjusted for better ergonomics so that your elbows form a 90-degree angle when typing and your eyes are in line with the top of your computer screen when sitting up straight. The Mayo Clinic offers a guide on setting up an ergonomic office, including tips like:
- Adjust your computer so it’s at eye level.
- Move your monitor so it’s an arm’s length away from your face.
- Adjust your chair so your elbows form a 90-degree angle when your wrists rest on the keyboard.
- Move your chair up or down so your feet rest flat on the floor. If your chair is too high, use a yoga block or box so you can rest your feet comfortably.
- Avoid reaching for supplies. Keep them close at hand or stand up if you need to get something that isn’t an arm’s length away.
7. Define the Office Space
Even if your home office shares an area with the rest of the family, it’s important to define the office space. If your office space is a small desk in the corner of your kitchen, for instance, delineation between the office and kitchen can help you set boundaries if you’re working at home with your kids by giving clear guidelines on respecting your workspace. Defining the space is especially important anytime you’re sharing the area with the rest of your family. Try these space-defining tactics:
- Use a Small Desk or Area Rug. Lay down a small area rug to show where the office space begins and ends. This also protects your floors from a wheeled office chair.
- Add a Folding Screen. If you need a defined space but don’t have a separate room, use a folding screen to give you some privacy from the rest of your home. They’re inexpensive and easily removed when you need the extra space for home and family activities.
- Hang a bulletin board. Keep important papers organized and off of your workspace. Hang a bulletin board above your desk to define the area and give you more much-needed storage. Use the board for papers or to hang small baskets for pens, paperclips, and other supplies.
- Use Light. Lighting is a clutter-free way to delineate between work and home spaces. A good desk lamp or floor lamp shines a “spotlight” onto the workspace and sets a different tone for different areas of the same room.
8. Manage Your Cables
Cables are one of the necessary evils of having a home office space. All of those long computer, network, phone, and printer cables that were once expertly installed in your old formal office suddenly become a jumbled mess under your coffee table. These cords are a safety hazard, easily tripped over or yanked out by little hands — not to mention they look messy and disorganized. Take the time to manage your cables to keep them organized and less underfoot.
One simple way to keep your cords organized is by using bread tags. Snag them off of your bread bags and use a marker to label them so you never accidentally pull out the Internet cable when you meant to unplug your computer. To keep cables together, use inexpensive zip ties from the hardware store, gather cords together, and tuck them behind furniture or along baseboards. If you can’t stand the way the cords look, use products like cable sleeves to zip cords together and reduce visual clutter in a small room.
9. Set Home Office Boundaries
Once you’ve defined and outfitted your home office space, talk to your family about your boundaries. Part of making room for a home office in a small home is teaching your kids to respect the workspace. Make it clear that your office space is for work and shouldn’t be used for other purposes.
Whether it’s in your living room, closet, or another space, setting boundaries means you’re able to focus more fully when you sit down in your home office. If your family expects to use the space for other purposes, like homework, gaming, or crafts, set clear office hours where it’s unavailable for others to use. Try your best to think of — and help your family think of — your workspace as a professional area of the home. Even if you have to share, it shouldn’t come at the expense of your focus, motivation, or performance.
Carving out a dedicated workspace in a small home is a bit of a challenge, especially when every other room already seems spoken for. By rethinking some of the unused areas of your home or getting creative with the way you share, it’s possible to make working from home functional and comfortable, even in a tight space.