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Home Office Designs That Kill Productivity — and How to Beat Them

Office spaces are designed with productivity in mind. Those five-foot walls are just high enough to avoid anyone talking to you but low enough for the boss to see what you’re up to. It’s easy to imagine that they were built to make workers remember that they’re easily replaceable. Work from home and you get to design your office any way you want. The goal should be to create a space that inspires creativity, raises productivity and makes you want stay there way beyond the end of the work day. Often though, the result is the exact opposite. Get the home office design wrong and you can find yourself with a space that has you walking around the house instead of sitting at the desk. The good news is that getting the design right just requires avoiding a few common mistakes.

Skipping the Personal Stuff

A home office should let you feel at home. Make it yours… with more than bare space, a Dilbert and a dodgy calendar! Photography: glindsay65

One big mistake is to keep the office bare in the hope that the fewer distractions in the environment, the easier it will be to stay focused on the job. It doesn’t always work that way. Cubicle workers try to fill their space with all sorts of gronks, plants and pictures for a reason. It doesn’t just give them something to put in the cardboard box should they ever have to clear out quickly. It makes them feel at home. If they’re comfortable and relaxed, they’re less likely to find themselves wandering to the water cooler or rushing to get done so that they can leave for somewhere more comfortable.

The same is true of the home office. It might be the room that you least want to be in. It might be functional and formal instead of the laid back family atmosphere in the living room but it’s likely to be the place where you spend most of the time. Make it pleasant and you’ll make your work more pleasant too.

How to Personalize Your Office

Even a few pictures can turn a home cubicle into a home office. Photography: mjernisse

Everyone’s idea of personalization is different. Some workers need a forest of pot plants. Others want a menagerie of stuffed animals. Start by looking at the walls and decorate them with pictures that give the room both warmth and personality. Comic prints can work but find a style that suits you and makes you feel that you’re not just in an office… but in your office.

Poor Organization

Conquer your stuff before it conquers you. Photography: FunnyBiz

One of the biggest bugbears in home office design is organization. Corporate offices have endless supplies of filing cabinets, drawers and storage space where you can stuff things away out of sight. They even have administrative staff whose job is to keep all that paperwork accessible and alphabetized.

At home there’s never enough room for all your things and no one to put it all away for you. You’ll need space to organize your research material, shelves for your books, drawers for your stationery, places for your expenses folders and tax papers, and the time to keep it all together.

How to Organize Your Office

Combine organization with design and you’ll create a comfortable space that’s also functional. Photography: DavidSanders

The easiest way to organize an office is to load up on the kind of plastic shelves and transparent drawers that are available for little cost in any office store. They’re functional but they’ll also start to turn your office back from a comfortable place to a purely functional place. And that’s the kind of thing that will soon have you pacing around and wishing you were somewhere else instead of thinking of your workspace as your favorite environment.

A better option is to look for organizational elements that can be worked into the overall design. Sunken shelves can be more attractive ways of stacking books than metal bookshelves. Decorative bowls can keep flash drives, spare cables and paper clips in one place instead of scattered across the desk. Even a white board will cut back on notes scrawled on bits of paper and left to pile up on the desk. And make tidying the place a regular part of your routine.

The Wrong Location

A kitchen isn’t an office… Photography: Garethjmsaunders

Perhaps the biggest challenge for people working at home though isn’t how to design their office but where they’re going to put it. Not everyone has a spare room waiting to be filled with a desk, drawers and a growing business. The most obvious solution is to make use of the table in the kitchen. When all you need to work is your laptop and an Internet connection, it doesn’t really matter whether the monitor is hiding the remains of breakfast or the oven is throwing out a scent of lunch.

Except that it does. Work in a space that’s not dedicated to work and you’ll have to deal with two consequences: the lower productivity caused by the distractions of other kitchen users and an environment that isn’t focused on work; and the contamination of a place that should be for entertainment and recreation with a feeling of labor. Either way, you lose.

How to Find Your Office

… but a closet can be. Photography: typefiend

Offices don’t have to be big. If you don’t have a spare room you can still close off a section of a room and turn that into an office. Walk in closets can make excellent tiny work spaces, as can the space under the stairs, garden sheds or a screened off corner of the bedroom. As long as it feels comfortable and separate from the rest of the house, you’ll feel that you’re going to work and that the space is dedicated to productivity.

Tools and Resources

A few useful tools can help you to plan out your office before you even buy your desk.  IKEA’s Office Planner gives you a 3D plan to test out different designs and even get a costing based on the Swedish firm’s furniture. Alternatively, Google SketchUp, another 3D modeling program, lets you use a wider range of pre-designed furniture models to get an idea of your room’s layout. LifeHacker’s Workplace Show and Tell Group should give you plenty of ideas and Linda Varone’s The Smarter Home Office: 8 simple steps to increase your income, inspiration and comfort is packed with easy to follow suggestions.

One Comment

  1. Linda Varone Says:


    What a great article about setting up a home office. I love the photos you use to illustrate your points - from cringe-inducing to inspiring. I love how you write about the importance of personalizing a workspace and the need to work in a designated space.

    Thanks for mentioning my book The Smarter Home Office: 8 simple steps to increase your income, inspiration and comfort and the link to Amazon. I will include a link to this article in my upcoming post.

    Another big factor in office comfort and functionality is good lighting. Ceiling lighting just doesn't work and most desk lamps cause as much eye strain as they are supposed to prevent.

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