Home Office: Feel at Home at Work
Applied Correctly, a Home Office can be a Step in the Right Direction.
Some sceptically view it as an invitation to “La Dolce Vita”; others celebrate it as a promising workplace revolution to improve quality of life. One way or the other, the home office has changed the modern workplace. Working at home was first made possible by the revolution in modern communications technology. Smartphones, tablets, the omnipresent cloud and fast internet access have made a physical presence at the workplace at least partly obsolete. But what should you do if the question of a home office is presented at work?
Pros and Cons – The Dangers and Opportunities of a Workday at Home
In search of your personal workplace solution, first weigh up the benefits and drawbacks of your options. Working from home is not for everyone. People who do decide to transition to a home office environment should have a fair amount of discipline: the kids, housework and spontaneous visits from friends are just a few of many distractions – great and small – which lurk at every turn.
Indeed, you need a real sense of responsibility to tell your friends that their visit coincides with your working hours, especially if they have brought along a cake to surprise the new home office worker. Situations that would be completely absurd in the traditional workplace will present themselves at home. Also, people who believe that they can juggle the kids with a workday at home soon recognise the error in their thinking. With that said, working from home can also have significant advantages.
These are mostly quite obvious: no troublesome commute and no more rush-hour traffic or late trains or crowded rides in the underground or frozen car door locks in winter. At least none that raise stress levels prior to work and ruin your day, particularly if you are not a morning person.
Circadian rhythm is another key word: our internal body clocks are proven to tick differently. Whereas a “night owl” is better suited to evening work, the same work hours would mark a productivity slump for an “early bird”, who would work most efficiently during the morning hours. The time-consuming aspects of the commercial office, the pointless rituals and polite conversations in the hallway, are absent from the home office.
In short, a home office allows you to work when work needs to be done. Having to finish work for your unorganised co-worker is as unlikely at home as a dress code. Wear socks or tracksuit pants: the laptop at the window won’t chasten you for not wearing a suit and tie. Also, you do not have to spend your breaks in a cold courtyard surrounded by Soviet-inspired concrete buildings, nor drinking the stuff from the coffee machine at work. Instead, you can spend your breaks gardening, cooking, jogging or cycling. Even dentist’s appointments, overdue car tyre changes and visits to the hairdresser fit into a lunch break, so they do not have to occupy time on days off nor be taken off your overtime balance. And finally, the biggest advantage of the home office is that it is possible in every household.
At this point, it is necessary to address the practical implementation of a home office. It should already be obvious that not all types of work can be moved to the comfort of home. A surgeon will continue to operate on patients in a surgery just as a social worker will continue to work at schools and youth centres. However, a doctor sending invoices, ordering medication or writing patients’ reports should, in theory, be able to do this from home. The same applies to a community worker, who could write their reports from home. Creative occupations such as communications design, architecture, journalism and photography, and technical jobs like systems administration and programming, allow almost all work to be completed from home (certain details and meetings may require a physical presence in lieu of video conference). In any case, work from home calls for reliable internet connection. And the faster your internet speed, the better.
Home Office – Practical Implementation
Internet Connection, Technology and the Private IT Consumer
An internet router is a prerequisite for almost all office work and is found in virtually every household. The device itself is generally supplied by your telecommunications provider and has inputs for network cables and antennae for wireless home networks (Wi-Fi). On one hand, the router’s home network connects it, either directly or via Switch, to one or more computers. On the other, the router provides broadband internet connection (DSL, VDSL), translating to fast data downloads and uploads as well as communication with the mainframe computer at work, which would also be connected to the internet. So what specifications does a home office computer need?
Roland Karl is the proprietor of the Munich-based TraininX Computer-Service GmbH and consults companies and private users on all aspects of IT. He is also no stranger to the topic of the home office. Karl is patient in clarifying the basics. “The set-up must be entirely based on the work that needs to be done” he says to begin. “You have to ask yourself what kind of data you will be working with.” If work means use of Microsoft Word or Excel documents, then these programs naturally have to be compatible with your PC or laptop. Almost all standard computers are capable of saving data on a server via the internet, which allows work colleagues to access these files from the office. Karl gestures towards the different computers and laptops in the showroom: “Anything here is more than suitable for a home office.”
Often, companies also use a databank located on their server. A free-lancer or home office worker can access the server from home. “They only need to access an editing window and can use it to access individual documents on the server.” The server specifies the resolution of the editing window, which is generally displayed on your browser. This is crucial. “It is important that your monitor at home can provide a screen definition to show the complete editing window.” High processing power is not a prerequisite for this kind of databank work and is the responsibility of the server operator, as the actual computing takes place on the server. “Strictly speaking, a monitor, keyboard, mouse and mini-computer are all that is needed”, says Karl. He then points to a synthetic box hardly bigger than a packet of cigarettes. The mini-computer contains enough power to operate a home office.
Architects, for example, will require much more powerful equipment, as they work with CAD (computer-aided design) programs. “These kinds of programs demand more processing power”, Karl states. The architecture office server must also have enough capacity to save these processed files.
Interiors – Choosing the Right Room
From a cigarette packet-sized computer, a monitor and a mouse for the extreme minimalist to a comprehensive set-up with three inter-connected computers, including a network drive and printer, there are many options to suit your home office space. The most practical scenario is converting a spare room at home to an office. Experts agree that there are many do’s and don’ts in the selection of a workspace. For instance, the office should be neither a windowless room facing the backyard nor a busy corridor that is heavily used by the family. Ideally, a home office should be bright and well ventilated, and it should neither be too big nor small. It should also create better vibes than the average company office!
Not everyone is in a position to cordon off a whole room for office work. Tenants of two or three-room apartments could potentially integrate their office into existing spaces. But beware! A gloomy corner with shelves to the left and right, with tangled cables on your desk and a wobbly wooden stool to sit on will be about as effective as establishing a temporary workspace in the kitchen. Your desk must be accessible at all times – without having to wash the dishes or move the sewing machine first.
„If you are going to do it, do it well“, goes the motto for integrative work solutions. Fortunately, nowadays there is a myriad of furniture designed exactly for this purpose. This furniture helps in making an unused section of wall below a flickering attic light into a nicely lit workspace. There are, for example, modern secretary desks that are equipped with cable ducts and LED daylight-replication and can be folded away after a day’s work. Of course, with a bit of creativity and a few bottles of furniture polish, even grandma’s old kitchen table can be converted into a trendy work desk.
The less space there is available, the more imaginative the home office solution must be. Those who have difficulty integrating an office into their apartment should contact an interior designer or talk to friends and family with experience in apartment furnishing. Often, there is a trick to rearranging an apartment to create enough space for a veritable home office. A cardinal sin, however, lurks at the beginning of this path: if your desk is going to be added to your bedroom, make sure it is partitioned off from your sleeping space. Who wants to see the next day’s work as they go to bed at night – or worse still, wade through a waist-high pile of paperwork on the way to bed?
From height-adjustable workbenches to modern secretary’s desks, which can be folded at the end of a workday and blend into walls like designer shelves, the furniture industry has the solution to almost every problem. Nearly anything can serve as a desk, assuming it has a laptop-sized table top and perhaps enough room for a printer on the side and a few cables below. The choice of the right office chair, on the other hand, should not be taken so lightly. Your office chair is important for the sake of your back and because ultimately, you will be sitting on it for eight to nine hours every day.
Office chair manufacturers also offer everything from height- and backrest-adjustable executive chairs to the most basic desk chair. The range of office chairs caters for every taste and includes chairs whose aesthetic and function are inspired by professional F1 racing. The essential considerations are that a chair is comfortable and suited to the user’s needs. An inclinable seat or an ergonomic backrest that adjusts to the spine is also a good addition.
Although this all sounds incredibly professional, a home office can blend into the comfort of home. Indeed, office chair manufacturers have caught onto the trend of employees working from home on one or more days. In keeping with the home aesthetic, they have designed furniture whose appearance does not belie its “official” office function. Such furniture generally features modern rather than conservative design and is remarkably well suited to modern living spaces.
According to expert opinion, the importance of workplace lighting is generally under-rated. A desk lamp might be a nice decorative feature or a good secondary light source, but it is definitely not enough to ensure ideal work conditions. Home office designers should take two things into account, whether they are converting the attic into an open-plan office, complete with a trendy lounge area and multiple workstations, or are making space in one corner of the bedroom. First, ensure that your workspace is exposed to enough natural light and secondly, have enough sources of artificial light to keep it bright at every time of day.
More specifically, your work surface should be positioned ninety degrees to a window, allowing light to fall onto the surface during the day. Artificial light should be emitted from different sources on the ceiling and be evenly distributed throughout the room. To enable an even reflection of light into window-removed areas, use matte and light wall colours as much as possible. Also note that individual spot-like sources of light result in uneven light distribution. If the light source is in front of or behind you, it will create a reflection on your monitor screen, activating light reflexes that your body will constantly be forced to suppress. This can give rise to postural problems and muscle tightness – in short, you will be compromising your capacity for efficient work. “Daylight”-coloured LED lamps come highly recommended and are available at furniture warehouses for less than four Pounds. Stationary daylight lamps are also recommended; these are powerful enough to turn twilight-reminiscent working conditions into bright and direct light.
Tips and Tricks
Then there is the question of the tangled cables below your desk: printer cables, Ethernet cables and ideally, scanner cables, smartphone chargers and telephone lines. All devices requisite for modern work have the undesirable tendency to be attached to something. Under desks, they also tend to entwine themselves in thick knots that wrap themselves around the unsuspecting office worker’s legs. For those who wish to be immune to these attempts to fetter and bind you against your will, try implementing a system of cable ducts. This can be integrated into your desk, or if you prefer DIY demonstrations on the internet, constructed with materials as simple as a shoebox. Hoses have also proven an apt alternative, and are often laid in professional workplaces before being plastered over. Hoses are cheap, can be purchased in metre-long coils at any hardware store and are nothing less than “professional” cable solutions. Ordinary clothing pegs are also used in separating USB cables by fastening them to the edge of a desk. Paper clips work just as well and offer a smarter look.
Organisation is half the battle in the home office, and the smaller the workspace, the more crucial it is to making headway at work. Before stacks of paper make a nightmare out of finding vital information, offer up a few square metres of your wall for a pin board or whiteboard. This allows you to keep all your notes in an orderly fashion and provides a good general overview of your material in addition to organisation. Completed work can then be stored in cardboard boxes, which can be stacked into a box tower and regularly sorted if required.
Last but not least, don’t forget to add a personal touch to your office, especially if your style has not manifested in your furniture or equipment. A few brushstrokes of your favourite colour will make your office an accommodating space and will aesthetically differentiate your office from the rest of your home. You will associate this colour with your office and hence work, encouraging you to concentrate and get the important things done.
Give pride of place on your desk to a holiday photo or your favourite vinyl cover. This lends another personal touch to the office and can be used together fresh flowers or pot plants to create stylistic synthesis with the rest of your home. Nevertheless, remember that “less is more” in the home office as well as in commercial office spaces.