Nicola Holden Designs – Contemporary Interior Designer, London.

How things all around the world have changed in the last couple of weeks!  These days, most of us are confined to our homes, taking our work home with us if we’re lucky enough to still have a job!

Home means something different to all of us, and it’s by no means a safe place for everyone. The idea of home as a sanctuary is one that many of us take for granted, but if you’re struggling to adjust to working from home, then here are a few things you can do to create a work space that will help you to feel nurtured, safe and secure.

Create A Work Routine and Structure Your Day

It’s important to keep your work and home lives separate to enable you to switch off at the end of your working day.  The easiest way to do this is to stick to a routine for your days.  Wake up at the same time each morning, make your bed, and get dressed in work clothes to help your brain understand that it should be in work mode.  Try to keep office hours if at all possible and, when you shut down your computer at the end of the working day, let that be the end of it. Don’t continually check you emails on your phone in the evenings.

Plan regular breaks into your working day.  Take a proper lunch break.  Rather than congregating round the water cooler try and take ten minutes in the garden or put the laundry on.  Schedule in time to check your social media, for example what would have been your commuting time.  Make time for exercise too, as exercise endorphins have a positive effect on our mood.  Take advantage of the many trainers out there who are putting classes online.

Image: Plush Design Studio from Pexels

Set Up A Dedicated Work Space

As tempting as it may be, don’t do your work slouched on your sofa or your bed as this can cause back problems.  Instead set up a distinct office space in your home, even if that’s the corner of your bedroom.  Try to create a clear space where you can put the laptop, a notebook and pen, and a coaster for a drink.  If you don’t have lots of space, or your ‘home office’ doubles as the kitchen table, then make sure you put away your ‘office’ each evening, to create a separation between work and play.  This real life switch between the two spaces helps with the switch in your head from work to home in the same way that those who commute have physical distance between the two.

Your choice of space will also depend on what sort of work you do.  If your work involves a lot of analytical and logical thinking then you’ll work better in a cosy space with a dropped ceiling.  If however, your work involves a lot of creative thinking, then you’ll work best in a space with a high ceiling.  And if you don’t have high ceilings then you can decorate your space to give the illusion of higher ceilings – adding vertical stripes, tall bookshelves, full-length curtains all help to amplify visual height. 

Maintain A Connection To Nature

We might not be allowed outside much at the moment, but this shouldn’t stop us maintaining a connection to nature.  Try to choose a work space with a window so that you have a view to the outside.  Being able to see out of window restores cognitive capacity, reduces stress and mental fatigue, and promotes a sense of freedom and openness.  Seeing the slow but certain progress of plants as they grow and open up is a daily joy!  Gazing out of a window into the distance also helps us to exercise our eyes and reduce eye strain.  Opening a window and letting in fresh air also improves the air quality in our environment which aids focus and concentration. 

If your work space doesn’t have a direct line of sight to the outside then you can employ alternative tactics such as colour, pot plants or flowers, natural materials and artwork (all of which have proven benefits).  Using a swivel chair will allow periodic views through any openings that might be visible behind you.

If your view of the outside is not great, then hang plants, install sheer curtains, or apply translucent window films decorated with floral patterns to retain the semblance of an outside view and filter incoming light while sparing yourself the downsides.

Image: Colin King

Sound Matters

Music / background noise or silence is often cited as having an impact on productivity; however, what works for you is often down to personal preference.  White noise is generally considered to be better otherwise the brain will start to tune in and it can become distracting.  I sometimes prefer foreign language songs that are harder to ‘sing along to’ in my mind.  Background coffee shop noise has also been attributed with increasing productivity, so if you’re missing working in your local coffee shop you can try Coffitivity.  Nature sounds can also help to boost our well-being. 

Get The Lighting Right

Lighting is a whole subject in itself, and I have blogged about this before.  Working in a room with bad lighting can cause fatigue, eye strain, headaches and even depression.  Our primary source of light should be natural light, so ensure that your windows are letting in as much light as possible.  Move furniture out of the way of exterior openings.  Open your curtains properly to ensure they are not blocking out too much light.  Use tie-backs if necessary.  Use mirrors to bounce light around a room, and paint your ceilings out with gloss paint with a light reflectance value (LRV) of 60-90!

The most important form of lighting for a work environment is task lighting, and a directional desk light is the best way to achieve this – to light your keyboard and your notes. 

Add Colour and Personality

Colour is an incredibly powerful tool to use in our homes.  As Karen Haller, author of The Little Book of Colour says, colour “… communicates feeling, creates a mood, affects our energy, our appetites, our sleep, and has a profound effect on our emotional wellbeing and on the behaviours of everyone we live with.” 

Colour has the power to positively support us emotionally, yet so often we chose to decorate with so called ‘neutral’ colours on behalf of the future buyer of our home, or because of what our friends and family will think if we don’t.  This results in us living in places we don’t really like, in the hope that others will.

It is so important that we stamp our own mark on our space as this restores our equilibrium in this world, reminds us of our journey through life, and inspires us.  So layer in pattern and texture, add in sparkle with metallic objects, and display art, decorative items and collections.  It is about choosing furnishings that play with scale or proportion, and adding in items with quirky, offbeat designs.  It’s the little things that make you smile.

Image: Pinterest (source unknown)

Keep Your Working Space Clutter Free

Clutter in your environment provides a distraction and if it builds up can also start to have a negative impact on your mood.  In fact, I have heard it said that being surrounded by clutter is as stressful to us as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder!  A clean and clear environment enables you to come in and focus on what you want to get on with.

Image: Pinterest (Source unknown)

Turn Up The Thermostat

Don’t try and work in an environment which is too cold because if you’re cold you’re using a substantial amount of energy to keep warm and that’s energy that can’t be used to focus on the task in hand.  In colder working environments people have been shown to make 44% more mistakes.  The optimum temperature for a productive working environment is 21-22 degrees Celcius.  A warmer environment also makes people happier.  So turn up the thermostat without feeling guilty about it.

Add Fragrance

Our sense of smell is the strongest of our senses and is able to influence brain activity.  Using reed diffusers, incense burners or essential oils in your environment can boost your productivity.  Try these fragrances for different benefits:

  • Lemon promotes concentration and has calming and clarifying properties that are helpful when you’re feeling angry, anxious or run down. 
  • Rosemary is the perfect pick-me-up. In addition to improving memory retention, rosemary has stimulating properties that fight physical exhaustion, headaches and mental fatigue.
  • The stimulating properties in cinnamon can help fight mental fatigue and improve concentration and focus.
  • Try peppermint when brainstorming. An energy booster, this scent invigorates the mind, promotes concentration and stimulates clear thinking.

Your own work space is personal and unique to you so find places that inspire you to be productive and incorporate elements of those spaces in whatever ways you can.  Notice not just the layout of the office and the furniture, but the sounds and smells as well as other design and storage features. 

However long the night, the dawn will break”
African Proverb

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