We’ve spent more than half of 2020 working from home and navigating the new normal (are you sick of that phrase yet?) and the next normal.
In the recent years before the pandemic, there had been a trend in adopting and infusing the comfort of home in the office environment, most notably through the design of the furniture, which features softer finishes, generous proportions and greater flexibility, among other things.
In the first quarter of 2020, the general consensus seemed to be that people loved working from home and wouldn’t mind doing it permanently. The tune has changed by the second quarter when we realised that our domestic environments need tweakings to be able to accommodate work.
A recent survey of 1,500 corporate employees in Singapore, Australia, India, China and Japan revealed as many as 60 per cent of those aged 35 to 49 years old and two-thirds of those aged below 35 say they missed the office, as reported in The Business Times article.
One of the main reasons for this, as relayed by respondents in Singapore, was that they saw the office as a professional environment that allows for a clear distinction between personal and professional lives. At home, that distinction is elusive, but not impossible to achieve.
One way is to do the reverse of the aforementioned furniture trend – borrowing some of the wisdom from office furniture brands and applying them at home.
“The home study will have to function as our offices and schools, at least for the time being. That brings with it a cognitive challenge: finding focus in chaos,” says Angela Ng, marketing manager Asia at Vitra.
“Rooms and daily routines have to be rethought to maximise productivity. Is my workspace soundproof for online meetings? Does my chair facilitate ergonomic sitting for hours on end? Can I vary my working position during the day with a height-adjustable work table or by moving to a different space within the home?” she adds.
Here are some useful tips to create an optimum workspace from some of the world’s most prominent office furniture brands.
#1 Set the boundaries
Ideally, a workspace at home is a separate study or home office, but in reality, we are bound by constraints – space, budget and so on – to various degrees. Some may be lucky to have a dedicated study corner or room, some may be able to convert a spare room into an office while others make do from the dining table or the kitchen counter.
But setting a boundary is universally important, and it is best when this boundary is tangible, to provide the acoustics and privacy conducive for working and learning.
“Segregating spaces with acoustic screens is a great way to do this,” says Kate Clarke, sales manager at commercial interior finishes company Woven Image. “They not only absorb sounds, but also separate work from play.”
These screens can be set up and packed away in a jiffy, which is handy if someone needs to clear the room for a Zoom yoga class just after a meeting. For a more permanent solution, opt for modular acoustic panels for your wall, you’d be surprised at how well some of the design fits your home.
#2 Get the all-important ergonomy
“A fully equipped home office may not be possible for everyone because of lack of space,” says Samantha Giam, product marketing director at Steelcase Asia Pacific.
She adds, “Some of us may prioritise the most vital components, for example, a height-adjustable desk that allows change of posture throughout the day, paired with a task chair that supports these body movements. It will also be valuable that these furniture pieces are highly customisable, so that they integrate well into our living space.”
If you have to prioritise on one thing in your workspace, it should be the task chair. “The chair Is a machine for sitting,” legendary architect Le Corbusier famously said. And this machine for sitting is the most important thing to have in your study.
Shauna Stewart, market manager Singapore & Malaysia at German office furniture brand Wilkhahn, agrees “A good quality ergonomic task chair is the most essential piece in a home office.”
She elaborates: “For a chair to be considered ergonomic it must have four adjustable features: height, tilting mechanism, armrest and lumbar support, so the chair can be tuned to its user’s natural body movement.”
These features are what price tags. “An ergonomic and reduces fatigue,” says Yuki Kanamori, deputy editor-in-chief at Japanese workplace publication Worksight and research coordinator at furniture brand Kokuyo.
“Adjusted at the right height and position, the armrests alone support a total of 16 per cent of the user’s body weight. This way, they reduce the strain on our elbows and wrists,” Yuki adds. So, invest wisely.
#3 Optimise the Intangibles
“Environment plays an important role in productivity,” says Yuki. A conducive environment is made not just with tangible design elements, but also intangible ones, most importantly, air and light.
“Locate a place within your home that gives you plenty of natural light and good ventilation. Decorate with some plants if possible, to help to lighten the mood while working,” he adds, alluding to the study that biophilia (connection to nature) can help boost our wellness, which in turn will increase productivity.
After sundown, make sure you have adequate artificial lighting that closely mimics natural daylight to reduce the strain in your eye from staring at your computer screen.