Working from home is a multifaceted subject. For some, the term means telecommuting—the newest buzzword in climbing the corporate ladder. It suggests more freedom without sacrificing the larger paychecks of the corporate world. Whereas the corner office used to be a symbol of moving up the corporate ladder, now more people are seeking a different ideal: working in a successful business without the hours and hassle of a commute, or perhaps only making the commute occasionally, when personal business contact dictates.
Telecommuting also can mean working as owner/part owner in a small,
closely held corporation or sub-chapter S corporation or as a sole
proprietorship with the office right at home where overhead is low,
efficiency high and working hours very flexible. Work sometimes
can be done deep into the night or very early in the morning, all
in comfortable attire.
For others, the technology revolution plays only a minor role in
their careers, so the word telecommuting isn’t accurate. This
group of home office employees and business owners work at projects
that may not rely heavily on the computer. Theirs is sometimes called
“a cottage industry.”
It cannot be denied, however, that the advent of affordable personal
computers, laptops or notebooks, their various support equipment,
the World Wide Web, and the surge in technological development on
a daily basis is the very reason why professional home offices have
According to the American Internet Users Survey, upwards of 50 million
Americans work from their homes in some capacity, with more than
13 million Americans now working full-time from home offices. This
13 million represents 35 percent of all U.S. households, according
to statistics from the Small Office, Home Office (SOHO) Summit.
That means that more than one in three workers in America is finding
the hours, flexibility and working conditions best suited to them
It also means that the days of having a makeshift office stuck in
a corner of a room or in the basement are over. New home offices
have become functional, and often beautiful, spaces where productivity
can be high. Here are some ways to help your customers feel professional
as they work from home.
The first order of business in creating a home office is to evaluate
what goes on there. Here is a checklist of things to consider:
First to be addressed are the space planning aspects:
1. How many occupants will use the space?
2. How much space (in terms of square footage) does that give per
3. Does each employee need a specific place or type of space to
4. How much furniture and equipment is expected to fill the space?
5. Who will use these items, and how and when will they interact?
6. Will there be multiple users on any one piece of equipment? If
so, how will the space be organized so that one user will not impact
the work-in-progress of another user?
7. How much pressure is there in the home office to produce under
8. Will concentration on tasks be an issue?
9. How many hours at a time will anyone be stationed at one place
in the office?
10. How should the furniture be arranged to achieve the best use
of the space in terms of productivity, function and workflow?
Make a plan for the logical location, sequence and convenient use
of all furnishings, equipment and office supplies. Everything from
the computer location and work surface placement to the location
of the telephone and envelopes should be listed and organized so
that the function of the entire room can be made most efficient.
This may seem a bit ironic—seeking maximum efficiency in the
home office—because the image of a home office is laid back
and somewhat relaxed. But that image is outdated, and today the
opposite is true. Today’s savvy workers want the highest degree
of efficiency so that work done in a home office can be accomplished
quickly and the worker has time to squeeze in some personal things—chatting
on the phone, processing laundry, ordering food, watching a DVD,
shopping, playing golf, who knows?
Yet one concept rings true. Today we work at home because we want
the benefits of working at home, not just saving the commute and
having to buy costly clothes. We have things we want to do with
our time. “There is life after work” is a more meaningful
statement than ever before. Maximizing that life beyond the computer
or workstation is a big factor in productivity, which is made possible
COMFORT, COMFORT, COMFORT
Comfort is the second key element in home office productivity. It
also is important to workplace efficiency, which will be our subject
in the upcoming October Design Perspectives.
At home, we tend to think of comfort as the part where you hand
in your work suit for a sweat suit or, even more comfy, pajamas.
Probably everybody who has a home office has done some part of their
work in pajamas either very early or very late in the day, but I’m
not convinced that very many people hang around in PJs during normal
working hours (I could be wrong, though).
There are other aspects to comfort in a home office outside attire.
Lighting and aesthetics are two of the most crucial.
Lighting is the most important element in comfort and ranks high
as an element in efficiency as well. For years, we’ve been
conditioned to thinking that fluorescent lighting causes the least
fatigue when working long hours. With today’s technology oriented
work, however, that is not necessarily the case anymore.
Fluorescent lighting does cause fatigue because of its bland, even
and shadowless light. After a period of time, one seems to have
difficulty thinking creatively. Also, it often is too much light
for computer-based work. Many people experience headaches while
working under fluorescent lighting. Although I don’t know of
any studies that have explored the real cause, I suspect it is the
buzzing of the ballast combined with the blandness of the light—it
seems to slowly suck away energy and lessen the desire to finish
up a project or task.
In fairness, tubular fluorescent lighting does have advantages.
Among them are low operating costs and even quality of lighting,
which is demonstrably good for eye and hand tasks.
However, the placement of lighting is as important as the type of
lighting. General lighting—that placed in the center of the
ceiling, for example—may be less effective for computer work
(watch out for over-the-shoulder shadows) than low-voltage lighting
from a variety of sources, such as ambient lighting (light directed
to walls that bounces off and indirectly lights the space) and natural
Balance is the key to good lighting. Adjustable lighting (widely
available in the incandescent varieties, yet still in the experimental
stage with fluorescent) is very desirable for home offices. The
ideal situation would be a combination of adjustable incandescent,
natural lighting and some high-efficient fluorescent bulbs so that
the home office user can be in control of his or her lighting at
any time of day or night, adjusting the lighting to the needs, moods
and demands placed upon the worker.
Natural lighting is often the most cheerful element of a home office,
yet can also be the source of the greatest discomfort. The direction
and intensity of the light, the occasional intense heat gain, the
inconsistency of patches of brightness interspersed with gloominess,
are all characteristics of living with the rhythms of the sun.
Glare, a chief culprit in lack of home office comfort, is easily
remedied with solar film. Solar film nearly eliminates the damaging
ultraviolet rays that fade interior furnishings, eradicates the
blinding glare that obscures a view or the reflecting glare that
shines off a computer screen. Another plus is that solar window
film evens the temperature in the room, making the interior much
BEAUTY AT THE WINDOW
Window treatments can really boost the comfort level for the home
office occupant when they are planned for function and beauty. First,
by providing treatments that control brightness computer screen
work especially will be a more comfortable experience.
Second, treatments that provide day and nighttime privacy offer
psychological comfort by allowing light to enter in the day but
giving security while at work. Privacy also protects office equipment—often
very valuable—from the perchance view of a potential burglar
(for more on the importance of privacy, see D&WC, July 2002,
Third, comfort comes through aesthetics. Making the window treatment
beautiful is a special kind of comfort that goes beyond glare control
and privacy/protection issues. Be brave in suggesting decorative
window treatments. At home some beauty at the window is highly desirable.
It is one of the perks of working at home. Although too much decor
has the potential to distract one from the work at hand, it is also
true that loveliness uplifts, ennobles and motivates.
BEAUTY ALL AROUND
Two schools of thought seem to be the trend today in home office
furnishing and design. One is that the home office is indeed the
office and should not blend in with the rest of the home’s
theme. This means that when the worker enters the office, there
is a mental shift away from domestic duties and away from tempting
indulgences such as taking a nap or raiding the refrigerator.
The other decor opinion is that it should be an integral part of
the home’s decor, and as much effort should be placed on furnishings
there as in any other occupied area of the house. This school holds
that the office is connected to the home and walking from any area
in the home into the office should not be an abrupt experience.
Interview your clients. Ask them which of these directions is most
appealing to their personal sense of style and the way they want
to use the home office. Then go for the gold! Make the home office
as functional, efficient, lovely and as comfortable as your skills
and their budget will allow.
As you select appropriate background materials such as wall coverings,
flooring and window treatments, you will be able to make the home
office really work for the occupant, and make the occupant want
to work there too. Most of all, they should be able to enjoy the
J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at
Brigham Young University. She has authored several books including
Window Treatments, Understanding Fabrics and Interiors: An Introduction,
3rd Ed. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window
Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising.