Working from home: how to make ideal use of small rooms

Susanne Loacker

Many Swiss people are currently working from home. During the coronavirus pandemic, it is obviously much safer to work from home than to travel on a crowded bus to an office full of people. But how can you manage to work comfortably in your home office and still maintain a certain detachment from work in your free time? Especially when there is not much space available?

The picture shows a man sitting on an old wooden chair at a wooden desk working on his computer.
© Getty Images/ Gary Burchell

In this article

A clever way to integrate an office into your living room

Converting a separate room into an office is of course ideal. Perhaps you have a guest room or even a proper office that you had set up even before working from home became the norm. Even if this would be the most comfortable solution, not everyone has that much space in their home. So where can I work? To start off with, most people will probably choose the kitchen table. A folding table is a good alternative – for example in the living room. It can be opened in the morning, then tidied away again in the evening after work. If you only need a laptop for your work, you can certainly aim for this type of quick and cost-effective solution – provided you still have a free wall in the room.

Before you consider installing a desk in your bedroom, the kitchen table is always a better choice. This is because if you work in a bedroom, you will switch off less in the evening as there is no spatial separation.

Desk location: the 90-degree trick

Once you have found space for your improvised office, you still need to decide on the best place for the desk: by the window? With a view outside? Or looking into the room? An intermediate solution is best: the desk should be placed with a window to one side. This way, you won’t be blinded while working, but there will be no direct sunlight shining on your screen either.

Optimal natural lighting conditions can usually be found at a 90-degree angle to the window. Whether the window should be on your left or right depends on whether you are left- or right-handed. For right-handed people, the light should come from the left, for left-handed people from the right. This is so that your hand won’t cast a shadow on your workstation as you work.

If you need to switch off from work for a short time, you can let your gaze wander through the room – or even look out of the window for a moment.

A woman is sitting at a desk with a computer in front of her; a window is visible in the background.

What does the ideal workplace look like? It’s best to place the desk with a window to one side – for optimal light incidence.

Bring color into play: red stimulates, dark blue calms

Colors have a psychological effect on us because they are capable of stimulating or calming our mood. That’s why we should adapt the colors of our home office to our personality.

Do you get stressed easily and are you often upset by clients, colleagues or managers at the office? Then you should design your office in soft earth tones or dark blue. These colors will calm and soothe you as you work. You can paint the wall you regularly look at in these colors, for example.

Alternatively, do you tend to become drowsy or lethargic when you work alone? Then a stimulating red will get you going. But be careful, if the workplace is in the living room, the color can quickly become too overpowering, since this is where we spend most of our time after work and on weekends. An alternative is to use yellow. It makes you happy, gives you strength and stimulates your mood.

Geometric or floral patterns on the walls can also be inspiring. It is important that you only use them as emphasis without overdoing it, otherwise the decoration can distract you too much from your work.

A woman is sitting on a silver-colored ball. A computer screen can be seen in front of her.

During the day, a sitting ball is the perfect seat for a home office – and in the evening it replaces a trip to the gym.

A perfectly round fit: a sitting ball for work and exercise

Even in a home office: having the right seat is important for your back. It’s a good idea to be able to keep your back in motion even when sitting still for long periods of time. That’s why it’s particularly advisable to choose a variable and unstable seating surface for long hours of office work. The simplest solution is an inflatable seat cushion, which you simply place on the chair at the kitchen table. These are also available with protruding nubs to stimulate blood circulation in the legs.

Alternatively – and if you have more space – a sitting ball is a good choice. This classic flexible seating option is very inexpensive and can be used as sports equipment when you’re not working.

The luxury version is an active stool with an unstable seat. Your back has to constantly adjust to the sitting ball as it keeps trying to find a stable position – which means it remains in motion. And if the stool is in the living room, it can also be used for watching TV. This is not as comfortable as lounging on the couch – but your back will thank you for it.

Natural light is best – but what if there isn’t any?

Not having enough light causes a drop in concentration. Working in low light also leads to headaches. Excessively bright light, on the other hand, blinds you – and you have to squint. This can also result in headaches. That’s why it’s crucial to have the right lighting in your office.

If you can position your desk with a window to one side (see above), you can usually work in ideal conditions with natural light. If this isn’t possible – or in winter even if you have good natural lighting conditions the rest of the year – you’ll have to switch to artificial light.

A young woman is sitting in front of a screen. Her desk looks clear.

Natural light is ideal – but if there isn’t any, a table lamp will be your best friend in your home office.

And then there was light: the right desk lamp for your home office

When it comes to choosing a desk lamp, it’s important to observe the surroundings closely, because bright rooms reflect light very well, while dark rooms absorb most of the light. You should purchase a table lamp in addition to the ceiling lamps already in place. This is because living room lights are not usually powerful enough to provide enough light for working.

An alternative source of light to protect your eyes is indirect light – whether from wall lights or inverted floor lamps. However, floor models are usually cheaper and faster to put in place.

In terms of color temperature, make sure that the light is not too bright, but not too dim either. Neutral white or daylight white are ideal – you will find information on the color temperature on the packaging. It will be indicated in the unit of measurement Kelvin, which should be between 4,000 and 6,000 for office lamps.

An additional tip to avoid headaches: the light should never flicker. If your table lamp or hanging lamp starts to do so, replace the bulb or have the wiring checked.

Well stowed and well hidden: tips for more storage space

If you don’t have access to a separate office, you will need to store your documents and work equipment in the living room. This can spoil the appearance of the room – and make it more difficult to switch off after work.

A foldable room divider is a quick solution. It can be folded up in the morning – so you can benefit from the entire living room while you are working. In the evening, replace the room divider in front of your desk – and your office will disappear behind it. You can easily adapt the design to the living room furnishings, as foldable stands come in countless variations – individualists can even have them printed with their own personal motif.

If you don’t want a mobile room divider, you can instead rearrange the living room so that there is a shelf between the living area and the desk. The advantage is that if the shelf is open on both sides, your working documents can be stored here as well. Shelves are usually much deeper than would be necessary for books or films.

If you don’t have space for a room divider, you can also use a small stool with storage space inside. Besides offering a practical seat function, it’s the perfect place for concealing work documents each evening. And then you can make yourself comfortable in an armchair and put your feet up on the stool.

Conclusion: improvise – but do it right

We don’t all have enough room to set up a separate office at home. This makes it all the more important to make ideal use of the space we have available. With a little effort, a small corner of the living room can be transformed into the ideal mobile office with a folding desk, a small floor lamp and a stool or sitting ball – if possible, everything should disappear behind a room divider at the end of the day.

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