While we can't fix the stressors of our jobs, families or world at the moment, we can make the best of it by creating the best environment in which to operate.
How is working from home working out?
If you find yourself at the end of each day stressed out, battling a headache, tired eyes or stiff joints, it might not just be the mundane reality of working from home during a pandemic – a confined space, possibly with your spouse and children around constantly while you try to do your job as normally as possible.
It might not just be the environment of fear we're living in these days, following each new COVID-19 development with a grim sense of uncertainty about the future.
Those things can contribute to our stress. But don't underestimate the influence of the physical workspace.
"The design of a workspace is more important than many people realize," said Kristi Gaines, an associate professor of interior design in the Texas Tech University Department of Design and associate dean of the Graduate School. "A poorly designed workspace can lead to a lack of productivity, increased stress, aches and pains, decreased creativity, decreased motivation and an increase in anxiety and depression."
While we can't necessarily fix the stressors of our jobs, our families or our world at the moment, we can make the best of it by creating the best environment in which to do those jobs.
"In this time of transition, when many are being asked to work from home, they may not realize the home office they set up for themselves can have a significant impact on their productivity, physical comfort and happiness," said Michelle Pearson, an assistant professor of interior design. "A home often is centered around aesthetics and function. A home office may also take these factors into consideration, but functionality and physical comfort are paramount."
Here are their tips to create an optimum home workspace.
Designate a set location
While we all hope this work-from-home situation is going to be temporary, consider your workspace semi-permanent.
"This space should allow for you to set up a workstation that can remain set up for the duration of this work-from-home phase, as opposed to cleaning it up and packing it away each night," Pearson said. "This will allow for quick access to your work and eliminate a set-up time each day."
This means resisting the urge to work from your bed or sofa, Gaines said, as well as the kitchen table, which you might feel the need to clean up for meals. A spot that offers natural daylight and a view of nature is ideal.
"Individuals have different preferences in how their workspace should be designed," Gaines said. "The senses provide general guidelines for designing a space: sight, sound, touch, smell, and an additional sense we refer to as motion. Taste is influenced by design to a lesser extent unless a workspace is adjacent to the kitchen."
Many things can contribute to a workspace's visual appeal, including light, color and organization.
"Lighting is an important factor that many do not take into consideration," Pearson said. "I have often sat with my back to a window or a light while working, and this can cause a glare on my screen. This glare can lead to headaches and eye fatigue. A simple solution to reducing glare is to sit facing the window, looking out at the view, or sitting near filtered light."
A properly designed workspace should have natural light, ambient or overhead light and task light, Gaines said. In the daytime, natural and task light are best because overhead light can cause glares and shadows.
Having a workspace near a window not only allows in natural light, it can also allow a view of nature and green plants, which can decrease stress. Natural finishes in the workspace, such as wood or a water feature, can have similar effects.
Research shows the most desirable colors for workspaces are soft natural colors, Gaines noted. The best shades are a soft green with no yellow undertones; blue green; taupe, a soft gray/brown; and light peach.
"Too much contrast – for example, black and white – in the work environment will contribute to optical fatigue due to the pupil continuously dilating and constricting," she explained.
To prevent optical fatigue, avoid pure yellow in the field of vision, any strong color in the focus area, highly contrasting patterns and contrasting light levels.
Different people have different preferences on how they like their workspaces to be organized.
"Some people prefer a clear workspace with papers or files hidden from view in a drawer or cabinet," Gaines said. "Other people prefer items to be accessible on the work surface or close by. Either way, a number of organizational products are available and can be utilized to create an organized workspace."
Have you ever sat down to work, only to realize it was too quiet? Or on the flip side, has there been so much noise you couldn't concentrate? While you might not normally think about the sound of your workspace, it can have a dramatic impact on your stress levels and productivity.
Gaines and Pearson suggest listening to music, ambient noise or nature sounds to reduce stress. Managing unwanted noise also can help you avoid disruptions and distractions.
"Hard surfaces, such as metal, will cause the noise to bounce around the room," Gaines said. "Using rugs, wood or other textiles can diffuse the sound."
Rugs and textiles also can contribute to your workspace's sense of touch.
"Using a variety of textures – including soft textures – will provide a welcoming workspace," Gaines said.
Make sure the workspace is clean to reduce unpleasant odors, particularly carpet, which can hold bacteria.
After reducing those unpleasant odors, essential oils can be used to add a preferred scent to the workspace. Many essential oils claim to have properties that can help with work performance, including lavender to relieve stress, rose to improve mood and reduce anxiety, sandalwood to help with focus and peppermint to boost energy.
Motion is literally about creating the environment most conducive to movement.
"People are most effective with a work surface and seat at the appropriate height," Gaines said. "Ergonomic furniture including adjustable desks, adjustable chairs and ergonomic keyboard trays should be utilized when possible."
Most importantly, make sure you aren't staying in the same position all day long. Switch your focus away from the computer screen to relieve eye strain and stand up frequently – one recommendation suggests standing 15 minutes every hour.
"It is important to remember to disconnect," Pearson said. "Disconnection can improve performance. As we increase the amount of time we spend in front of a computer, remember to schedule breaks, take a walk or close your laptop for a few minutes to help avoid burnout."
If you're looking for help to make your home workspace more work conducive, Gaines and Pearson recommend contacting a design professional. And if you're still not feeling great about your ability to do great work from home, Gaines has a word of encouragement:
"A lot of businesses started from a home office, including Disney, You Tube, Google and Amazon," she said.
So, as you adapt to working from home, you're in good company.