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Out of office: How to set up your workspace at home

Out of office: How to set up your workspace at home
Wangari desk by TheUrbanative

Whether working from home full-time or looking for a quiet corner to use as a remote office, there are a few things you need to know to create the best possible working space within your home.  

In May 2020, Mark Zuckerberg announced that half of Facebook’s employees (approximately 24,000 people) would be working remotely for at least the next five years. “We’re going to be the most forward-leaning company on remote work for our scale. But we’re going to do this in a way that is measured and thoughtful and responsible and in phases over time. … Because this is fundamentally about changing our culture and the way that we all are going to work long-term,” he stated.

He wasn’t the only one to declare a shift to work remotely from the company’s office. Shopify CEO, Tobi Lutke, tweeted back in May that the retailer will now be “a digital by default company. We will keep our offices closed until 2021 so that we can rework them for this new reality. And after that, most will permanently work remotely. Office centricity is over.”

Locally, Discovery explained that their “guiding principle will, for a while to come, be that business within the Discovery Group should equip and empower their employees to work from home if possible”.

Whether this shift will pronounce the death of the office or not might be too soon to tell, but remote working, especially amid a pandemic, is a trend that has become, for many, an effective alternative. And if you’ve also made the switch to working from home, here are a few steps you should consider when creating your home office.

Find the best spot

If you’re looking for a way to create a place to work within your home, you’ll need to first find an area that doesn’t have too much passage, isn’t too noisy and with as much natural sunlight as possible.

“You don’t really need that much space for a home workspace, enough for a laptop, a notebook and a cup of tea,” says furniture designer and founder of TheUrbanative, Mpho Vackier. “If you have no view you can bring the inside in with lots of plants, the use of mirrors to also bounce light around your space and artworks,” she adds.

Office space (design and image Mpho Vackier)

Workspace (design and image Mpho Vackier)

Office space (design and image Mpho Vackier)

Look for places that are unexploited, “areas like an unused corner can be used by fitting in an L-shaped or corner table”, says Vackier. It doesn’t have to be an entire room indeed – in a recent article for the New York Times, Tim McKeough noted that “with more people working from home, business is booming for companies selling livable sheds”; have a garden, a backyard or a garage with windows? They could all be used, transformed or revamped into a small office.

Kari Shea for Unsplash

Michael Soledad for Unsplash

Patrick Perkins for Unsplash

Vackier says that once you’ve decided on a place for your home office, you don’t necessarily need a floor plan to make things happen; in fact, the only thing you really need to worry about is accurately measuring the space you have chosen to be your home office or workspace “in order to make sure the furniture you order will fit into the space comfortably, also giving you plenty of room to move about”.

Personalise the space

Dylan Thomaz, founder and creative director of Curacion, recommends creating a space that leaves you “empowered”; it could be through small details, like adding a lamp that you find particularly beautiful or framed pictures of your loved ones, fresh flowers or a lush plant.

And then there’s fresh paint and wallpaper. “Even a small corner in a room might be transformed with just a layer of fresh paint,” says Vackier. Repainting even just one wall can help define the space as your own, and finding the right colour might help to set your mood into a working mode.   

Vackier adds, “Big yes on repainting your walls for better inspiration! If you can add colour to your space then do this, it will really activate your workspace.

“I love greys, they create a neutral mood to a space, most of my home office is shades of warm greys and then one wall is a fun mural of geometrics in greys, blush pinks and gold. Depending on what you do, you need to be activated in different ways, while greys might be neutral, they can also be cold, and how you choose your colours is very important.”

Wallpaper can also be a great way to demarcate a space and add some fun and originality. “In a small workspace you can get away with a roll or two which is great for your pocket. A mural is also great because you can also paint over it; another option is to buy cheaper textured wallpaper and then paint over it,” says Vackier.

She recommends local multi-awarded wallpaper company Robin Sprong, which has “a huge collection of South African surface designers’ work and artists”, with designs by Caitlin Mkhasibe and Renee Rossouw. Another surface designer she recommends is Rustenburg-based Lulasclan, for her “gorgeous designs locally made!”

Caitlin Mkhasibe for Robin Sprong, Jellyfish Planet wallpaper

Caitlin Mkhasibe for Robin Sprong, Underwater Landscape wallpaper

Renee Rossouw for Robin Sprong, Wallpaper Pacboy

Renee Rossouw for Robin Sprong, Wallpaper PacGirl

Wallpaper by Lulasclan

You can also add artworks, posters, a DIY mood board – “a timber frame repainted and a metal sheet with some leftover wallpaper attached to the frame”, says Vackier – to help you get organised and inspired.

Choose the right furniture

“Once you have your space chosen with good natural light, ventilation, you are ready to choose a desk and your chair. I always recommend desks with storage,” says Vackier.

“A pigeonhole desk to hide all the mess when you are done working” is the perfect option if your office needs to have other functions once you’re done working, she notes. If you’re setting up your office in a compact space, choose furniture that is multifunctional: a desk that can double as a console or a shelving unit, for example.

“You can use cute shelving brackets to create a wall-mounted standing desk or a console behind a couch that will work both as a server or a console and a desk. A desk that is between 1,200 mm to 1,500 mm long with a width roughly between 400 mm to 600 mm is reasonable,” she adds.

Dondo table workspace by TheUrbanative

TheUrbanative desk

But before you buy new furniture, look around to see what you can recycle – even though you might not have an office chair around, just make sure your position while working is set up at an angle that won’t put too much strain on your back or neck; you can play with pillows or books to raise your laptop at the right height.

Thomaz says that second-hand markets – right now, second-hand shopping websites – can be resourceful in finding office furniture that is reasonably priced. “Both desk and chair must be the right height and size ergonomically… Everything after that is based on your own aesthetic. One of the best places that are well priced is Chaircrazy – they have great iconic designs that are ergonomically designed,” he says.

Great storage for uncluttered space

Whether your home office is set up in a compact space or not, thinking about storage will help you organise your work and keep things neat in case you need to use the space for other things as well.

“You can buy great looking shelving brackets and get timber offcuts or tempered glass. If you can get a desk that has a cable management hatch, or a powdered table, like our Wangari desk whereby the table has a power cable that plugs into the wall socket and on the desktop, you have a plate with a power plug, USB and a 2pin plug,” says Vackier.

Should you also have a space to receive guests, think about a small dining table, where people can sit around while respecting physical distancing. “If you have a room specifically for a home office, a small ‘dining’ table maybe 900mm diameter with some chairs and stools will work; if not, something as simple as one or two comfortable chairs and a small coffee table should do,” says Vackier.

“If you need to receive guests within your space, you will need to ensure that your desk is in the centre of the room so that you can have chairs opposite your table, keeping them at one metre away (social distancing standard); ensure the room is well ventilated,” adds Thomaz.

Make the space yours: add books, fresh magnolias, lavender or potted herbs, a space for your headphones; even if it’s only for a few hours a day, it will help you switch into a working mode while staying in the comfort of your home. DM/ML


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