Aaron Hoskins had the opportunity to work from home for years. But Hoskins, who leads the digital operations team at Sharp HealthCare’s Digital Experience division in San Diego, preferred to stay in the office, both to avoid distractions at home and because, he said, he really didn’t have a good place to work.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and Hoskins and his colleagues had to work from home. Sharp sent him out with a laptop and an office chair, and he bought a large monitor and a small desk, which he used to set up a temporary office in a closet. His wife, who has worked from home for more than 20 years, has an office set up in the kitchen.
Hoskins soon found that his minimalist closet office wasn’t working for him.
“I was definitely sensitive to how shabby it looked,” Hoskins acknowledged. “I had minimal storage, which forced me to not have a lot of papers around, which is fine, but my desk also had nowhere to hide the cables, and I didn’t like that. Going to my office every day was not something I looked forward to.”
Hoskins reached out to California Closets and worked with design consultant Cynthia Binski to reinvent the closet space into a cozy yet fully functional office. Not only did it have room for Hoskins’ papers and now two computer monitors, but also a faux cabinet under the desk for all the cords and bulky cables he used, storage for his supplies, and shelves above and, importantly, behind him.
It made all the difference visually for his Zoom and Microsoft Teams meetings. Now he could remove the fake cyber background he had been using and create a natural setting that was both professional and filled with icebreakers for conversation.
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Is telecommuting the future for office workers? Maybe not for everyone, but now that people have had a taste of it, many want to work from home permanently. Upwork estimates that 22 percent of the U.S. workforce of 36.2 million people will work remotely by 2025. Owl Labs conducted a survey that found that 81 percent of respondents believe their employer will continue to support remote work after COVID- 19, and 59 percent said they would be more likely to choose an employer that offered telecommuting.
So for many workers, the ad hoc workspace on the dining table may no longer be sufficient. That means it’s time to create a space that meets their long-term professional needs. The question is how to get started?
Interior designer Jennifer Verruto, founder and CEO of Blythe Interiors in Kearny Mesa, said one of the first considerations is who will be home when you work. It will help determine the room you choose.
“Are you just going to have your pet around, or are your kids going to be at home too?” Verruto said. “Does your partner need a seat? What kind of noise are these others going to make? If your partner is in sales and needs to be on the phone all day every day, they might have the guest room as their office and you can set up somewhere else.
“It’s a question of who should be the loud one and who should buckle down and focus. Can you share a room and both be silent and respect each other’s time? It all depends on your housing situation and how many free rooms or places you have to convert into an office.”
Verruto also said you need to think about your life and work style. Need to turn off work at the end of the day and keep it out of your sight? Then you might need a separate room or a closet where you can close the door instead of setting up a work area opposite your bed.
Do you want to be available for your children? Then you might arrange your office in the kitchen.
Binski of California Closets works remotely from her apartment in San Diego. Because she’s a renter and can’t install anything permanently, she set up a small adjustable desk with wheels from Stand Steady.
“I have a power deck attached to the desk that moves when I adjust the height,” she said. “I have an adjustable task and meeting light with a phone holder, as well as my monthly calendar to keep track of deadlines.”
With the adjustable desk, she said, she can exercise on her stairs while she works. And if she’s just doing paperwork, she can flip the desk, lower it, and watch some Netflix or the news.
For those who can install a permanent space, there are a number of options depending on how you work.
“We have file drawers we can build into the cabinet if someone wants them,” Binski said, “and they can easily be used for something else later if they move to a more electronic filing system or cut down on paper. We make often a pull-out shelf for a printer with all the wiring tucked inside, but with rear access to make it easy to swap out when you upgrade.”
Binski said choosing the right desk depends on both the size of your technology — think laptop vs. desktop computer with two screens – and your size. For a laptop, you can get away with having a desk only 18 inches deep. But 30 inches is more of an executive style desk. For legroom, 30 inches wide is the minimum, she added.
“Sometimes we just make a desk that goes all the way across with no base cabinet, no drawers, no printer space underneath,” she said. “It just becomes the legroom for the client so they don’t feel like they’re stuck in this little box.”
Ask yourself whether you want open or closed storage – or something of both. Do you want a fixed desk or one that is adjustable so you can stand or sit while you work? Do you want to hide wires and cables? How do you plan to store office supplies? Where is your lighting going? Do you need a desk lamp or can you install overhead lighting or sconces on the wall? Do you need space for speakers on your desk or can they go somewhere else? What about your modem and router?
The answers to these questions don’t necessarily lead to the default workspace setup. Blythe Interiors designed a home office for a client that is beautiful but doesn’t initially look like much of a workspace. The desk sits in the middle of the room without any noticeable storage, accompanied by an elegant cream upholstered chair topped with a pearl crown.
But the setup is actually very practical. A mirror cabinet behind the desk houses equipment such as a wireless printer. The boxes on the side table next to it hold office supplies, and a cabinet across from the desk holds more equipment and supplies. It may look elegant, but it’s also a workhorse in disguise.
For another client, Blythe Interiors designed an office that is more relaxed and communal, with a long desk under a window against a wall with drawing lamps on either side and a round table in the center of the room with four chairs that can be used for meetings. A nearby bookcase holds books and has built-in drawers and doors for supplies.
A very pandemic 21st century problem is whether your new workspace is Zoom-ready. If you’re setting up an office in a room or closet, you’ll want to consider not only what’s on the desk in front of you, but also what’s behind you.
Maybe you want to keep your bookshelf there with exciting titles and interesting tchotchkes that spark a conversation between you and a potential customer or your team. Or hang pictures or art on the wall. Or like Hoskins with his cabinet office, build shelves behind you and place pictures, books and memorabilia.
If you are a tenant with a mobile office space like Binski, make sure you have an interesting or attractive wall that you can position yourself in front of. If you have an adjustable desk, perhaps you can install peel-and-stick wallpaper or cool accent paint that adds interest whether you’re sitting or standing. Or consider a gallery wall with art that is high and low so it works whether the desk is up or down.
Verruto believes that a home office is an opportunity to move away from conventional office setups. She is not a fan of standard desk chairs from big box stores. Instead, find something stylish and comfortable at furniture stores like Pottery Barn, West Elm and Design Within Reach. She also likes to be creative with storage. And she suggests scaling back from what we think we need to streamline the space.
“Thank goodness for wireless printing these days,” Verruto said. “You can put printers and your wireless modem in cabinets now. You can have cabinets in beautiful rattan decor that can hide wireless speakers. Store your office supplies in a cabinet. If there is no cabinet, get a beautiful sideboard or wardrobe and store them in there.
“Put a ream of paper in a basket. Those jars of pens you’ve collected over 40 years? Pick a few pens and put them in a drawer. Do you really need a holder for 200 paper clips on your desk? You may need 5. Put them in a drawer where you can pull them out Replace a large stapler with a mini you can tuck away.
“The point is, when you go to your office, it’s just a little bit more peaceful. The benefit of creating a new space is that you really just put in what you need.”
Make your office Zoom-ready
It was one thing to work remotely with the occasional speakerphone conference call. But today we are on camera. Maybe your laptop camera and sound are good enough. But if you want to improve your game, you need something better.
Video imaging consultant Paul Bowers has some suggestions:
• Add a good microphone. There are thousands out there, but for a permanent setup, he likes the Blue Yeti USB. For a more portable workspace, try small lavaliere microphones like the Saramonic SR-ULM10 USB.
• For lighting, nothing beats window light — except that it’s inherently dynamic over the course of a day or in changeable weather. A static setup is more professional, Bowers said. Consider a large flat screen lamp such as the GVM-Y60D LED Streaming Lamp or the Lume Cube Edge Light, both of which have table stands, or the FOSITAN FL-3060A if you have the floor space.
• For a camera, Bowers eschews webcams for a Sony a6000 mirrorless camera with a light telephoto lens. It naturally defocuses the background and crops his face, he said.
He also said raise the camera to eye level and look directly at it – not at the people on the screen. ◆