The buy-noth­ing home of­fice

Ways to make work­ing in your liv­ing space less mis­er­able

Orlando Sentinel - - Stay & Home - By John Her­rman

At its most lux­u­ri­ous, the home of­fice is a sub­sidiary of leisure space: a sun-drenched room in a se­cond home from which the boss can check in on ev­ery­one back at the of­fice. In its more util­i­tar­ian form, it is, at least, per­son­al­ized and pri­vate. There’s a chair, a desk and, ideally, a door. There’s prob­a­bly other stuff in there too, like fil­ing cab­i­nets and un­sea­sonal clothes and a guest bed. But it’s a place to work.

Ac­cord­ing to the Bureau of La­bor Statis­tics, only 29% of wage and salary work­ers could work at home in some ca­pac­ity in 2017, while 25% ac­tu­ally did so. Now, how­ever, work­ers with home of­fices are spend­ing more time in them than ever in­tended. Plenty more are sim­ply work­ing from home how­ever and wher­ever pos­si­ble: at the ta­ble, at the counter, in bed, on the couch, in the garage.

Most work­places aren’t ready for this. Most liv­ing spa­ces aren’t ei­ther. Yet mil­lions of us have been sent home and may be there for a while. Per­haps you are one of them.

Whether you are work­ing, avoid­ing work, balanc­ing work with care for oth­ers or look­ing for work, chances are your tem­po­rary of­fice is nei­ther an op­ti­mized nor par­tic­u­larly happy place right now. I have no tips for op­ti­miz­ing it, in the as­pi­ra­tional work-fromhome, es­cape-the-of­fice sense.

Let’s lower our ex­pec­ta­tions. Here are a few ways to make work­ing from home less mis­er­able, ac­cord­ing to ex­perts.

Fo­cus on pos­ture

Karen Loesing, a certified er­gonomics as­sess­ment spe­cial­ist, helps peo­ple design their workspaces for max­i­mum com­fort and pro­duc­tiv­ity. She can tell you what to buy and how to set it up.

But right now you may not want, or be able, to buy new things. Ac­cord­ing to Loesing, much of the stan­dard equip­ment on the mar­ket leaves some­thing to be de­sired any­way. “The av­er­age desk for years has been at around 29 inches, and that fits hardly any­body in a cor­rect pos­ture,” she said. (Most peo­ple end up with a desk sur­face that’s too high.)

Wher­ever you’re able to sit, there are some ba­sic prin­ci­ples to keep in mind, Loesing said. Your hands should be on your key­board, with your fore­arms ba­si­cally flat and el­bows bent at a right an­gle. Your back should be sup­ported (“If you’re not sit­ting at the back of the chair for sup­port, it’s like you’re hold­ing a weight all day long,” she said) and slightly re­clined — around 15 de­grees from straight. Your feet should be resting on the ground, with your knees bent as close to 90 de­grees as pos­si­ble.

This may not be easy at the kitchen ta­ble in a wooden chair, so do what you can with pil­lows, boxes, plas­tic stor­age con­tain­ers or books. “Don’t sit on a sta­bi­liza­tion ball,” Loesing said. “Those are for gyms.”

Then there’s your screen. “Your whole en­tire pos­ture is go­ing to be re­lated to where your mon­i­tor is,” Loesing said. If your mon­i­tor is too low, you’ll slump for­ward and, sooner or later, be in pain. “If you’re look­ing straight ahead, you want to be about 4 inches below the top of screen,” she said.

To achieve this setup, place your lap­top on a stack of books and con­nect a key­board, which should sit on your work sur­face. (Ex­ter­nal key­boards are still widely avail­able and af­ford­able if you must or­der one.)

If your work in­volves pa­pers, note that commercial doc­u­ment hold­ers are in­tended to sit be­tween your key­board and screen. You can use a clip­board or a thin book leaned against the bot­tom of an ex­ter­nal mon­i­tor to cre­ate this ef­fect. (If you have ac­cess to an ex­ter­nal dis­play — and don’t dis­count us­ing your tele­vi­sion for this, whether over Wi-Fi, with a fea­ture like Apple Air­Play, or by us­ing a cable — you can turn your lap­top’s screen into a doc­u­ment holder.)

Loesing said that many of her clients are en­thu­si­as­tic about switching to stand­ing desks. “They’ve read all this ma­te­rial about how sit­ting is the new smok­ing,” she said. “They’re ex­cited. It’s a nov­elty.”

Do it if you want, but don’t ex­pect to stand all day. Maybe 20% or 30% of the time, Loesing said. Try not to lock your knees. Throw a book on the floor to lift up one foot at a time — this can help ward off dis­com­fort and keep you aware of your pos­ture.

Cre­ate bound­aries

Real of­fices are de­signed ac­cord­ing to all sorts of the­o­ries and prin­ci­ples: cor­rect val­ues for den­sity, plans for light­ing and acous­tics, flow. The emer­gency home of­fice, in con­trast, was most likely de­signed for some­thing else: eat­ing, sleep­ing or stor­age.

Ge­orge Evage­liou, pres­i­dent of Urban Home­craft, a cus­tom fur­ni­ture com­pany, sug­gests tak­ing a mo­ment to visu­al­ize the of­fice you want, even if it’s out of reach. “Look for the ideal, un­der­stand­ing that you’re not go­ing to get it,” said Evage­liou, who is cur­rently locked down in a 250-square-foot stu­dio apart­ment. “What­ever you get is go­ing to be bet­ter for it.”

This ex­er­cise, in the mo­ment, may feel ex­treme. Ideal: an of­fice with a door, a space to work, a clearer line be­tween the stresses of home and the stresses re­lated to work. Im­proved re­al­ity: a ta­ble in a kitchen or liv­ing room, cleared off, where noth­ing can hap­pen but work.

If space is your prob­lem, that’s fine. “Try to cre­ate de­lin­eations within a room,” Evage­liou said. (He spoke to me from a desk in­stalled un­der­neath a lofted bed.) A clear workspace of any sort — a few square feet sur­rounded by an in­vis­i­ble fence — can help main­tain men­tal bound­aries, too.

Know­ing that you’re not redesign­ing your home, or sign­ing up to do this for­ever, can re­cast oth­er­wise less-than-ap­peal­ing prospects as rea­son­able con­ces­sions to a need for pri­vacy, space and emo­tional sep­a­ra­tion. “A closet is an ideal place for a desk,” Evage­liou said. Yes, it’s a closet. But it’s also, he said, “a great spot to elim­i­nate dis­trac­tions and fo­cus.”

Hav­ing a truly sep­a­rate space in which to work, no mat­ter how small, can pay off in other ways. “It makes it much more plea­sur­able to re­turn to the din­ner ta­ble, or to sit down on the couch and watch TV,” Evage­liou said.

MSJONESNYC/ THE NEW YORK TIMES

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