Workscapes has turned one, and we thought it fitting to conclude this series by discussing the workplace that’s closest to our hearts: the home office. Whether you consider mobile technology a welcome fifth limb or an intrusion, it has had an irreversible impact on our domestic lives. Here are some ways to make “homework” a little more pleasurable.
1. Figure out your ‘occupation strategy’
In other words, how long will you use your office and to what purpose? Most of us do not dwell on this common sense question and begin camping out on the dining table. This will suffice—if you need just a few hours on your laptop through the week. Anything more regular (even longer periods of time over the weekend) needs a defined workspace. If your profession means you work from home (as in the case of architects or chartered accountants), your home office must be planned with the same rigour as a commercial one.
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2. Select the right spot
An independent library or study remains a luxury for most apartment dwellers, who will need to locate a desk in an existing room. Leverage your home’s architectural features and consider levels of activity, noise and privacy in each room during your designated “office hours”. An enclosed balcony in a master bedroom which is deserted during the day might be better than a spacious living room shared by the family. If your work is largely laptop-based, a snug 1x2m space is adequate. Natural light and ventilation are key considerations.
3. Furnish to suit your body type
Choose a work surface tailored for your height, and a proper chair that supports your weight. Most office desks are around 73cm high. If you’re under 5ft 2 inches, then 73cm is too high. Ergonomists usually advise that if your hands are higher than your elbows when you type, your work surface is too high.
The chair: Lorrie Mack, author of Making the Most of Work Spaces, a practical guide to home offices, recommends:
• A padded back that is adjustable both in height and in angle so that it will support the lumbar spine (lower back), a very common area of weakness and pain.
• A padded seat that can be adjusted to suit your height and the desk. Ideally, you should be able to sit with thighs parallel to the floor, and your feet flat or on a foot rest.
• A stable base (the best-designed models have five legs).
• A swivel mechanism so that you can shift your focus and position without twisting your neck and back.
Available options range from the Rs1,500 copycats of big name designs to home-grown Indian brands such as Godrej Interio (starting at Rs3,500) and international imports such as the Vitra T-chair (Rs80,000).
The desk: Again, possibilities abound. A custom-made wall-mounted work surface can be compact and sturdy too. Godrej offers several off-the-shelf study units (Rs2,200-14,000). Ergo’s Totem workstation (Rs22,000) is height-adjustable, allowing you to switch position from sitting to standing at will, a strategy increasingly recommended by ergonomists. Traditional or antique desks, such as a chest of drawers with a hinged work surface supported on extendable arms, offer plenty of storage.
4. Anticipate storage needs
A well-planned storage system can be a thing of beauty and efficiency. Custom-made shelving can maximize space, but must be flexible and long-lasting. Purpose-built storage systems include Godrej’s cupboards (Rs9,000 and above) and Ergo’s Caddy (Rs8,500), a lockable mobile storage unit.
5. Be clear on lighting needs
Consider levels of both task light and background lighting, and your age. Mack remarks that “an adult of 40 needs three times more light than a child of 10 to perform the same task, while someone of 60 requires 15 times”. She strongly recommends directional desk lamps, which can rotate or swivel.
6. Configure equipment and technology
Communications devices multiply in number and shrink in size. Find a safe (childproof) place for them. Ensure that plug points are suitably located to avoid criss-crossing cables. Fixed broadband Internet connections typically offer faster speeds than wireless connections.
Aparna Piramal Raje is director, BP Ergo. Radhika Desai is a Mumbai-based interior architect.
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