Remember those bygone days when the boss may have allowed you to work one or two days a week from home? That’s changed, huh? Now, many office employees are working out of the house five days or more — and that includes the boss.
When the world returns to something akin to normal, it’s very likely that people will continue to spend more workdays in their homes, experts say. The coronavirus pandemic has pushed the work-from-home movement past its tipping point. It’s gone from lasting trend to new reality.
In pre-quarantine days, the home office was, for most folks, little more than a functional, multi-use room where they took some calls and paid the bills.
“Now that people are realizing they may be sitting in their home office eight, 10 hours a day — and that this will probably last for quite a long time — they are taking more into consideration of what that space should be,” says Stephanie Smart, who owns her own interior design firm in St. Petersburg called S.P.A.C.E. “People want to be enveloped, wrapped in it, but they want to make a statement, too.”
Some key factors to re-imagining a full-time home office are: efficiency, peak performance, comfort, aesthetics — and image. That last one is probably the newest, and has emerged largely as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
“People are no longer just doing phone calls and FaceTiming on their phones,” says Rick Green, vice president/director of retail operations for Ethan Allen Citrus Park. “With Zoom and all the online group meetings, people are actually seeing your digs. It’s an opportunity to portray yourself as you would like the world to see you.”
No surprise, celebrity culture has influenced how people design or redesign their home offices. “All of us are gawking at what famous TV personalities have in their homes,” Smart says. “That has made bookcases a big consideration.”
From a more utilitarian standpoint, most home offices are in need of improved ergonomics. Upgrades often include more flat space — open desks made of plexiglass, or one with a credenza behind it that holds a computer monitor or two. Increased leg room is also a big issue.
Digital storage has minimized the need for ugly, space-hogging file cabinets. Printers can be optional, and are often hidden. Because home offices are sometimes in converted rooms without doors, insulated curtains can be installed to help keep household noise out. Clunky mini-blinds prone to getting cockeyed are being replaced by window treatments that are easy to adjust or motorized. This allows a worker to quickly change room lighting for, say, a Zoom conference.
Lighting overall is especially important. Both Green and Smart recommend a combination of natural light, overhead lighting for ambience, floor lamps and smaller lamps for up-close “task” lighting. It’s long been known that the right light mitigates work fatigue.
So does a good chair. Combining comfort and looks comes at a price, Smart says. “When we weren’t working from home full time, most people would sacrifice comfort for looks, but that obviously may be changing. Unless you’re going to a big-box store for a chair, you can expect to pay eight, nine hundred dollars or more for a nice one.”
And beyond finding the right desk chair, a nice leather lounge chair could also be a welcome addition, space permitting, because you don’t want to spend the whole day behind that desk.
Increased time spent in home offices means a bigger emphasis on aesthetics. No one looks forward to spending full workdays in a drab room, devoid of pizazz or any personal touches. The dominant aesthetic for the last several years has been sleek and modern, although Green of Ethan Allen says he still has some clients — mostly older, high-ranking execs — who want big mahogany desks and the traditional accoutrements that signal power.
Designers are using more color. White or white-ish walls are on the decline. Grays and neutrals, while fine, are giving way to mid-toned greens, blues, corals and burnt orange, Smart says, along with natural woods.
“Generally speaking, the trend is for more color,” she adds. “My dream office would be a mix of natural woods with spruce-green walls that add some depth.”
Moreover, Smart sees the home office as a place where “if someone wants to experiment, offices are a great place to do it — like, ‘Let’s go crazy in this space and try something fun.’”
Newly full-time home workers looking for an office makeover may be skittish about having a designer or furniture retailer come into their home. Not a problem. New technologies allow the entire design process to be done remotely. Ethan Allen, with its highly customizable furniture line, has in-house designers who (at no extra cost) will create an office virtually and present it online to clients, who can then refine and tweak. The retailer also has apps that allow customers to design entire offices on their own. That leaves delivery and set-up.
Green certainly expects to be selling more and more home office furniture into the future.
“There’s never been a time when it makes more sense,” he says. “With the COVID situation, more people are asking, ‘Can I do this all at home?’ ‘Is it really possible?’ ‘Can I still be effective?’ ‘Can I still be accessible?’
“The answer to all those, especially today, is: Yes!”