Don’t make your home office feel like a corporate office
In 2010, a couple of eccentric businessmen started a company called WeWork. It wasn’t the first, but it soon became the best known chain of co-working spaces. These are places that rent desks by the day to people who have computer jobs but aren’t expected to show up to a fixed office.
The very next year, they got a million dollars from investors, and each following year that number multiplied. They opened offices all over the world. Renting out desks wasn’t making nearly enough money to pay the bills, but it didn’t have to because the investors were sure they were onto something. In 2017 the Japanese mega-company Softbank gave them another 3 billion dollars.
Then things started to go downhill. There’s a full write-up in the Guardian, plus a drama series starring Jared Leto and Anne Hathaway, but the short version is the company was worth about 40 billion dollars less than expected. That made a lot of people unhappy.
There are loads of theories about what WeWork should have done differently. But it kind of feels like they miss the forest for the trees. At the end of the day, walking into a WeWork wasn’t all that different from walking into the corporate office of any big technology company. If you’ve gone to all the trouble of becoming self-employed or convincing your employer to let you work remotely, you probably don’t want to feel like you’ve ended up back in the office.
The remote worker population has exploded since covid. WeWork has new managers and they might be able to turn things around. But for now, most people prefer working from home. Maybe it just doesn’t feel right to pay for a workplace when you used to get one for free.
Then again, some people find it tricky to focus at home. There are so many distractions. Even if you’re lucky enough to have space for a nice little office setup, you can still slip into a pattern where you don’t go outside, move around and get fresh air. Then you get brain fog and it gets even harder to change your routine. Take care!
But let’s say you get all the basics right. Good habits, a morning walk followed by a light breakfast. It works for you, you’re more productive at home than you ever were in the office. But there’s still something a little off.
How do you create a workspace that doesn’t draw you into a state of agitated idleness, but also doesn’t feel like a hamster wheel?
Ditch the coffee
In many offices, coffee is compulsory. It helps you do things you don’t really want to do. Being seen to drink lots of coffee is a reliable way to show you’re a good worker bee. Caffeine is highly addictive, and you quickly build tolerance, meaning your body needs more and more each day to get the same effect.
You don’t really have to ditch the coffee. Good coffee is delicious, and probably has health benefits when taken in moderation. But now you have control over your working day, it’s worth asking yourself: do I really need another cup? Maybe what you need is more sleep.
It could be worth switching to tea after the first espresso shot or two. Unlike coffee, you can make tea at home just as well as a professional, and it doesn’t deliver such a sharp spike of energy. Tea is life-giving and you can drink a lot of it before it starts affecting your sleep quality.
And if you don’t like the taste of tea you can always try decaf coffee.
Be kind to your senses
WeWork offices are impressively designed and full of fashionable furniture, just like the headquarters of successful tech companies.
On the surface, these choices seem friendly and comfortable, ‘smart but relaxed.’ The perfect working environment for talented professionals with refined tastes. So why does working in them make you feel like a prisoner?
Part of the reason might be the human being’s natural urge to be close to nature, to touch and smell and see natural things. These feats of human ingenuity mostly show off just how far it’s possible for us to modify our environment.
When you design your home office, who do you want to impress? Most of the time it’s probably just you in there, so why not surround yourself with things that make you feel good?
If you work in the evening, or it’s winter and you live far from the equator in a country like the UK, you’ll need some artificial light. There’s a delicate balance here. At one extreme we have bright, almost blue ceiling lights. At the other end of the spectrum there’s warm, soft lamplight positioned below eye level. We want to aim for somewhere in the middle. It’s also a good idea to turn the brightness down on your screen.
Plants, books, art, photos or little objects that remind you of your loved ones; things that feel good to touch; things that smell good, like candles or an essential oil diffuser. These are the things that create an environment, and your working environment should be one that speaks directly to you and inspires you, not something that makes you feel smaller.
In your home office, there’s no-one around to judge you for working at your own pace. You certainly don’t need to have your eyes fixed on the screen all the time.
It’s worth starting to do some of your thinking away from the computer. Try to identify those moments when you have a matter to consider or a decision to make. Instead of overloading your brain with even more input from the internet, disconnect for a little while. Turn the screen off. Go and think about it by yourself, with the information you already have.
This way of working rejuvenates your attention span, creativity, and by extension, probably your motivation as well.
We think better when we don’t look at screens. If there’s any exception to this, it’s coding. But even programmers might benefit from mapping out the logic of their work on pen and paper, if only to give their eyeballs a rest from staring at lines of code for hours on end!
Sometimes, even reading a book might be the best way to kickstart your productivity. If you can keep a little library near your desk, try and fill it with some of the tools of the trade, plus a couple of classics. It might be that a line from ancient Greek literature is just what it takes to give your day a centre of gravity.
But most importantly of all, you need stationery to hand. When it comes to working on complex problems, there’s no replacement for doodling and diagrams, making lists by hand, crossing things out, underlining others, and witnessing your unfiltered, uninterrupted thinking process firsthand.
Get Away From the Desk
Some entrepreneurs have exercise bikes in their home offices. It’s a nice idea to take a break from work with a light workout, but don’t fall into the insidious habit of trying to work while on the bike! It might be a better idea to have a simple yoga or pilates mat, where you can go and do some floor exercises to get the blood flowing. Even ten minutes is enough to give your brain and body a reset.
Some people swear by the pomodoro method for enhancing productivity and focus… _
Whether you schedule your breaks or not, the more important thing is how you use your break. If you stay at your desk and look at your phone, is it really a break? Or are you just doing more work for free generating data for the social media giants? Go outside instead.
Whatever you do, don’t get into the habit of eating at your desk.
A Good Home Office Changes the Way You Think About Work
A sad fact of working life for many people is that a big part of their job is looking busy. And looking busy, in the modern world, means staring at something on the screen.
At home, all these aspects of work melt away. You don’t need to look busy anymore, you just need to do good work. Your job isn’t to stare at the screen, it’s to think. And if you want to be great at thinking and feel good doing it, you have two best friends:
Walking and stationery.
Beyond that, it’s just a matter of creating a space where you feel comfortable.