How to Create a Productive Home Office in 7 Steps

Last Updated: 6/23/2021
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With more employees and small business owners switching to remote work than ever before, it’s crucial to optimize your home office for comfort, wellness and productivity. The ideal home office lets you relax enough to get your creative juices flowing and get into the “zone” while also putting you into a productive mindset.

The design of your workspace is key to your success as a remote employee. Explore these home office ideas that can help you set yourself up for success.

Step 1: Set Physical Boundaries

A couple put together furniture as they set up a home office.
Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

In designing the ideal home office, it’s important to set up a comfortable and inviting space without becoming so casual that you slip into your usual at-home routines.

Ideally, your home office should be a separate room in your house or apartment — ideally as far away from potential distractions as it can be. A guest room, storage room, or even a shed or closet can be converted into a productive home office. Don’t have an available extra room? Even a single desk can be an effective “office.” In this case, you’ll still be more productive if you eliminate distractions.

Furniture That Fits

According to Architectural Digest, most standard desks are around 30 inches tall, 24–36 inches deep and 48–72 inches wide. You’ll need to leave room for those dimensions and at least 48 inches of room for chairs on the other side.

If you set up a desk facing the wall or a corner to close out anything that’s happening around you, you should leave around 5 feet of space behind you so others can navigate the room easily. You might also consider installing a temporary divider or wall hanging to help you get into work mode when it’s time to start your day.

As you begin designing your home office, you should also consider taking financial steps such as the following:

Step 2: Soundproof Your Space

A man works quietly in his home office while he concentrates and wears headphones.
fizkes / Shutterstock

Sound is one of the biggest distractions for any remote worker. That’s why the best home office setup for productivity is a quiet one. It’s important to eliminate as much unwanted sound as possible from your at-home workspace if you want to optimize your productivity.

Soundproofing Furniture and Accessories

To dampen distracting sounds in your home office, you can start with simple steps such as putting up plush wall hangings, swapping your wooden chairs for padded ones and laying out thick rugs to absorb ambient noise.

If you’d like to go further to soundproof your home office, consider installing a solid wooden door instead of a hollow one and double- or triple-pane windows rather than single-pane glass. You’ll also want to seal up any holes in your wall that might be letting in unwanted noise.

Soundproofing Technology

Noise-canceling headphones can help you stay focused when you absolutely can’t be distracted. Of course, not all sound is a distracting interruption. If you sometimes struggle to stay focused in your home office, you might consider downloading a white noise app or even purchasing a white noise machine to drown out any ambient sounds. A study in the journal, Behavioral and Brain Functions revealed that white noise could positively affect memory performance.

Step 3: Choose Lighting for Productivity

A woman works at her computer in her home office at night. She is illuminated by a desk lamp.
Yuganov Konstantin / Shutterstock

Optimal lighting is one of the cornerstones of the ideal home office. According to a The Vision Council report, 65% of Americans experience digital eye strain, which is defined as the discomfort we experience after using smartphones, laptops, and other devices for two hours or more.

Digital eye strain can curb your productivity and wellness, leading to fatigue, headaches, inattentiveness and other symptoms. To avoid digital eye strain and promote focus and productivity, start with letting in as much natural light as possible. Natural light is less harsh than the blue light emitted by our devices.

If flooding your home office with natural light isn’t an option, there are other steps you can take to make your space more inviting, including:

  • Avoid overhead lighting. Instead, consider a customizable floor lamp that you can adjust throughout the day to provide the ambient light you need at different times.
  • Lampshades can help soften and diffuse any glare, and “cool” lightbulbs are preferable to “warm” ones.
  • Desk lamps can help you focus your eyes and mind on the task at hand rather than getting distracted.

Step 4: Set Your Desk up for Success

Closeup of a woman working at the desk of her home office. Her desk is tidy and organized and holds a plant, a cup of pencils, a coffee cup, and a notepad.
Peshkova / Shutterstock

The best home office setup for productivity requires you to be intentional about your desk. After all, it’s where the magic happens.

Choosing a Desk

In selecting your desk, it’s important to consider what will be sitting on top of it — usually a desk lamp, computer and calendar at a minimum — as well as your filing system. If you don’t have a designated container for each of the “odds and ends” of work (receipts, paper, pens, Post-Its, etc.), then it’ll be far too easy to get disorganized.

Considering How You Work

You should also consider the sequence in which you complete each task. Most people naturally work from left to right, so the task you typically perform first (such as grabbing a pen or looking at your calendar) should usually be placed to the left-most side of your desk.

As far as your desk and chair height and placement, you should be able to place your feet flat on the floor and keep your arms approximately parallel to the ground as you work. You might consider a height-adjustable chair if you’re tall. To avoid digital eye strain and neck pain, it’s best to place your computer screen about 20–40 inches away from you.

Bring in Some Greenery

Although you don’t want to clutter your desk with too many decorative items, a small plant or two can work wonders. A study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied found that plants in the workplace increased employee productivity, concentration and workplace satisfaction.

Step 5: Choose Your Colors Carefully

Two women are painting the wall of their home office blue in order to create a soothing workspace.
Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

Color psychology is an important principle of ergonomics and the philosophy of feng shui. Whether you’re a small business owner or part of a remote team of employees, you can design your ideal home office with color psychology in mind.

A report in the International Journal of Science and Research suggests that different colors are best suited to different kinds of work and tasks.

For example, light blue and green are both soothing on the eyes and brain, making them ideal for remote employees who have to complete repetitive tasks or work long hours.

Meanwhile, red and orange speed up reaction times and increase productivity. So if you’re in a creative field or want to boost your energy, you might consider orange or red accents, furniture, or accessories.

Step 6: Turn Up the Heat

A woman sets the temperature in her home office.
Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

Remember when many offices were positively frigid? Well, your home office shouldn’t be.

A Cornell study recently debunked the myth that cold temperatures can increase employee productivity and retention. In fact, home office optimization might require a much warmer environment.

Researchers demonstrated that keeping offices warmer — between 68 and 77 degrees, to be exact — decreased employees’ errors by 44% and increased output by a whopping 150%. Don’t be afraid to turn up the thermostat a bit.

Step 7: Use Ergonomics for Better Health

A closeup of hands is shown using a mousepad and a computer in an ergonomically correct manner.
Syda Productions / Shutterstock

Pain conditions like back and neck pain, headaches and arthritis can have a number of negative effects on your experience at work, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. These effects can include lost productivity and work time, as well as an uptick in health care costs and health insurance premiums.

Luckily, you can optimize your productivity and improve your mental and physical health by applying ergonomic principles to your home office design.

Ergonomic Tools

For less neck pain and fewer headaches, tilt your computer monitor and keep your screen about an arm’s length away from you, if possible. Ergonomic mice — such as those with trackballs and mouse pads or supportive slopes — can help prevent wrist pain and carpal tunnel.

Meanwhile, standing desks can help you boost your cardiovascular and respiratory health, and ergonomic chairs with features like adjustable armchairs, footrests and lumbar supports can be some of the most important tools for home office optimization.

Your Home Workspace as a Place for Success

Remote employees can be even more successful and productive than in-office workers. But it’s important to design your ideal home office with intention and an eye toward wellness, productivity and ergonomics. Your environment plays a big role in your success as a remote employee – and that starts with your workspace.

About the Author

Laura Dorwart is a writer for MoneyGeek. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, SELF, VICE and many other outlets. She has worked on remote and distributed teams for several years.