In the age of working from home and distance-learning, many people’s home office needs have changed. Here are the top 10 mistakes I see people make over and over when setting up their home offices- and how you can fix or avoid them altogether!
1. No Natural Light
No one wants to work in an office with no windows… and for good reason! Natural light improves your mood and energy levels. I always gravitate toward bright spots near windows, so I chose the brightest spot in my house for my own home office.
THE FIX: If you can locate your workspace near a window, you should absolutely do it! Although it’s not good to have a window directly behind you if you do a lot of Zoom meetings or video conferencing- more on this later.
If you can’t place your desk near a window, there are still many easy ways to brighten up a dark space in your home. I live in Seattle, where we have something like 300 cloudy days per year, so I know! You can check out my best tips for bringing in more natural light here.
2. Not Enough File Storage
Most people need to store stuff in their home offices. But if you don’t plan for storage, you’ll inevitably end up with a space that feels cluttered. And then you won’t want to work there.
THE FIX: Make a list of everything you need to store in your home office. Is there anything you could get rid of to free up some space?
Effective office storage generally begins with drawers. I like drawers because they’re easy to get things in and out of, and when they’re closed, they look sleek and clutter-free.
You’ll likely need at least one file cabinet. And a few drawers for storing office supplies are probably in order too. I really like these Alex drawer units from IKEA that double as desk legs. We currently have three of them in our house, and I’ll probably get another for my own desk soon.
I’m also loving this Ikea-hacked built-in file cabinet from Sarah at Making Joy and Pretty Things.
3. Poor Lighting
I know we talked about natural light before, but now we need to talk about artificial light. Most rooms in your home probably have overhead lights, which are meant to light the whole room. But your desk is likely in a corner or against a wall, where it’s not getting great light.
THE FIX: You absolutely need at least one task lamp for your home office. I really like to use wall-mounted task lights in home offices because they can be directed toward your face for video calls. Even better if you can have two wall-mounted lights shining from opposite directions to make the light more even and flattering.
Or you can use a table-top desk lamp. I love the look of these lamps. My only caution is that they can be easily knocked over if you move things around a lot on your desk.
4. Uncomfortable Desk Chair
I don’t need to explain why this is a problem. If you only need to sit in your task chair for an hour or two a day, then go ahead and get something inexpensive and cute. Check out this list for inexpensive desk chairs for kids (and most will work for adults too).
But if you sit in your chair for 6-plus hours a day, then you need to make a really good desk chair a priority. Your back will thank you! This Soho Management Chair from Laura Davidson is my go-to when designing home offices for clients. It’s comfortable, supportive, durable, and adjusts in every way you can imagine.
5. Ugly or Cluttered Background
Up until a few months ago, most of us weren’t really concerned with what was behind us while we worked. But now our co-workers and classmates have a front-row view into our homes. Don’t let that view be a couch piled with laundry or a stack of boxes.
THE FIX: I like to put a tidy tall bookshelf (i.e. not one that’s crammed with as many books as it can hold), with some books, a few decorative accessories and plants, and possibly storage baskets or magazine files as a Zoom backdrop. I really like these Kallax Cube bookshelves from Ikea for room dividers. As you can see, this one separates my office from the kids’ homeschool room, and it’s the backdrop for all of their Zoom meetings.
People can usually only see the top two-thirds of the room, so if you need to store a lot of books, I recommend putting most of them on the lower shelves.
My frined Jennifer Morrell from An Inspiring Home designed this really simple bookshelf arrangement and it’s a perfect Zoom backdrop.
Here’s another great example from Timisha at Toolbox Divas. Notice how it’s interesting, but not cluttered.
If you have a wall behind you, consider one or two large pieces of art and a tall indoor plant (fake plants are great for this!). Here are some great ideas for masculine wall art (many of these ideas would be great for women too!), and my favorite faux indoor plants that everyone will mistake for the real thing! If nothing else, put a tall fake plant behind you.
6. Crazy Cord Clutter
The cords and chargers in my house have been breeding since the kids started distance-learning and Peter began working from home full time. The rat’s nest of cords under, and now also on top or your desk is a problem. It’s a pain and it looks messy.
THE FIX: I’m going to be perfectly honest and tell you that this is one thing I really haven’t mastered yet. But I’m actively working on finding solutions for the cord-clutter and lack of nearby outlets in our home, and I’ll update this as soon as I have something figured out!
One thing I am trying to do when we need to buy new things, is get bluetooth or cordless versions wherever possible. Headsets, mice, keyboards, etc. Fewer things that plug in = less cord clutter.
7. No Dedicated Space for Current Projects & Paperwork
8. Wrong Size Rug
Your task chair gets caught on the rug every time you roll in and out from your desk. Or you don’t have a rug at all.
THE FIX: It can be tricky to find the perfect rug for a home office, because it needs to be just the right size and shape. Ideally, you’ll want your task chair to be able to roll on hard flooring. But it’s nice to have a rug behind you if there’s space, since it helps to dampen noise and makes a space feel more cozy and put together.
9. Inconvenient Storage for Office Supplies
Emily, from Small Stuff Counts‘ desk drawers are organized beautifully- and practically too!
10. Forgetting to Plan for Pets
Your dogs want to sit under your desk while you work, but there’s not enough room for everyone. Your cat is licking himself inappropriately on the back of your chair while you try to give a presentation.
THE FIX: I’ve found that pets often want to hang with their people while they work from home, which is great! As long as there’s space for them and they’re not causing too many disturbances. Maybe consider space for a dog bed under your desk for naps.
I set up my design workspace right by two windows that overlook a pond and walking trail. I kept finding mud on my desk and eventually realized what was going on. Also 738 failed login attempts on my laptop. it would have been ideal to place the desk somewhere the dog wouldn’t jump on it. Better still to train the dog to stay off the desk. But in lieu of both those things, we added an extra desk leg to make sure she didn’t break the desk.
I haven’t had a cat since I was a kid, so I don’t have much helpful advice for them. Leave me a note in the comments if you have any suggestions. But maybe consider a cozy spot for the cat to nap out of camera view.
Can you think of any more home office design mistakes? Tell us about them in the comments!