Ways to improve home office space

The work-from-home movement has been a trend within the American workplace for the last decade. The laptop computer and high-speed Internet access make it easier for working professionals to effectively work from home. In 2008, 4 percent of the U.S. workforce worked from home on a full-time basis. The number was significantly higher when you include workers who might work from home one or two days a week. By 2018, that number had grown to over 5 percent of the workforce, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 24% of the U.S. workforce work at least part of the time from home.

The stay-at-home-order and the novel coronavirus sped up that process. In the spring of 2020, offices emptied and hundreds of thousands of workers across the United States worked from home. One survey found that over half the U.S. workforce was at home full time at the height of the lockdown.

As the restrictions have started to ease, many workers are asking to continue to work from home. A recent survey found that 75 percent of workers want to continue to work from home even after the lockdown is over, and in response, major corporations like Google say they will extend the work-at-home policy until at least the end of the year.

This fundamental shift in our relationship with our home has the potential to drastically change the way houses are built and how they function. In the past, the home office was called a den and was used infrequently. Now, the home office could become one of the centrally utilized spaces within the home.

Homebuilders these days are looking at ways to adapt to the changing environment. The home office and how it fits into the overall scheme of the home is something that should be talked about during the early planning stages of building a new home. The mantra for many these days is function over form. The home must provide multiple roles for the family and efficiently utilize limited space.

“There’s no question today that whether it’s a bedroom or home office, there is a ton more thought and demand for those spaces,” said one homebuilder. “It’s become extremely prominent within our markets to offer and use a home office.”

Here are some suggestions on ways to improve a home office into a home’s design:

Ability to separate home and work

In the 60s and 70s, homes were divided into separate rooms like the dining room, living room and kitchen. Over the past 10 to 15 years, most home layouts have moved toward a more open-floor plan, where rooms are connected and seamless. Unfortunately, open-floor plans do not fit as well with working from home. No one can work effectively in a sea of noise or interruptions.

When planning an office space, you want to make sure you have privacy from the surroundings. You need to look at where the home office is located in relationship to the overall design, but also how well the space is connected from the rest of the home. You don’t want interruptions when preparing a report or chatting with your boss on a video conference call.

More natural light

Who likes to sit under fluorescent lights all day when working? No one. Everyone wants the corner office with big windows and a great view. Good lighting is essential for a quality work environment. Homebuilders are looking at ways to improve the natural lighting inside a house, especially in the area of the home that will serve as the home office.

People do not want a home office that doubles as a closet and has no window or natural lighting. The overall layout of the home can be designed around where the home office is located within the residence so the natural light can be maximized.

Sliding walls

Barn doors have been a popular design element for several years, but the work-at-home movement could increase their usage. Sliding walls incorporated into the home allow for greater versatility of space and more privacy. When done right, they add a nice style element to the home.

Sliding doors allow for the space to function more as an open-floor plan but also create separation when the walls are divided. Sliding walls have been a common function in office meeting rooms for a long time and are an easy way to improve the versatility of a residence.

Room flexibility

Homes typically have designated spaces. They have bedrooms, a kitchen, a dining room, etc. As more people work from home, rooms are going to need to be more flexible. A room could serve several different functions depending on the homeowner’s needs.

For example, a lot of homeowners these days do not utilize a formal dining room. A dining room could be designed in such a way that it serves multiple functions including a home-office. As well, rooms could change, as a family’s needs change. The home office might start in one of the bedrooms and have to relocate when a child is born. A room might serve several different functions throughout its lifetime.

Screened in porch/More usable space

If one or two of the family members are working from home, it’s a good idea to expand the usable space. A covered or screened-in porch is a great idea. The space can serve as a workspace on pleasant days or a place to relax in the morning with a cup of coffee. The porch gives the home more usable space and allows for greater variability in the home’s environment. The porch is not just a place where people gather for social outings every once in a while. 

Built-in storage shelves

Storage becomes more of an issue with a home office. Books, files and other things associated with an office environment will need to be stored efficiently. That is why it’s a good idea to considering shelves and other built-in storage space. The storage space adds to the aesthetic of the home, but it also allows the home office to use space wisely.