How to Design the Ideal WFH Office

WFH offices have become popular these days thanks to the pandemic. The daily 9 to 5 commutes and rush hours have now been replaced with WFH environments, as statistics show. If you’ve also made the move to remote working, here’s a quick look at how you can design the idea WFH office environment in your home.

Make sure it is a permanent space.

The ideal WFH office cannot be a makeshift affair. Propping a laptop on your legs while working from bed can be satisfactory in the beginning. But, this will be a problem if you have to work from home on a daily basis. In such a scenario, you will need a definite long-term office where you will be able to work in peace. Since it is your place, it would be nice to fill it with everything that you need. This way you will work both more effectively and efficiently.

The ergonomics of your home office

Alluding to the laptop-on-bed example earlier, any unnatural angle of the body can have really adverse consequences. You won’t notice your posture in the first few days. However, soon enough you can end up with back and neck aches. This is why it is vital to work in a good place. Design a workplace that is optimal for your body and back support. After all, your typical on-site office workstation is comfortable and safe to work in. So, why should this one be any different?

Imagine you are writing about the role of chatbots in education and suddenly your back starts hurting. That will not only stop your writing, but it will also bother you in your personal life as well. It is crucial to find the right chair as well as a desktop combination set-up.

Let there be (natural) light!

Studies over the years have shown that having windows that allow the ingress of natural light is healthy. Unlike artificial lights, we can process natural light a lot better. Actually, our bodies work best in natural light. So open the windows of your home office and let all that natural sunlight increase your productivity.

Take breaks in nature.

Research shows that nature calms us. It normalizes our sleep schedule, helps clear our minds, regulates stress levels, and more. If you have a home office with beautiful views of nature, you will have a better chance of feeling calm, collected, and even more creative.

Select the perfect colors.

A home office should be a bright and colorful place instead of being a dull and dreary environment. Vibrant colors inspire a person to give his or her best shot. For example, the color blue can spark your creativity.

Find a quiet place.

Make sure your home office is a quiet place. If peace and quiet are necessary for your work you should consider building home additions for your office. Such a place is your very own dedicated workspace. When you are at work, you feel motivated to work. Similarly, you can work just that efficiently from your home office. In other words, it will become a place that you associate exclusively with your work.


When designing your WFH office, consider incorporating fresh air, natural light, vibrant colors, and a good chair/desk combo. It could greatly affect your productivity and overall happiness at work.


The Downside of Open-Concept Offices

Once touted as a powerful tool to encourage collaboration and creativity, cubicle-free open workplaces have taken a hit in the business world as research indicates that they often discourage face-to-face interactions and harm productivity.

“The neuroscience is becoming very clear: Open floor plans are not good,” says Jonathan Denn, “chief thinking partner” at Drumbeat Productivity in Dennis, Massachusetts. “Walking for five minutes an hour is good, and having a door you can close for 90 minutes twice a day is good.”

Denn, the author of “Drumbeat Business Productivity Playbook: How to Beat Goals and Disorganization,” has been preaching the necessity of private space and time for workers. A growing body of research seems to support his position.

For instance, Harvard Business School researchers Ethan Bernstein and Stephen Turban studied two Fortune 500 companies that transitioned from traditional workspaces to more open-floor concepts and found the volume of face-to-face interactions decreased by about 70 percent in both cases, while electronic interactions increased by a similar rate.

“In short, rather than prompting increasingly vibrant face-to-face collaboration, open architecture appeared to trigger a natural human response to socially withdraw from officemates and interact instead over email and IM,” the study’s abstract says.

We asked Denn to break down what’s going on at open offices and why they appear to be so problematic.

The Death of Quiet Time

Denn says the science is fairly clear that workers need about three hours of quiet time to do their own work every day, and that work is probably best done in two 90-minute sessions. After the three hours are up, he says, workers are basically running on autopilot, using habits and mental models to complete tasks. Uninterrupted private space is less important during this time.

The problem with open offices, he says, is that interruptions are quite common, whether it’s someone sharing a new idea or merely noise from a co-worker’s phone call. “You get a time penalty for that — 10 minutes, 20 minutes, maybe a minute or two if it’s a brief interruption,” he says. “Can you imagine the amount of time lost every day for the open-space floor plan? It’s biblical.”

Denn says that in an open space where everyone can hear every other phone call, workers will often adapt and isolate themselves with noise-canceling headphones. Rather than interrupt someone with headphones, people tend to simply communicate via email or instant message, he says.

In the Harvard study, managers reported a drop in worker productivity after they moved to the open floor plan, which the study authors attributed to the increased electronic communication.

Out of Touch

Denn says the open-office trend was largely driven by a combination of cost-cutting and managers who touted the potential collaboration benefits of boundaryless spaces without properly considering the consequences.

“The problem is that senior management, who usually authorize office expenditures, are not keeping up with current research, nor are they experiencing what it’s really like,” he says. “It’s a disconnect between the C-suite and the actual people who do the work.”

Denn says open floor plans do have the potential to allow small, high-performing and knowledgeable groups to work well together and begin sharing ideas and information with less-knowledgeable colleagues. “But I think that’s really rare,” he says.

More often than not, he says, the potential benefits are eclipsed by the negative impacts, such as leaving managers with no space to counsel or coach a team member in what can often be sensitive conversations that require some privacy.

Varied Work Needs Varied Space

“If your organization doesn’t have the money to give everybody an office, you’re going to be stuck with an open workspace,” Denn says. “Generally speaking it’s not a good idea, but you have to make the best with what you’ve got.”

If your organization finds itself in this situation, Denn suggests dedicating at least some private space surrounding the open floor for large group meetings, smaller gatherings of two or three workers, one-on-one employee counseling sessions and solitary work. This can be accomplished with a combination of flexible meeting space and more private offices that can be reserved in advance by individual workers who know they need an hour of private time.

“That’s a way to balance the capital expenditure problem of giving everybody their own door and at the same time giving everyone the flexibility to do different kinds of work,” he says.

Denn suggests organizations carefully consider the different types of meetings that happen in a workplace when designing their office. The first are information exchanges, which he says can be done in open spaces.

On the other hand, convergent meetings in which ideas are analyzed and decisions are made, as well as divergent meetings, where people with different skills gather to generate ideas, are best done in spaces that support those particular types of thinking.

“The convergent space should be nice, neat and orderly,” he says. “The divergent space should be just the opposite — messy, cluttered, lots of colors, whiteboards on the walls, music — so people can make connections and new solutions out of problems they’ve never seen before.”

Finally, he says companies need spaces beyond the open floor pit that are purely social to allow people with no agenda but a common goal to interact — such as a very large coffee space that accommodates a large portion of the team.

“That’s not a waste of time,” he says. “This is like when an engineer talks to a sales rep and the sales rep says, ‘if this widget over here, if they didn’t have to do that they could save four steps and two hours in their day,’ and the engineer says, ‘why didn’t you tell me, that’s easy, I could do that by Friday.’ You don’t get that unless they meet at a social event.”

Your Open Floor Plan Office Space Is Negatively Affecting Your Team

Open floor plans are synonymous with hip, disruptive startups. Unfortunately, they can also be terrible for morale and productivity.

When we tried to make an open office work, we soon realized our employees were more irritated and distracted than before. We used our experience from that experiment to build an office space that worked for everyone without sticking them into a cubicle farm. 

Open-Office Failures in the Wild

 The BBC recently ran a story about the pitfalls of open offices, specifically at a company called Wildbit. 

Per the BBC, while 70 percent of U.S. businesses have moved to a variation of the open office, those companies struggle compared to their competitors. “Free-range” employees are more likely to get sick, be less productive, and be less happy than their closed-off counterparts.

Chris Nagele, founder of Wildbit, thought moving his entire work from home team into an open office would facilitate collaboration. Instead, it became an unavoidable distraction and made everyone — Nagele included — grouchy. Three years later, Wildbit moved to a new office and gave each employee a door to shut out the noise. 

Tips to Build a Better Office

If you don’t want to force everyone into cubicles, but also don’t want to see your workforce suffer in an open environment like they are bound to do, heed these three warnings.

1. When Everyone Can See Everyone Else – They Can Also Distract

Five people in a common space isn’t a problem. As that number climbs, however, people begin to chat more and work less — even when they want to be working.

In our open floor plan office, whenever a group gathered to collaborate, they attracted the attention of anyone within earshot. By 2 p.m. on Friday, anyone who didn’t book a conference room might as well have been working in a bar at happy hour.

Even passive interruptions can interfere with work. Per the Wall Street Journal, frequently interrupted employees report higher exhaustion rates and more physical ailments than those who are sheltered from the peanut gallery and can concentrate alone in peace.

The best solution for unchecked distractions is a personal escape. Whether it’s an office, a breakout room, a cubicle, or simply a desk, all employees need access to some kind of personal space where they can escape the crowd and get things done.

2. Negative Vibes Spread Quickly

Bad attitudes spread faster than positive ones. One experiment found that planting a negative teammate in undergraduate business groups dropped their performance by more than 30 percent compared to their peers.

Rather than try to combat human nature, build systems that account for this challenge. Each person’s space should have a maximum of a dozen other people within sight or earshot. The most cramped spaces can be made manageable by dividers, partitions, and false barriers.

Even a bead curtain with a picture of a peace sign is better than nothing. By physically marking barriers, you can limit exposure to negative attitudes and address the issue before it spreads to the whole office. 

3. Cultural Misunderstandings Increase

Multiple new hires unfamiliar with company culture don’t function well in open offices. Without guidance, your new hires could get a warped perception of how your team solves problems together.

For instance, we have a couple employees who work well together, but could appear to be in a heated argument to someone unfamiliar with their banter. A new employee who witnesses that kind of interaction without proper context might assume aggression is the way of life in an otherwise relaxed office. 

Avoid misunderstandings by creating rules to respect privacy. Set up a system of sticky-note alerts to limit interruptions or give everyone a flag to raise when chat isn’t welcome. 

People crave other people. Don’t fight it, but structure your office to facilitate productivity more than distraction. By following these tips and giving everything a time and place, you can keep your team on track without locking them in cells to do it.

Photo Credit: mindshareworld Flickr via Compfight cc