As work-from-home is on the rise, many people are finding themselves working from the couch, the kitchen table, or even their bed. However, while there’s something to be said for comfort in the moment, those locations are often not very ergonomic. Working in a position where you’re hunched up or your head is constantly craned down at a laptop can cause painful neck and back issues over the long term. And then, there’s the psychological impact of working from the couch–it often leads remote employees to comment that they feel their work life and home life have become inseparable.
Creating a comfortable home office doesn’t have to be an expensive, huge project. It can be as simple as picking a corner of a room and being strategic with furniture. Here’s everything you need to get started putting together a good home office, without breaking the bank.
Setting up a home office usually serves three goals: staying organized, focused, and comfortable. With these three goals in mind, here’s some advice that’s important regardless of budget:
Take inventory of everything you’ll need in your workspace.
Living in the “digital age” has its advantages, but most of us still have to make room for some paper, pens, and notebooks. Measure your computer and other hardware to figure out how much space you’ll need.
Separate your work space from your living space.
This will cut down on distractions and can improve your time away from work as well. If you have a spare room to dedicate to work, you’re a step ahead. If you don’t, all you need to do is choose an alcove or a corner of a larger room. Then, get creative in marking it off from the rest of the space. Putting up a barrier between your home office and where you relax can eliminate the common work-from-home complaint of feeling like you’re always at work. Keeping work away from your bedroom can even improve your sleep.
Choose furniture with long-term use in mind.
This is why, as you’ll see, the desk chair takes the lion’s share of the budget in each of our breakdowns below. You don’t need the most expensive ergonomic chair to work comfortably, but paying attention to posture and comfort in your daily routine can prevent back and neck trouble years down the road.
Choose your space wisely.
It can be tempting to squirrel yourself away in a walk-in closet and pretend it’s just as good as a whole room, but not so fast. Research has shown that factors like ventilation and natural light can boost mood and productivity. In other words, you’ll have to decide if the privacy is worth the trade-off. If you’ll be video-conferencing with clients and coworkers on a regular basis, that’s another factor to consider when it comes to lighting. Last but not least, find out if you’ll need to run an extension cord to your workspace before you start moving in furniture.
Budget: Under $200
Find your furniture
You can get a new low-end desk online for about $50, but you may be able to get a better quality one for a similar price secondhand. All a desk really needs to be is a table at the right height, so you can broaden your search to sewing tables and small dining tables as well as desks. Make sure to explore local buy-and-sell groups on social media, as well as websites that sell secondhand and overstock furniture.
If you’re going secondhand, take the time to spruce up your furniture. A simple coat of paint or wood finish can go a long way in helping a secondhand desk blend right in with your decor. A squeaky desk chair can be good as new if you take a moment to tighten any loose parts and oil any areas where metal moves against metal.
Offset your space
You have a few options to divide your workspace from the rest of your home. Curtains are the most economical choice, and can easily be chosen to match your decor. A ceiling-mounted curtain rod and curtain will run you about $18 at a hardware or home goods store. Even just a simple visual boundary like this can alleviate that feeling of still being at work when you’re trying to relax, and help you stay focused during work hours.
Find your furniture
With a $600 budget, you could go as high as $300 for a nice chair and still fit in all the other essentials. On the other hand, there are good quality chairs from decent retailers for around $100-$200, so start in that range and see what you can find. As you’re comparing options, don’t forget to factor in the shipping cost.
You won’t have much trouble finding a nice desk for $150 or less. If you have $100 or so leftover from your chair budget, you could even afford an adjustable sitting/standing desk. If you’re able to, spending some of your work time standing can be good for your health and focus. Whether sitting or standing, a nice feature to look for in a desk is a drawer or shelf that lets you rest your keyboard a few inches lower than the desktop. This is great for helping with posture and relieving stress on your wrists during long stretches of time spent typing.
Offset your space
The curtain strategy outlined above is still available to you, but with a little extra investment you can choose a more solid barrier. Stand-up room dividers will run you anywhere from $50 to $150 depending on the size, material, and style you’re looking for.
Another option in this price range is a bookcase. The shelves would double as organizational space, and a full bookshelf works fairly well at insulating sound. An open bookcase will do less for sound insulation, but is easier to fit into the decor on both sides of the room.
Find your furniture
At this price bracket, you can really focus on ergonomics and choose furniture that will keep you comfortable for a long time. As mentioned in the previous section, an adjustable standing desk can be worthwhile if you’re the sort of person who would appreciate stretching your legs a bit while you work. If you go for that type, decide whether a manually-adjustable or electric version would work best for you and the space you’ve chosen. An adjustable desk will cost between $200 and $300.
Following the same proportion as our other budget levels, you can set aside $500 for a chair. A $300 ergonomic chair will be good for your back and last you a long time. Still, investing in a nicer model could pay off in better focus and higher energy if it suits you well. Top-of-the-line office chairs (think about the $1100 range) often sell used for around $400, so for $400-$500 you can get a very nice brand new chair or an excellent used one.
Offset your space
Sound insulation is great, especially if you’re working while other members of your household are home. Acoustic room dividers create a workspace where you can tune out the distractions in the rest of the house. Most of the acoustic room dividers available are very functional, but a little drab. If you don’t want your living room to look like an elementary school library, then you can add sound insulation to a room divider that looks a little nicer. You can buy acoustic panels in various colors, which makes them easy to coordinate with the aesthetic you want for your office.
Make your workspace your own
One great benefit to working at home is that you can personalize your space as much as you want. The way you decorate your space can even improve the way you work. Plants are a nice touch in any office, as they can make people feel calmer and more creative. Environmental psychologist Sally Augustin says that keeping plants in your office is “great from a psychological perspective.” In addition, including details to your office that remind you of things you’re proud of can give you a little confidence boost during the work day. Awards, degrees, family photos, or even a particularly good doodle could help you feel better while balancing your responsibilities.