Picture your ideal working space. There may be lots of natural light, a large desk with plenty of storage space and lots of room to walk around while you’re on the phone. Though that may be your dream, it’s not the reality for most women in business, many of whom end up working from a makeshift space on their kitchen table or in a home office, at least several days a week.
More women are working outside of their traditional office space than ever before.
An incredible 75 percent of female business owners spend between three and five days working from home, according to a survey by AXA last year.
This trend looks like it’s here to stay, with the number of workers who say they usually work from home increasing by 19 percent over the past 10 years, according to a report published by the Trade Unions Congress. Not surprisingly, the group with the largest growth in regular home working is women, with 35 percent more working from home in 2015 than in 2005.
“If we look at the bigger picture, it’s relatively recent that women work at all. Business is set up for the way men have worked - from 9am to 5pm, going to one place, sitting down, coming back, with supper on the table,” says Harriet Anstruther, founder of Harriet Anstruther Studio and the author of Reveal: Interior Design as a Reflection of Who We are (Clearview).
“Businesses and offices have traditionally not been designed around the way women think, feel or work.”
Half of women business owners start work before 7am or after 11am, according to the AXA survey. For 10 percent, a typical working day can end up being spread over 12 hours, while only 2 percent of self-employed men have days that long. Instead, for women, work is often interspersed with domestic tasks.
What that in mind, finding a space to work at home that is comfortable and inspiring is not only necessary to spare your back, it can also help you be more creative and productive.
When working from home, it’s all too easy to disregard the ideal way to sit: elbows at 90 degrees, relaxed shoulders, feet flat so your legs are equal to your hips. This advice is more than a way to stop aches and pains before they start, it also makes you more efficient.
“If you start to get uncomfortable and fidget, it’ll interfere with your work,” says Celine McKeown, an ergonomist and founder of Link Ergonomics. “
Setting up an ideal workspace isn’t complicated and doesn’t require fancy furniture
While sitting at a desk in an office chair is best, many women end up multi-tasking, and working from a common room.
If you don’t have a proper desk chair, sit on a cushion to raise yourself up so your shoulders are relaxed.
Laptops are good for short periods of time but no longer than an hour, says McKeown. Instead of investing in a desktop, get a wireless keyboard and raise the laptop on a phone directory or paper ream so you don’t need to lower your head to look at the screen.
In addition, taking regular breaks throughout the day can not only prevent body aches, it can also increase the quality of your work.
“Get up and move around even if you’re trying to get everything done in time to say, pick up the kids from school,” says McKeown. “You will make fewer errors. The best way to see this in action is to do a piece of work, leave it and then go look at it. You’ll pick up all the mistakes that you made the day before.”
If there’s no room in your home for a dedicated office, choose a private corner where you are less likely to be disturbed by family, pets and children. Keep your most needed supplies handy, and clear out a shelf or drawer nearby so you can easily set yourself up when you come back the next day.
“Try to arrange your workspace in the middle of the wall or somewhere there is space,” advises Olga Alexeeva, founder of Black and Milk in London, which focuses on interior design for small spaces. “If you create a workspace in the corner, you may end up feeling claustrophobic and not having enough space for your hands to move around.”
Alexeeva often works with carpenters to create bespoke cabinets for her clients’ common areas that hide their office paraphernalia. She has even come up with a solution for the unsightly desk chair in the middle of living space. After searching high and low for an attractive option, she found a few ideal candidates at West Elm that have all the features of a desk chair but also fit into a living or eating area from a design perspective.
The working space you need: Work vs home
Creating the space in your mind to work productively from home is just as important as the physical elements of the workspace.
“There needs to be a trigger that allows you to not worry about the pressures of your home life if you’re not physically leaving the space where you sleep, live and parent,” says Anstruther, who takes an interest in the psychology of interior design. “Do something to remind you that this is your working day, even if it’s starting out by leaving your house and getting coffee. That physical departure and return is really important.”
Even if you’ve already worked from home for years, there are often small tweaks you can make to create an environment you enjoy coming back to day after day. At what temperature are you most comfortable? Is there a certain scent that makes you feel calm?
“Aesthetics are important for your overall well-being,” says Alexeeva. “You feel relaxed and comfortable in an area you enjoy spending time in. If the corner you work from isn’t attractive and you won’t want to come back and that’s not a productive or pleasant way to spend our days.”
With working from home now a regular gig for many women, labouring away without much thought is a recipe for distraction and discomfort. Creating a space to work that is comfortable and aesthetically pleasing will ultimately enhance the quality of your efforts.
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