Ravi Soin always had a dedicated office in his home in Washington state. But the vice president of IT SaaS cloud operations and facilities at Edifecs, a global health IT company, welcomed the idea of working from his couch at the start of work-from-home orders.
“The home office served as a multipurpose room used by my daughter for her music lessons, for kids to build their Lego sets, and a space to pile my documents and gadgets,” he says. “This shared office space gave me the opportunity to look through her eyes while she was actively learning at school. It felt like I was going through middle school again while trying to work, and my daughter was learning about HITRUST compliance.”
But the couch was cozy, Soin says, and like everyone else, he thought the arrangement would be temporary. As the months dragged on, Soin’s daughter got distracted by his presence—”perhaps because I would tell her to focus on the lesson or participate in the discussion,” he muses—and moved to work in her own bedroom. When it became clear that no one was going back to the workplace for the foreseeable future, Soin decided he needed a more productive setup.
Back in his home office, Soin used the stipend provided by his employer to set up additional monitors, purchase a hot water dispenser to provide a constant supply of hot tea, and buy an ergonomic electronic sit-stand desk and chair similar to the one he had at work.
Like many of us who were suddenly pushed to work from home with not much warning, Soin says it took him months to stake out a place of productivity that didn’t blur personal and professional boundaries too much. A recent report from Steelcase found that 36% of workers lack a place free from distraction, 28% do not have a physically comfortable workspace, and 9% use their bed. Three-quarters of those at the director level or above (such as Soin) have a desk, and nearly half have an ergonomic chair. Those comforts drop sharply among individual contributors, the Steelcase report found. Less than half reported working at desks, and only 24% had ergonomic chairs.
Whether driven by necessity, productivity, or comfort, similar stats were reflected in a survey Fast Company conducted in partnership with Harris Poll. Thirty-nine percent of respondents who worked from home during the pandemic reported feeling most productive in their home office. Eighteen percent voted for their living room, and an additional 18% for their bedroom.
Interestingly, there’s a gender split among those who prefer home offices and living rooms. Forty-four percent of men feel most productive in home offices (versus 32% of women), and living rooms scored higher with women (24% versus 15%, respectively). As for the best place to host a videoconference, home offices topped the list (42%), followed by bedrooms (16%) and living rooms (16%).
Fast Company also polled other professionals from a variety of industries and job levels to see what they had to say about their favorite places to maximize their workday. From childhood bedrooms to hammocks, their descriptions of their home workspaces are infused with productivity hacks (such as crucial window placements) and proximity (or lack thereof) to other family members that would have sounded crazy just a year ago but have now become as commonplace as masks and social distancing.
Dara Treseder, senior vice president and head of global marketing and communications, Peloton
(San Francisco Bay Area, California)
At the beginning of the pandemic, I just had my desk, chair, and laptop. Now I have a more complete setup, with two screens for swift slide and spreadsheet navigation, a ring light for bomb lighting—to quote Lizzo—and a bamboo back panel to provide a consistent background. Virtual backgrounds just don’t work for me; I’ve tried.
I converted part of our second floor into my home office. I chose this spot because it faces the window, so I can take a one-minute break between back-to-back Zoom video calls to take in views of the gorgeous California sky. This is the best spot for productive work because it is a healthy distance from my kids’ playroom, which houses my Bike and Tread. Not too far in case I need to make a quick trip to check on the kiddos or take a Peloton class, and not too close to minimize the joyous “kid-teruptions,” which have very much become part of the working mom life during the pandemic.
Anthony Kelani, CEO and cofounder, DNABLOCK
My guest bedroom is my office. However, my startup has been distributed since before COVID, so I didn’t have to make alterations. I have a desk and computer with dual monitors. We do a lot of development and animated content work, so monitor space is important. I also have a very comfortable and ergonomic gaming chair. It’s important to have ergonomics when working long hours during COVID. I also have a bit of space for doing VR and virtual product activities. You need a bit of space to walk around in VR and do motion-capture-suit work.
It’s the best spot because it’s separate from the rest of my house, and I can leave work there when I need to relax. I keep my computers and everything in there. Working in the living room or dining room makes it hard to remove yourself from work at the end of the day. During COVID I’m not going out as much, so I had to make an environment to enable work-life balance inside my home. One thing I plan on changing is getting a standing desk, so I’m not sitting all day at the computer.
Katie Coulson, account executive 120/80 MKTG
Starting my professional career in the same bedroom I grew up in has definitely been a challenge, but it also has been fun. I typically work using a big desk set up right by a huge window. I love and need the natural light to get work done. I am most productive with a lot of room to work. I also love looking out the window for any entertainment throughout the day. Work from home has also allowed me to move throughout my house to do work. Sometimes I need a change of scenery and will move to another room for an hour or so.
Sheree Atcheson, global director of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Peakon
I have formed a little nook in our open-plan dining/living space that is directly opposite a bright window. I have various little trinkets that make me happy when I look at them. Having a perfectly lit space is a necessity for me because I spend all my time on video calls. The other positive of this setup is that sometimes my dog will join in the background by photobombing from the sofa. That always gives everyone a chuckle. This is an entirely new setup as my partner uses the spare room for his office. It’s too dark for me and much colder.
Nate Klemp, PhD, coauthor of The 80/80 Marriage
My home office is where I’m most productive. Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve radically shifted the space. My desk is now aligned to optimize the Zoom backdrop. I used to have a bright window in the backdrop that blew out the exposure and made it impossible to see my face. Now, the camera rests on a windowless wall and [sees] a backdrop that includes a plant and a curated bookshelf. As a result, I now work in an office that’s part workspace, part Zoom studio.
I realized that I needed a break from Zoom calls and sitting all day in my office chair. So I attached a hanging hammock chair to a tree branch in my backyard. This has become my space for checking emails on my phone, doing calls, and managing our social media accounts. Occasionally, I’ll even bring out my laptop and write while suspended in midair. For me, it’s a way to take a “working break” and reconnect with the grounding quality of nature while still staying productive.