Design dilemma: The home office is dead; long live working from home

Pallavi Dean explains why the traditional home office is a relic of the past and how we should be taking inspiration from hotels when it comes to working from home

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The first thing you need to know about your home office is this: do not, under any circumstances, build a home office. You definitely do need a space to work in at home, today more than ever, given that flexible hours and freelance jobs are on the rise. But the idea of converting a room – normally the smallest, pokiest, darkest corner of your house – into an office is a relic of the past.

We’ll get to practical design tips in a minute, but first a bit of background on work. Furniture company Herman Miller says we have three ways of working when we’re alone. They are: process and respond; contemplate; and create. Traditional office cubicles were designed for the “process and respond” stuff – filling out forms, answering emails, data entry etc. And if you think about the traditional home office set-up (desk, chair, filing cabinet and printer/copier/fax machine), it’s a carbon copy of a cubicle.

That may have worked in the past but in a knowledge economy, the value of “process and respond” work is shrinking fast. The high-value work – the stuff that earns the big bucks – falls under “contemplate” and “create”. And traditional offices are woefully bad at this.

So, what’s the solution? Take inspiration not from offices but from hotels.

First the lobby. Hotels are ripping out business centres as fast as they can because the lobby is the new hub for business travellers. How often do we see someone leaning back on a sofa with a laptop on their lap and a stack of papers, a smartphone and a coffee on a side table next to them? Many execs say they do their best, most creative work when they're on the road. At home, the living room is your ready-made lobby-style workspace.

Second is the bedroom. As with business centres, hotels are ripping out desks from guest rooms. Research shows that when business travellers are working in their room, they're either in a comfy armchair or spread out on the bed. A few quick hacks can give your bedroom that hotel feel: extra pillows so you can prop yourself up; better lighting; and a nice chair in the corner. If you live with a big, noisy family, this may be your best – or indeed only – option. 

Third is the cafe. Think long, shared ­tables with dining-style chairs. These have two great benefits: a flat surface and decent back ­support. This space is perfect for deep, focused work such as writing, designing and ­crunching numbers. It's also good for the "process and respond" stuff that still needs to be done, even if it's a side show, rather than the main ­performance. At home your dining room, kitchen table or breakfast bar can all perform this task with minimal upgrades: buy a decent chair or stool and make sure the lighting works – shade glare from south-facing windows and ensure enough man-made light for those 3am sessions. 

Finally, treat yourself to a few luxuries to uplift your home and create that inspiring hotel vibe. You'll need a coffee machine with designer mugs and tea pot, nice stationery and a Wi-Fi speaker to play cool background music.

Pallavi Dean, founder, Pallavi Dean Interiors,,

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