How to make your home office into a 21st-century workplace

The traditional home office is a thing of the past, says Rin Hamburgh. Turn yours into a gym, library or play area, and adopt these modern work practices

A functional and sturdy tray makes it easy to work from your bed or sofa Courtesy iWoodDesign
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Do you have a study or home office? When was the last time you used it? I realised recently that I hadn’t been into mine for a good month, except to grab a pair of scissors from a drawer or a book from the bookshelf. In fact, I couldn’t remember the last time I actually did any real work in there. 

It’s fascinating to think about how our work stations have changed in the 21st century. We’ve gone from massive computers that took up half a desk to featherweight laptops we can carry around in our bags. Paper files have now been all but replaced by digital files. Reference books can for the most part be accessed online. We don’t need a desk clock because we already have one on our screen and our phone. 

So the question is, do we actually need a permanent desk at all any more? Personally, I'm more likely to be found tapping away at my laptop on my sofa, dining table, kitchen work surface or even in bed. That's why, last weekend, I dismantled my desk, listed my office chair on Facebook Marketplace and moved a couple of boxes of essential paperwork into a spare cupboard in my bedroom (shredding a bunch more in the process).

Work-life integration

Home decor quite often reflects changes in society. And so as we’ve started moving from seeking out work-life balance to looking for a more fluid work-life “integration” – in other words, understanding that work and life are not two separate things, but need to be blended and coherent in order for us to be content – our homes are starting to reflect this.

Which is why fusion zones are becoming a far more popular choice than a traditional and rigidly defined "study" or "home office". These spaces transition from home to work life and back again with ease, meaning you get far more value from your home than you would have before.

Here are a few examples of where you might want to set up your laptop:

The kitchen or dining-room table provides a perfect surface for working. As a bonus, the kids can sit alongside you doing their homework, so you can spend time together while getting work done.

If you like to snuggle up on a sofa while working, buy yourself one of those TV trays with the integrated pillow underneath, so you can stay comfortable as you work. You could also use a butler's table that folds away when you don't need it. Just make sure you support your back with cushions.

Desks don’t have to be permanent structures – a wall-mounted, foldaway desk can easily be housed in a cupboard in your bedroom or against a wall somewhere, with a folding chair stored with it. That way it’s ready to be pulled out when it’s needed, but perfectly neat and tidy when you’re not working.

Like working outdoors? Use a garden table as your desk, with a gazebo set-up to protect you from the sun and ensure you can see your screen properly. The natural setting will help stimulate your creativity as you work.

One thing worth remembering when it comes to a good work space is lighting. Wherever you choose to set up your laptop, make sure you have a decent lamp nearby so that you don’t strain your eyes while you work.

You’ll also need to ensure you have suitable power points and as few distractions as possible. If you’re sharing the space with other members of the family, make sure they know what they can touch and what is off limits, and get everyone to take responsibility for clearing up their mess.

Instead of a bulky desk, invest in a foldable table to set up a workstation in any part of your home Courtesy Garden Trading

What to do with your old study

The joy for me of letting go of my old study is that, suddenly, I had a whole new room to play with. I did consider turning it into a guest bedroom, but how often do I really have people to stay? I didn’t want the space to be wasted for the majority of the year.

Then I had a great idea. My children were sleeping in a fairly large room, surrounded by toys that proved far too distracting when it was time for lights out. So I decided to move their beds into what was the study and turned the old bedroom into a playroom.

Not only does it make bedtime far easier, I have moved some of the bigger toys out of the dining room and bought a sofa bed so that, when I do have guests, I have somewhere to put them – but the girls also have a sofa to lounge on.

If you’ve got a little used study that you want to repurpose, consider what the greatest needs of your family are. Could you use the space as an extra relaxation space for the kids – or for you, when they’ve taken over the living room with their friends? Or what about something fancy like a home cinema, a games room or a library?

Are you an avid artist, crafter or musician who could really use more space to spread out your paints, fabrics or musical instruments? Your old study is the perfect space. If you’re a bit of a fashionista, you could treat yourself to a luxurious dressing room, with plenty of storage for clothes, shoes and accessories, plus a full-length mirror and fantastic lighting. Or how about a home gym?

Consider what is going to get the most use, and create the most enjoyment for you and your family. No room in your home should only be used for a few days or weeks each year. With your new mobile study, the possibilities for your now free space are endless.


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