The architecture of working from home

A home office featuring a window looking out to Kings Highway and Lakewood Cemetery.

The Locus Architecture team started working from our homes on Tuesday, March 17.

Because much of our day-to-day work relies so heavily on collaborating with each other, it was initially difficult to imagine a way for our practice to function in the digital realm. It was, and continues to be, an exercise in adaptability, creativity and optimism.

While this situation is certainly not ideal for any of us, I can’t help but feel a sense of gratitude and privilege for the fact that I can do my job from the safety of my home. That said, adapting your living space (and mind) to accommodate your work life in the middle of a pandemic isn’t necessarily easy.

Locus has plenty of experience with the home office. Many of our clients’ lifestyles involved working from home prior to the pandemic, so we’re familiar with the ins and outs of creating the perfect space to get work done at home.

The following tips and Locus-designed examples demonstrate how you can optimize your work environment at home — and hopefully make social distancing feel a little more like normal life.

1. Create a dedicated work zone

Before COVID-19, many of us commuted to a physical location to focus on work. When we leave or enter a space, our mental state has a chance to shift in accordance with the energy and associations we’ve built with that place.

Now the line between “work space” and “life space” is much fuzzier. Where you eat breakfast might also be where you build spreadsheets all day. However, you can still work to maintain this boundary by dedicating a specific area in your home as your office and leaving it when your workday is over.

If your living situation doesn’t allow you the luxury of a dedicated office room, you can make an effort to establish a divide by using fabrics, changing screens or furniture. Whatever you do, be mindful of where you’re spending your time and try not to work where you sleep.

2. Improvise, adapt, overcome

A Murphy-desk and custom chalkboard by Locus Architecture. Submitted photo

Perhaps it’s just downright impossible to dedicate a workspace where you live. Maybe your children have overrun every square foot of your home or you just lack the space. There are still crafty ways to cobble together some workplace zen. In one of our residential remodels, we designed a Murphy desk that can fold away at the end of the workday, ideal for someone with a laptop and minimal desk clutter. In another home, we created a rolling bookcase that, when tucked away, opens up a home office to a TV room, giving a sense of open space. At night, the bookcase closes off the office space to create a cozy nook for watching movies.

In my apartment, I cleared away the clutter on my IKEA desk from college and dragged it into a sunroom. My colleague Maggie didn’t own a desk, so she acquired one to avoid working at arms length from her two roommates at their dining room table.

A workspace in the past South Minneapolis home of one of Locus’ founders, Wynne Yelland. Submitted photo

Several years ago, Locus founder Wynne Yelland renovated a bedroom into a workspace at the base of the stairs, including shelving and space for multiple workstations. You might not possess the architectural and construction know-how to tackle such a project on your own, but inspiration might just come from understanding what you need — and attacking the problem using existing underutilized space. Look around to see if there’s somewhere that nobody goes, including spaces currently in the air. A loft or platform has the potential to double the functionality of a tall space.

Whether it’s a DIY project done in a new abundance of free time or making plans for a more intense architectural intervention, get creative about how your space might better suit your needs.

3. Windows!

You don’t have to be an architect to know that natural light is good for you. Try to set up your workspace close to a window, or anywhere you can get natural light. If this isn’t possible for you, consider using a sunlight bulb to supplement some serotonin.

Being close to windows has advantages beyond sunlight. Productivity and happiness are linked to proximity to nature, many studies have found.

Connecting with the outside world, even if just visually, can also help you to feel more in-tune with your community and sense of normalcy. Waving to your postal carrier, observing the beginnings of spring, watching the clouds pass by; whatever it is, making meaningful connections with other people and the outside world is now more difficult but arguably more important than before.

4. Curate your happy place

Many people adorn their desks at the office with personal artifacts, a practice that brings a piece of their home life or personality to their workspace. Now that philosophy is reversed, as we carve out spaces for work within our homes. It makes sense that surrounding ourselves with things that make us happy makes us happy. It’s easy to forget about the curation of your physical atmosphere when there’s so much going on in your mental space, but it has the potential to make a big difference.

Take a look around your living space. What do you see that brings you joy? Bring some of those items to your workspace at home to make it a place you’re excited to go each day.

If you’ve been itching to do some retail damage since isolation began, there are a litany of products and books out there designed to help improve your desk space and bring you closer to nature.

Maybe you take a more minimalist approach and the absence of “things” is what sparks joy for you. Whatever your taste, this can be an opportunity to really evaluate the curation of your living space and, if you’re feeling up for it, take spring cleaning to a whole new level.

Making your home office better suited to improve your mental health won’t cure a virus, but it can make a difference in your outlook. If you take the time and energy to perform a little self care, you can be better prepared to steady your mental state and get “out” there to impact change. Whether that’s sewing masks, donating to a worthy cause or making spreadsheets, a good home office — where you might be spending a fair amount of time — can be a good first step.

Hailey Haferman is an architectural designer at Locus Architecture, located in the Kingfield neighborhood of Minneapolis. She is currently operating out of her Uptown apartment. Visit locusarchitecture.com to learn more.