Getting the ergonomics and aesthetics in your home office right as you WFH

Emmanuel study table-cum-book shelf (left) lets you keep all required items within reach, leaving the table-top free for your laptop (Rs 23,862); Mamba study table (right) with in-built storage (Rs 44,900). Source: Pepperfry
If you thought There is no better place than your drawing room sofa, as you plug in your laptop and get down to working from home in the time of Covid-19, the reality check is that it isn't a long-term solution, and can have an adverse impact on the spine and overall well-being if stretched too far.

Rahul Bhatt, MD, Cherry Hill Interiors Pvt Ltd, a company that specialises in office interiors, says he has been receiving calls from his clients and people who know him personally requesting him to arrange for chairs. Says Bhatt: “A chair is a very big subject in itself. A desk is a desk and has a standard height of two-and-a-half feet or 750 mm, but the ergonomics of the chair have to be correct - it must give you enough lumbar support, and must have a hand rest and arm rest, a sturdy back, and a castor to move around. Initially people started working on random chairs at home but that can be quite painful if you have to sit for long hours. You need the right chair for extended hours, the kind you have in offices.”

WFH: A long-term possibility

Top-rung companies have already started spending $200-500 per employee to make their workforce comfortable at home. One multinational budgeted $300, or about 22,000 per head and is offering infrastructure such as Dell 22-inch screen, Dell wireless keyboard and mouse, along with a Plantronics wireless headset.

Shiraz Ibrahim, MD, Transteel Seating Technologies Pvt Ltd, calls it the newly emerging segment of “Resimerical” – a blend of residential and commercial. He believes that post-Covid too, the work will be split between offices and homes. Consumers have already been investing in a home office and trying to create a workspace that is both efficient and stylish. Says Ibrahim: “We went from generating 80 invoices a month pre-Covid (before March) to 2,500 post-Covid. Customers ranged from millennials who are starting out in their careers, spending about Rs 4,000 per purchase, to employees of Google spending Rs 25,000 and more using their WFH allowance.” He and his wife Nasreen anticipated the demand for home office furniture and developed the work-from-home portal during the initial lock down period “based on what we felt would be the new normal once the lockdown was over. Customers responded very well to our WFH solutions, as we were able to bring our experience of delivering ergonomic solutions to the most demanding of corporate to individual customers through our website”

Ditto with PepperFry, a furniture company that registered huge sales after March. Currently, the site has created an inventory of over 500 chairs and 150-odd options in study tables. In the chair segment, it’s the mid-back, which is between low-back and high-back, that is trending. Says Hussaine Kesury, Chief Category Officer (CCO), Pepperfry: “Our company registered a 175 per cent growth in study tables, 140 per cent in chairs, if you compare sales pre- and post-Covid. We noticed an increase not just in volumes, but also in people’s budgets. Rather than going for smaller ticket sizes, the spends have moved up by 20-25 per cent towards better quality products.” 

Kesury says the average selling price of Rs 8,500 for a study table has risen to Rs 9,500-10,000, while chairs have moved up from Rs 6,500 to Rs 7,000-7,500. There is also an uptake of space-saving study tables costing Rs 4,000-5,000.

For those looking for a more horizontal set-up, this Valentina table in white finish comes with an in-built storage drawer (Rs 19,997). Source: Pepperfry

What’s trending

Furniture retailers such as Transteel say customers generally prefer tables that have no sharp edges and come with storage space, writable surfaces and a strong metal under-structure that can take heavy loads. As for chairs, people like ones with adjustable lumbar, head rest and arms, and a high-tensile mesh on the backrest that takes the shape of the user's back.

A Pepperfry spokesperson says the styles being lapped up by customers are mainly modern and contemporary, followed by transitional furniture (a blend of two diametrically opposite styles). People are also investing in backdrop for video calls and there is interest in buying artwork. Even table decor, lamps and lighting fixtures, wall art are being absorbed by the customer like never before, says Kesury.

Setting up the home office

The question often asked is where to create the office space within home. The ideal situation is to have a separate room if you have a study, or a computer room that comes with a library, a computer table for the laptop, and a bulletin board for important notes and messages. “If not, opt for a corner in the living room,” says Sonal Tayal, Head of Design and Sales Operations at Livspace. “Having a workstation in the bedroom and being able to pull your laptop first thing when you wake up in the morning is not healthy. This is why I would suggest having your workspace outside your bedroom. This would give you a chance to take some time for yourself in the mornings, get to the work nook you set up in the living room, and begin work.”

No separate study

If it's a small apartment with one or two bedrooms, your best bet would be to convert some areas of your dining or living room as flexible office space. It is a fact that the drawing and dining areas are not utilised to the extent bedrooms are. It may be a good idea to create multi-usage out of this space with flexible furniture – so your dining table on which you have your meals can double up as a workstation during the day.

Dedicated study room

Start by reorganising your existing furniture and items in the study room, and declutter. Pay heed to furniture and furnishings, lighting and acoustics, air conditioning, technology value add-ons, neutral backdrop, lighting solutions, table decor and you are good to go. 

Lighting plays a key role in determining the energy and focus levels of the user, helping one concentrate and reducing sleep-inducing hormones. Poor lighting can sap energy levels and morale, produce eye strain and headaches, and ultimately impair your ability to work efficiently. Says Vishal Singh, MD, Vizion Lighting Pvt Ltd: “The character and quality of lighting in one’s study can affect one’s productivity. Task lighting and ambient lighting are the two segments that one must invest in to ensure a proper lighting scheme in the home workspace. For instance, focus-intensive tasks require a user to choose a well-defined light source dedicated to that type of work. An adjustable or articulated desk lamp can put light exactly where one needs it and supports a variety of tasks.” 

While fluorescent or white lighting decreases drowsiness and increases energy levels, it can also cause migraines if not integrated well. Play around with warm or cool lighting to figure what works best for you and helps you stay focussed on the tasks you are given for the day.

During your video calls, you don’t want unnecessary lights flickering or shadows getting created on the screen. You can opt for a dimmable system that adjusts the intensity of the light.

Sound matters

The biggest challenge of WFH is how to insulate against the “domestic affairs” - the clattering sound of pots and pans in the kitchen, the laughter, play and banter of the kids and such like. Experts feel the ideal workspace isn’t classified by the space, but how optimised the illumination, insulation and sound strategies are for the user. Says Alok Hada, Director, Anusha Technovision Pvt Ltd: “For individuals who require sound reduction within their spaces, there are wall panels that absorb or diffuse sound, which are high on functional and aesthetic value. There are several acoustic panels and noise insulators in the market and one can find all kinds of mats, tiles and panels in a fairly wide price range.” One can install acoustic felts on to the wall or ceiling to absorb any extra sound.

For enhancing the acoustics in your home office, avoid hard floors and opt for wooden floors; have fabric blinds or thicker curtains on the windows. Explains Cherry Hill’s Bhatt: “Generally we have hard floors, hard walls, hard ceiling, glass windows – all these are reflective surfaces and tend to create a lot of echo. What you need in an office environment are soft surfaces, and at least one wall in your home office can be made of acoustic-friendly material (the kind used in creating home theatre walls)." For a room measuring 10 ft by 8 ft, or 80 sq ft, you will end up spending about Rs 28,000 to install acoustic felts.

Tech support

In the Covid-19 pandemic situation your only way to connect with the colleagues, clients and team members is on phone, skype, video conferencing, messaging and social media.

Until recently, people were buying projectors. But Bhatt says, “Nowadays, projectors have become old school and they come with their set of issues. For example, the size of the room should be big enough -- at least 10 feet by 10 feet, and you need one “clean” wall surface to project on. Besides, a projector is not interactive and is dependent on a laptop or a PC. Hence it is not so user-friendly. For smaller study rooms, a projector is not such a happy situation but what you have are interactive screens of 35-40 inches, with installed Zoom meetings and touchscreens. Made by the likes of Samsung, Apple, their price starts at Rs 60,000.”

An air-conditioning system in your home office can reduce the wastage of time and increase concentration, and that is a big reason to have one installed. It’s important to create a favourable and comfortable work zone with ambient temperature. Many recent studies proved that an overheated workplace could severely affect productivity.

Colour and personalisation

Colour has a deep effect on your mood. Livspace’s Tayal advises warm colours like red, orange and yellow, which can evoke feelings of happiness. Personalisation of home decor is also necessary to help create a comfortable space for yourself to live and work out of, so fill your work nook with the things you like. The idea is to make your work look comfortable to you, to help you do your best work.

It’s worthwhile to put some “feel good” factors on display in your work nook. Minimal though they may be, you can select two or three items or messages that can put a smile on your face -- a letter of appreciation, a medal or a card or a decor piece. That place called home now doubling up as office needs to inspire you and get the best out of you -- as lovable as the home, as stimulating as the work zone.

What it would cost you to set up a home office
Product  Description  Price range (Rs)
Study table  Most come in a standard size with laminated top. The expensive ones come with greater storage space, better finish and Motorised Height Adjustable Tables (which allow you to stand and work too)  8,500-45,000
Ergonomic chair 
Good lumber support, hand rest and arm rest, sturdy back, caster wheels  6,500-25,000
Acoustic solution-felts  Acoustic felts come in a price range of Rs 350-1,000/sq ft   28,000-80,000*
Acoustic solution-hard wood flooring  Wooden floors can be installed on top of any flooring and this is a day's job. A 100 sq ft in laminated wood flooring can be done in Rs 25,000  25,000
Interactive screens  43-inch touch screens made by Samsung, Apple are ideal for video calls and virtual conferences  70,000-1,50,000
Lighting solutions  Dimmable lights   15,000
Projector  Standard specification & resolution  15,000
Wall art  Installations, wall panels for a formal and neutral backdrop  4,000-40,000
Bulletin board  Standard writing board (5ftx3ft)  2,500
Table decor  Lamps, pen stands, photo frames  2,000-12,000
* Assuming a standard study room size of 10ftx8ft (80 sq ft); Source: Cherry Hill Interiors Pvt Ltd 

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