For over a year and counting, the pandemic has forced us to spend considerably more time at home. It has served as the impetus for a lengthy re-evaluation of our living spaces. The issue of how we use them, or not, has come into focus.
It has inspired some homeowners to finish their basements and turn them into fitness centers or home theaters. Others have felt it as the final push to jump on the decluttering bandwagon made trendy by Marie Kondo even before Covid-19 was a thing.
Yet many must also deal with the reality that working from home will be part of our future. What might have been deemed a temporary blurring of the boundaries between home and office could very well call for us to rework our living spaces.
The question is, how much space does a dedicated home office need?
Bigger can be better
The immediate answer, for some, will be simple. Home and office will be the same size because they must be one and the same. There’s no other choice.
This is the unfortunate truth faced by many remote workers. The cost of living in most cities has only increased steadily over the years, and floor space is at a premium.
Spacious accommodations are a luxury few can afford. Yet now that a significant chunk of the workforce has gained extensive experience with remote work, we know that factors such as size, location, and sharing impact our performance.
For anyone who has the option, it only makes sense to establish a dedicated home office space for remote work. It helps to re-establish boundaries and keep your working hours sacred while also preventing them from spilling over into your personal time. And it’s possible to claim IRS deductions if you maintain its exclusive use.
And when you consider how much space to allot to your new workplace, consider that bigger really might be better.
Lofty ceilings don’t just amplify the productivity benefits of daylight; they also stimulate creativity. Having a bigger floor area is more ergonomically satisfying, as you get to walk around and stretch periodically without leaving.
Keeping size in check
The issue of home office size can’t simply be taken out of context, however. Who wouldn’t feel more creative working in a room with a cathedral-high ceiling? Unfortunately, practical considerations must also be given weight.
Even those who own a decent-sized house might not find it so easy to cut down on the living area. There are other family members to consider. We can’t all dispose of the stuff we have stored away, and for that matter, not all storage rooms are large enough.
Maintenance costs will also come into play. As you begin to spend more time in your home office, more energy will be required to regulate temperature and humidity. Those costs are always greater for a large space compared to a small one. The same goes for physical repair costs and the effort of keeping the place neat and clean.
Finally, while you can benefit from the ‘cathedral effect’ on creativity even with just a 10-foot ceiling, the same research also notes that tight spaces can improve focus. This could be a more significant benefit for remote workers whose tasks require more analytical thinking.
Striking a balance
As with the size of the entire house itself, there will be factors that favor more space and others calling for you to exercise restraint.
One size definitely doesn’t fit all. You might not be a professional designer, but you’ll have to do your best to think like one because the environment we work in is proven to affect our behavior.
Observe how you actually work and reflect on the best way your space can suit your needs. An introvert’s optimal stimulus level is lower than an extrovert’s. Small spaces with fewer furnishings and decorations might be just what such a personality needs, while the extrovert would require the opposite.
Even if you conclude that you need more office space than your home can actually afford, remember that there are workarounds.
Vertical elements, and tricks such as extending wall paint or patterns into the ceiling, can give the illusion of height. The use of mirrors is a standard practice in commercial establishments to increase illumination and make a room look bigger.
Finally, you can offset the effects of a less-than-optimal office size through other design techniques, such as incorporating natural or biophilic elements.
The first, most practical answer doesn’t always have to be final when it comes to the size of your home office. If this is where you’ll be working for the foreseeable future, contemplate these other factors, make an effort to get it right, and elevate your long-term performance.