Elevate your productivity through optimised home design.


Scientific Education

Why and how to create an optimised home workspace for peak performance.

Recognising the lasting shift towards hybrid or remote work, it’s evident that many home workspaces often lack the thoughtful design found in commercial environments. A poorly configured desk, insufficient lighting, inadequate ventilation, and temperature fluctuations can significantly impact productivity and overall well-being while working from home. In this discussion, we’ll delve into essential design features, such as indoor air quality, light quality, thermal comfort and workspace configuration, that can all enhance your home environment for enhanced performance. Then in the next journal entry, we’ll explore practical behaviour and routine changes to further boost productivity.

Indoor Air Quality

Air quality significantly influences productivity, with both indoor and outdoor pollution negatively impacting cognitive function. Various pollutants, including particulate matter (PM) from cleaning products, cooking, and furniture, as well as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from aerosols, smoking, and paints, can lead to headaches, dizziness, and memory impairment. Mould and its mycotoxins are also neurotoxic, affecting mood and cognition. Research links air quality to absenteeism, attributing respiratory disorders, fatigue, and skin conditions to poor air quality. A 2023 US school study in Environment International found that a mere 1 μg/m3 increase in indoor PM2.5 correlated with a 7.37 rise in sick days annually. Improved ventilation is crucial, as demonstrated by a double-blind study from Harvard. Well-ventilated offices with low CO2 and pollutant levels exhibited double the cognitive function compared to those with average pollutant levels. Another year-long study from Harvard associated higher PM2.5 levels and lower ventilation rates with slower response times and reduced accuracy in cognitive tests. Notably, these studies were conducted in offices with typically better ventilation than homes, where daily activities like cooking and aerosol use can worsen air quality more than London road traffic.

Design Interventions to Consider:

Lighting Conditions

Home lighting significantly affects daily work performance. Poor lighting, characterised by flicker, glare, or uneven luminance, can result in fatigue, eyestrain, headaches, and diminished cognitive function. Research emphasises the positive correlation between higher illuminance and improved productivity, this is unsurprising as the typical living room light levels will be 200 lux, in comparison to 50,000 lux provided by bright outdoor daylight.

Exposure to natural sunlight is crucial, as it provides full-spectrum light essential for regulating the circadian rhythm. This is the 24-hour clock that determines our alertness during the day from a rise in cortisol with blue light, and our ability to sleep well at night due to a rise in melatonin with red light waves and darkness (see our article on sleep for more detail). Mimicking the fluctuation of sunlight throughout the day is ideal for artificial lighting during work hours. Proximity to a window is also vital; a study by the California Energy Commission revealed that call centre workers near a window processed calls 6% to 12% faster than those without a view, highlighting the impact of workspace location on performance.

Design Interventions to Consider:

  • Positioning your desk near to a window.
  • Turning on overhead lights when starting work in chosen workspace and switching to task light in the evening. At City Sanctuary we install 5a electrical circuits in key rooms so that task lighting can be conveniently controlled from the mains switches.
  • Utilising sunlight-mimicking bulbs to support the body’s natural circadian rhythm. Look for those that have a similar temperature to sunlight during the day, >5,000k, and 800 lumens, alongside dimming capabilities so that you can change these levels down to <3000k in the evening.

Thermal Comfort

How often have you felt distracted by being too hot or cold while trying to work? There’s a body of research investigating the relationship between our thermal environment and productivity, suggesting that both heat and humidity have a direct impact on performance. A study published in the Indoor Air journal saw a 4% reduction in workers’ performance when they were too cold, and a 6% reduction when they were too hot. The majority of the evidence points to the fact that thermal comfort is particularly individualised, with women typically preferring warmth, and men being more productive when cooler. For this reason, there may be benefits to working from the home environment where you have more control over the temperature.

Design Interventions to Consider:

  • The ability to easily adjust room temperature is very important. At City Sanctuary we install thermostats and timers in every room, providing the infrastructure needed to your individualised comfort levels.
  • Utilising standalone fans or heaters may also be considered to maintain an optimal thermal environment.

Workspace Configuration

Establishing an ergonomic home workspace is essential for both physical well-being and productivity. A University of Leeds report reveals that over a third of UK office workers lack a dedicated home workspace, leading to the use of less optimal spaces like kitchen tables or sofas, resulting in decreased performance and engagement. Poor ergonomics contribute to musculoskeletal disorders, such as back pain and carpal tunnel syndrome, impacting work efficiency. According to the British Journal of General Practice work-related musculoskeletal disorders, driven by inadequate ergonomics, rank as the second major cause of sick leave in the UK. Implementing ergonomic principles at home can prevent these issues. Sit-stand desks, ergonomic chairs, and laptop stands promote health, allowing users to switch positions, reduce sedentary-related problems, and maintain focus. These adjustments contribute to physical well-being and create an environment conducive to sustained focus and increased productivity in the home office. Additionally, ceiling heights impact a sense of freedom and processing speed (conducive when undertaking creative work), known as the ‘cathedral effect.’

Design Interventions to Consider:

Final Thoughts

In a hybrid work era, your home office setup matters. When hoping to improve productivity, consider the impact of air quality, lighting, temperature and ergonomics at home. Ventilation, air purifiers, strategic lighting, controllable heating and ergonomic furniture are all key to creating a high-performance workspace. Stay tuned for part two, diving into routine and behaviour changes to further enhance your output.

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