Home office ideas - tips for parents who are working from home

20 April 2020

woman working in home office

We all remember the time Professor Robert Kelly’s BBC conference call went viral, as his children burst through the door and his wife frantically tried to collect them. That more or less sums up working from home with children. What helps is creating a home office designed for maximum productivity - read on for how to create your own.

We asked Mumsnet users for their best home office ideas, and they didn't disappoint.

1. Firstly, consider where in the house makes sense

woman working in home office

Set on converting the spare bedroom into a home office? Hell-bent on making the living room work? Wherever you go, consider its proximity to the other rooms in the house.

If you work in a room close to the road, will it be too noisy? If the bathroom's on the other side of the house, will that prove inconvenient? Is there enough natural light to prevent it from feeling like a dungeon?

“I think setting things up is the key thing. Make sure a lack of plug sockets isn't an issue, you have a good wifi signal, and that you're close enough to the kitchen to allow for frequent trips to the kettle.”

2. Get the best view in the house

woman looking outside window

Having something nice to look out on makes such a difference – be that the garden, a cluster of trees, or just a patch of blue sky. As tough/irksome as work might be, that soothing sight will calm you down.

“I have an upstairs office with a beautiful view up the hill – it's a really lovely space to work from.”

Don't have a good view? Artwork and plants can make all the difference.

3. Separate work and play

family watching tv in living room

If you can, keep your work space away from where you live the rest of your life. If you're working in your bedroom, for instance, you won't feel that you're really getting away from it when you go to sleep at night. Or, if you're working in your living room, you might find that you're spending 95% of your time in one room, which can get old very quickly.

“Set up a separate work space if at all possible, so you can get away from the work when you're not working, and don't have to keep packing everything away.”

“We have a separate office in our house. I find the only way to get work done is to physically separate myself away from the kids.”

4. A good desk and chair setup is key

woman working from home with neck pain

As tempting as it is to stay in bed and work from there all day, you'll get a lot more done behind a proper desk. And, if you can, don't settle for an uncomfortable chair. You'll be sitting in it almost every day for the foreseeable future, so it's worth investing in one that won't hurt your back.

The NHS advises you to make sure that your lower back is supported, and that your knees are slightly lower than your hips, your feet on the floor.

“Even if it's cheap, you need a good desk and chair.”

“A proper desk and chair makes such a difference to my back. I'm much more productive there, too.”

TORKEL swivel chair, £45

FLINTAN office chair, £55

BRUSALI white desk, £45

MICKE white desk, £60

Related: the best at-home workout videos to keep you fit in isolation

5. Make sure your computer is eye level

woman looking at eye level computer

The NHS advises that your screen should be directly in front of you, about an arm's length away, at eye level. This is to ensure good posture and to prevent eye strain.

“My most important work-from-home accessory is a box or tin about 15cm high, so that I can put my laptop on top and raise the screen to eye level.”

“Put the thing up on a packet of printer paper so the screen is at a proper height.”

6. Get a separate keyboard and mouse

keyboard and mouse

The NHS also advises that you use a separate keyboard and mouse, to prevent further strain. The keyboard should be directly in front of you and the mouse should be close by. You should keep your arms bent in an L-shape, your elbows by your side.

“A good ergonomic solution? Buy a cheap mouse and keyboard.”

“The cheapest way of adapting a laptop for ergonomic use at home is to acquire a separate keyboard and mouse.”

7. Use a dual screen, if you can

dual screen in home office

Connect your laptop to a separate screen if you can – that way, you'll be able to create some movement as you look from one screen to the other, and you won't be juggling a million tabs.

“Connect your laptop to a larger screen to avoid eye strain.”

“I've connected my old PC screen to my laptop for a bigger screen (duplicating screens), and it's really helped.”

8. Organise your materials

organised home office

There are plenty of ways to store your stationery, notebooks and files – be that designated drawers, organisers, boxes, or mounted pots. If you're struggling to find what you need when you open each drawer, consider an insert to separate things out.

Colour coding helps too – for instance, if everything in the red folder is 'accounts', and everything in the blue folder is 'invoices', you'll know what's inside at a glance.

“My office is in the lounge, and I use an IKEA peg board high up on the wall to hide all the notebooks and staplers etc so the kids can't get their hands on them.”

“Have everything you need at your fingertips – so pens, paper, documents, etc. I used to have a box with everything that would travel with me wherever I got moved with the laptop, depending on where the kids needed to be (ie I needed to be where they were not!)”

“I find the key is organisation. We’ve managed to turn our dining room into a good study and work space using bookcases, magazine holders and a stupid number of cups for pens/pencils/markers. Everything has its place which means we can easily work/study/eat around everything.”

LANKMOJ mini chest with two drawers, £4.50

FULLFÖLJA insert for box, £3.50

FJÄLLA magazine file, £5

Related: 16 tip-top storage solutions

9. Stick a timetable to the wall

woman hanging up wall timetable

One of the challenges of working from home is the lack of structure. All of a sudden, you're in charge of planning every minute of your day, and procrastination is more rife than ever. Having a list of to-do's is a good place to start, but if you find yourself coming up short at the end of the day, it's worth becoming a bit more regimented.

“I have a timetable on the hallway wall, and have my work day split up into one and a half hour slots – starting at 6:30am and finishing at 7pm – so that I can spread the time between that and my children. As long as I have a routine, I'm OK.”

“Making sure the whole family sticks to a routine is helping me to focus.”

10. Shut the door

woman closing door

It sounds a little callous, but boundaries are really important when you're working from home. If you're working in a separate room and need some quiet for a conference call, tell your children not to come in (unless there's an emergency, of course) when the door is closed.

“My children know I’m not to be disturbed when I’m in the study with the door closed.”

“I made a door hanger sign with my children, 'Red/No entry' on one side and 'Green/Please come in' on the other. It's working OK so far!”

11. Don't have your own room? Pop in your headphones

woman working from home with headphones

Not everyone has the luxury of being in their own room with a door to close. If you and your family are all in the same room, it's worth investing in a good pair of headphones – either for conference calls or to play music while you get your head down. Not that it has to be music – if you find that too distracting, you could listen to white noise or gentle nature noises.

“Headphones are a must – not just for me but all five of us so that we can be in each other's space without having to listen to each other's activities (in a small house under lockdown, space sharing isn't optional).”

Related: the best headphones, according to Mumsnet users

12. Get the soundtrack right

woman working at home listening to music

If you're happy to listen to music while you work, the right soundtrack can really elevate your home workspace. Research indicates that classical music can make you intelligent, but if Mozart's not your guy, that's OK. Choose whatever makes you feel most productive – whether that's acoustic pop, soothing piano, or high-energy jazz. (We're not sure we trust you if it's high-energy jazz).

“I'm set up in the corner of the spare room. What's been my saving grace is a Bluetooth speaker – I'm able to play stuff from my iPod easily and don't have to listen to the radio and the constant coronavirus updates that come with it.”

13. Throw open a window

woman opening window

It sounds inconsequential, but opening a window to hear the birds sing can make a huge difference. A gust of air will keep the room from feeling stuffy, too.

“I always make sure I open the window while I work so that I get a bit of fresh air. It really helps.”

14. Make your own commute

woman walking dog

It may not have struck you before, but commuting to work allowed you to stretch your legs before starting the day. Even if it was just a quick journey from the car park, you walked more than a few feet, and were stimulated by the sounds and smells of the world outside. Stewing in one place all day (just a few feet from where you were sleeping) can take a toll on your productivity and health, so consider a morning walk to mimic your commute.

“I 'walk to work' every day ie I leave my house, walk around the block, and then 'arrive at work' in my lounge. It helps!”

Related: the comfiest trainers, according to Mumsnet users

15. Take a break from your office space

woman in the garden

Home office designed to perfection? No matter how beauteous, don't spend all day in there. You need a change of scenery and perspective to keep yourself from falling into a slump.

“To keep focused, I go out for a walk to get a change of scenery and some fresh air.”

“Set a reminder on your phone to go and stretch somewhere else.”

“I make sure I get regular exercise outside of the office space, and break up my day using the Pomodoro Method – 25 minutes work, five minutes break.”

Here's what IKEA has to say:

“A good workspace for both yourself and your little ones are important. With smart planning, everybody in your family can have a comfortable, undisturbed space of their own to concentrate. One temporary workspace idea for your child could be to organize a trolley or a movable drawer unit with school books and stationery. Start the school day by moving it to the dining table where you can set up a workstation and tidy it away again when school day ends. Taking some time out to play with the kids is important. Why not open a cafe, bake some cakes together or build the longest railroad? Whatever toys, crayons, and costumes you provide, fantasy will do the rest. Choo choo – let the fun begin!”

For more home office ideas, visit the IKEA website

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