READY, SET, ZOOM: Emerging Home Office Design

READY, SET, ZOOM: Emerging Home Office Design

During this unprecedented time the home office is now virtually open to the public. In the days prior to COVID-19 if you worked remotely, pretty much all you needed was a desk, an ergonomic chair, a scanner/printer and a computer. Most business was conducted via email and phone from home offices that featured wall facing desks sporting inspirational quotes, family photos and mood boards. Post COVID-19 a new normal in social interaction has emerged. Under “Stay healthy at home” directives, we are craving face-to-face interactions more than ever and video-based communication has quickly filled that void both personally and professionally.

Professionally, first impressions speak volumes. Afterall, you want to put your best foot forward when you connect with clients, colleagues as well as your boss. Your personalized work environment is on display and can be a key factor in relationship building. We are all getting used to the barking dogs, the delivery doorbells, the children and partners in the background. We don’t have much control over those homey sounds which can be distracting but also humanizes and unites us.  However, we do have control over what people see and want the control those images from as many distractions as possible. Home-based professionals are in the majority now, being paid to work from home. It’s now more important that the new virtual home office dwellers look like they put some effort into their workspaces and convey productivity.

Neuroscience tells us that we remember what we see better than what we hear. As a result, there is a growing need for a well-designed professional space that invites your colleagues into your home. Professionals can design a space that’s personalized to a unique aesthetic and inspires productivity, like some of these celebrities, but you can take any space and create your professional e-persona.

So, what shouldn’t I do?

You don’t have to be a celebrity but taking simple cues from professional interior and set designers and implementing them distinguishes you from an amateur. In this home office, the view presents a disorganized worker leaving the impression that this person doesn’t focus on her business.  Other than the obvious sloppiness, a stationary bicycle and a messy stack of papers, poor lighting, saggy clothing and photographic quality says that she hasn’t paid attention to the image that she is presenting.

Live with Kelly and Ryan

Even some of the pros in the business could use some simple design pointers. In this case it is as easy as turning the lamp on behind Kelly to soften the all-white look and having her move backward from the camera to minimize the shine on her upper face. Moving Ryan’s placement to the left, out of sight of the glaring reflection on the stainless-steel backsplash and halo effect lighting, would make for a less distracting overall impression.

So, what does good virtual home office set design look like?  

Some Zoomers are resorting to pasting false background images from famous TV sets, for others it is “green-screened” graphics with logos and branding images.  However, the most engaging images are those that let us into other people’s worlds and provides us with a common “healthy at home” comradery.

Based on techniques from interior design and basic video production, your new home office can be designed to invite your colleagues into your home, encourage productivity and simultaneously present a polished professional image. Here are some tips from the pros.

  1. Point of View – The point of reference of the office has changed, it is now reversed. In a traditional straight forward home office, the worker is seated looking at a wall.  This image is efficient, ergonomic and uncluttered but what camera seeing behind the worker? 
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In a space designed for on-camera conversations, the desk is facing away from the wall.  So, what are good options to have in the background?  Built-in cabinetry is a compelling focal point.  The legal community often utilizes bookcases as a backdrop that says, “I’m knowledgeable”. In this example, the desk has plenty of surface space, three sources of lighting and visually offers contrast, attractive props and texture as well.

So, what do you want your space to say about you?

  1. Have a Designated Space – It may seem great to work on your sofa or even in bed, but not having a designated workspace can be harmful to both your physical and mental health. Down pillows and soft couches don’t provide support for your back and neck.

Use a spare bedroom, closet, basement or even a corner of a room or wall. By setting up a home office or a workspace that’s away from the area of your house that you use frequently outside of work, you’ll properly divide your home and work life. This is a great example of a corner home office in a rarely used formal living room.

  1. Authenticity – Keep your style in mind. Do you prefer a casual, traditional, rustic, contemporary, glam, industrial, farmhouse or a Euro look?
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  1. Use What you Have – You won’t see the desk in the shot so it can be anything from a table to a rolling cart but keep it professional since it will be your point of view. Functionality is also critical. You will need space to write, file, operate your mouse, laptop. You can use a monitor to see the facial expressions of those on screen that get lost on a laptop for large video conferences.
  2. Background Color Selection – Some colors translate better than others. For instance, news desks and talk shows utilize blue often which is easily read by the camera and is flattering to the room and host alike. Neutral and earth tones are less distracting.  Avoid heavily saturated jewel tones and dark colors which absorb light making the camera hard to auto-adjust.
  3. Minimize Clutter – This is a simple indicator of an organized and professional worker.
  4. Emphasize Texture – Wallpaper, brick walls, fabrics can all add to the look and feel of a personal space. Avoid checks and pinstripes as they don’t read well on camera and create a distracting moiré pattern.
  5. Props –What do they say about you? Framed degrees point out studious residents, maps indicate adventurous personalities, unique shapes and graphics convey an artistic flair and can be exemplified in artwork, ceramics and plants. Photos of family and vacations are a bit too personal, action figures and sports paraphernalia read as immature, unless that is the line of work that you are in.
  1. Height – Eye contact is one of the most critical forms of non-verbal communication.  So naturally, you communicate best when your viewer is at the same eye level. Use flat, sturdy surfaces like books and puzzles to raise the laptop so that your eyes are focused neither up nor down, as exemplified by Dr. Jennifer Ashton at home. A shot from underneath your chin is never flattering. You can check by taking a quick screenshot.
  2. Leveling – Place your laptop level horizontally so that the image is level. Check the shot and line up with vertical line in background like a wall, window or door frame to ensure that the resulting image is level. Standing desks are an excellent option, however this setup is not recommended.
  1. Selecting the Shot – Keep in mind that foreground, mid ground and background should all come into play in your planning.  Generally, your face and shoulders are the foreground.  Typically, an extreme closeup is not as flattering as a mid-range headshot unless you are a cosmetics model.  Position yourself so you can be seen from the shoulders to the head, or the waist to the head.
  2. Clothing and Makeup – Professional broadcasters and actors wear heavy makeup due to the bright lights in the studio environment.  That doesn’t apply in everyday home office video meetings. If you normally wear makeup don’t go overboard.  You may want to use a little foundation to reduce shine. Try not to wear all white or black clothing, because webcams have automatic exposure settings and will adjust to those colors. White can result in a pixilated image while a black can make the surroundings too bright.
  3. Lighting – People want to see your expressions, your face. You don’t want light behind you because it creates a silhouette.  Your audience is unable to see your face, and this is a very common mistake. If you do have a window behind you, or bright natural lighting you will need a light source in front of you to balance the mix of the lighting.

If you have a dark spot behind you, use an underlight on a wall below the camera frame to brighten things up. The key is to minimize shadows. You also don’t want too much light on one side. If this is unavoidable due to a window, use a soft fill light on the other side to blend the effect. A shaded table or floor lamp works fine.

  1. Be Aware of Reflective Surfaces – If you have a mirror behind you, move the camera/laptop off to the side and out of the line of sight.
  2. Acoustics – You want your audience to hear you clearly. Avoid choosing a space with high ceilings. So stage a space with soft surfaces like carpeting, pillows and curtains to reduce echo. You can use the microphone on your laptop or an external mic. Because external mics are more directly focused to your mouth an external mic helps reduce noise from kids, dogs, and sirens.
  3. Finally, if the Wi-Fi connection in your office is slow or occasionally intermittent use a hardline internet connection when possible.

So, how do I get started?

Home office design is evolving at light speed. Some questions to consider are:

  • Will the virtual home office design this trend will have staying power and become the new norm?
  • As a society will we be less likely to travel for business.  
  • Does my home office space feel professional?
  • Is this what I want my colleagues to see?

During this time, as in your previous professional environment, you’re going to want to look and sound your best and after setting up your virtual home office. But before you debut, by all means…do a dress rehearsal.

How can Keidel be of Assistance?

After spending many hours in your home recently, you have likely noticed ways that your home can function more efficiently and better exhibit your personal sense of style. Your virtual home office is just one of many design opportunities. For example, families need to redesign spaces with children homeschooling. They are realizing they need a dedicated play space and their kitchen may not be conducive to cooking family meals.

Do you have an element of your home you’d like to redesign after the crisis has passed? By nature, designers are visual thinkers. Keidel has designers on staff that can work with you on your vision. We are now offering virtual consultations and digital walk-throughs. Also, we would like to extend a digital invitation to get the conversation started with you. We begin with a 30-minute consultation to discuss your project and what you want to accomplish. A quick visual e-tour of the area is a great way to help us visualize your area.

Just fill out our contact form to set up an initial consultation. We are offering a complimentary design review of your virtual home office. Send us a screen shot to info@keidel.com and we would be pleased to provide complimentary suggestions for enhancing your in-home office set design.

Liz Hanley is the Showroom Manager at Keidel Supply in Cincinnati, Ohio who specializes in Interior Design and holds an M.A. in Broadcast Media Studies and Communications from Northwestern University.