Working and studying from home – for more productivity, control and less stress. Top feng shui tips for home offices.

Working or studying from home can be challenging (but it doesn’t have to). Your home working environments can affect you on many levels and more specifically, how you manage time efficiently and your productivity. Winston Churchill boiled it down to, “We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.” If you don’t take conscious control of your home environment, your home office might be working against you. Optimising your home office for a less stressful, more effective, ergonomic, highly functional and more enjoyable way of working and studying is more important than ever since working online is becoming a dominant mode of working.

It looks like working from home (WFH) or home-based work is here to stay. It’s now more possible and desirable in a digitally fluent and flexible office to work from home. Most people like to have the choice of working from home because it gives them more control over their life-work balance and most employees like it too since their employees can be more productive. But can feng shui give any insights or tips on how to optimise your home office?

44% of all work-related ill-health cases in the UK are due to stress, depression or anxiety according to Health and Safty Executive (2019). Another survey of 1015 UK adults in employment suggests that 48% of British workers do little or nothing to relieve work-related stress. On top of that, poor mental health costs employers up to £45 billion a year in the UK with at least 12.5 million working days lost, according to research done by Deloitte with a 16% increase since 2016. Mental health-related absenteeism and staff turnover, as well as ‘presenteeism’ where employers attend work but are unproductive, are the key factors. A study done in Sweden (2011) suggests that people who commute to work for 45 minutes or longer are 40% more likely to divorce.

The upside is that studies show that working from home can increase productivity by13%. With feng shui tips, you can study smart and have extra time for relaxation, etc.

Feng shui tips for home office

Feng shui tips for home office

This blog will demonstrate how to improve the way you work or study from home and how to optimise your home working environment to achieve efficiency and effectiveness. The tips can benefit people who work or study from home and are serious about improving their time management skills as well as productivity and reducing work-related stress.

Poorly equipped home workspaces
According to a study done by London-based Assael Architecture, only a quarter of people have a dedicated home office and 25% of people said that workplaces were not appropriate for remote working or working from home. Two-thirds of people working from home (during lockdown) say that their mental health was affected by workspace conditions. Most complaints were about insufficient space, small desks, no office furniture, noise distraction and no access to outside green space.

Feng shui can benefit people who are serious about improving their home working environment and time management skills, as well as minimise work-related stress. It will benefit professionals and non-law professionals alike.

How feng shui can help with better working home environments and … cultivate wellness

  • Make better decisions about how to organise your home working environments based on your preferred working or studying style
  • How to transition from office to home office environment
  • Take conscious control of your home environment for working and studying purposes
  • How to optimise ergonomics of your desk, chair, computer monitor, etc to minimise stress and maximise focus, concentration and ability to process a large volume of information
  • Cut out or reduce time-wasting and districting environmental aspects
  • How to prime yourself with environmental cues for efficiency, effectiveness and success
  • Understand the need to commit to change and flexible working environments based on environmental psychology research
  • Understand the benefit of having a work/life balance for work-related stress reduction. List all your core values related to work/life balance, the prioroitse them and whittle them town to three core ones. This will give you a very clear criteria for how to design your home office.

Top tips for feng shui for your home office

Research on happy homes suggests that adaptable living/working environments are three times as important to home satisfaction. We’re the happiest when we can adapt our homes to changing circumstances and we have control over our working and living environments. Social contact also plays a very significant role – if not the most important one.

• Sit next to a window.
Work by a window, because according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine in 214, people who sat next to a window slept on average for 46 minutes longer each night, as opposed to workers who sat in offices without window access. Simple exposure to natural daylight helps the body-clock work better. If you can’t sit by the window or your desk is facing the wall – hang something opposite to create an illusion of a window ie a poster with the landscape. In one study where people had a good view of the outdoors performed 10-25% better. Also, go out as much as you can, because there is compendious biophilia research of how mentally enriching it is to swap the screen for nature. Nature and views of nature attract our attention because they change constantly boosting the dopamine levels and prevent adaptation. Some studies suggest that we’re happier outdoors than at our homes and now when we have to spend more time indoor, we need to find ways to bring outdoors indoors.

In another study (Cornell University in the US) it was found that nurses who were sitting at work by windows had a lower blood pressure, were more alert, communicated better, laughed more and drunk less coffee during shifts.

• Have your computer position ergonomically, ie at the eye level.
If you’re looking down on your computer screen, your neck muscles will be affected and these are responsible for processing information and also your spine will remind you who’s the boss. If you can’t have your computer screen higher because the stand doesn’t allow for it, place some books or boxes underneath to have it at the right level. If you’re working from a laptop, you can get a separate keyboard and have the laptop higher. Or at least, have lots of breaks so your body has a chance to rebalance and recharge itself. (Develop a good habit for having breaks to recharge yourself: grow herbs, mend things, declutter and tidy up cupboards, water your air cleansing plants, go for walks without the mobile, meditate, etc).

The ideal posture when working from home:
1) your back needs to touch the seat,
2) your hips should be above the knees,
3) there should be a gap between your backs of knees and the chair,
4) feet on the floor,
5) your arms need to be at the right angle to the desk and finally
6) your eyes should be levelled with the top of the screen

If you need to have a break at the desk and want to have a good slouch – just tilt back while keeping back supported and such movement will get the blood flowing.

Avoid poor posture when leaning forward at the desk. Ideally, don’t lean forward because then you don’t have support for the curve in your lower back. Also, don’t perch on the front of your seat.

• Good office chair can have a huge difference.
Invest in a good office, ergonomic chair, especially if you’re going to spend a lot of time at your desk because it will have a detrimental impact on your posture and health. It’s one of the best investment you can make for your home office, even if you’re working from a kitchen table. Your employer has a duty to ensure your work station meets health-and-safety requirements.

Good support for the arms, ideally padded will make you feel supported and comfortable. They don’t come cheap though, for example, one of the bestsellers is the Herman Miller Aerop (starting from £920) or less expensive Autonomous ErgoChair (starting from £259). Back2 has been selling ergonomic chairs and desk for three decades now.

Make sure that the office chair is unlocked so it can move to allow for change and blood circulation. You hips need to be higher than your knees for the ergonomics to work.

• Ergonomic desks come in different designs. A flexible sit/stand desk that you can adjust and make it into a standing working desk is the most optimal (SmartDesk 2 by Autonomous). Research suggests that flexibility and change are essential. Standing all day at your desk might not be your thing. There is a new movement to go furniture free (especially if you can’t afford ergonomic equipment) which will force you to work in different positions in different settings which will get you moving and using different muscles.

To sum up: an ergonomic chair is better than a sofa, a flexible/adjustable standing desk is better than sitting at your kitchen table all day and the movement is essential.

NB Jeff Bezos was reusing old doors as desktops.

• Prime yourself for success and productivity
Research suggests that most people can adapt to work at home. But some people will always have a preference for working in an office. Homes usually have strong associations with relaxation and pleasure, not work necessary. So, prime yourself with images, objects and trinkets that will brighten your days and remind you that now the space you’re using is your home office. For example, get a rotating globe or a map of the world to remind you about the global culture and to get a larger perspective. Pin-up boards, reminders, calendars, mementoes and photographs to create a unique workplace.

Have art around (research suggests it reduces stress) and large maps (to remind you of looking at the big picture and having a perspective on life). If you already have lots of pictures – move them around (change boosts the dopamin levels).

Reseach suggests that happy memories can help you feel more connected to others and give more meaning to your life. Surround yourself with lots of photos of best moments and memories and happy people. On a physiological level you’ll be boosting your vagus nerve which functions contribute to the autonomic nervous system, which consists of the parasympathetic and sympathetic parts and has many health benefits, including relaxation, decreasing fear, stress and inflammation and so on.

According to a report complied by Miek Weiking in Denmark, when we’re happy and comfortable with our homes, we are also happy with our work/life balance. So love you home and make it as comfortable as possible.

• Create zones for working – the importance of boundaries and space separation
If you never worked from home, you might find the open-plan working home conditions challenging. And you really don’t want to turn working from home into living at work or camping in your bedroom! Spatial separation is the first step. Breaking up a room into different zones will help so you can define your own working space. 67% of homes have combined living and dining areas. This kind of open-plan living-dining function was intended for the promotion of togetherness but when everyone is crowded in one environment with lack of personal space (in the time of a lockdown) and you’re trying to work, this might drive you up the wall. Environmental psychologists (2018 Harvard study) found that people working in open-plan offices had actually 73% less face to face interactions. A study of 6000 people showed that those in open-plan offices take more sick days and maybe at risk of a cold, the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health reports and suggests that ‘The opportunity to work in [seperate] offices may reduce absence.”. The same problem can be noticed in open-plan homes where you don’t have a clear distinction between spending time alone and together. Also, not being able to control your environment can be very stressful. In extreme environments such as prisons, the same problem have been observed, where the lack of private space leads to more aggressive behaviours, according to Wellbeing in Prison, a 2014 report by Matter Architecture.

The physical separation of your work area will give you a sense of privacy, focus and enclosure when you need it. A dark accent wall might sound intense and extreme but it will definitely mark your workspace. Or create a mood board with a collage or composition of images and materials aimed to focus and inspire your work.

In short, every member of the household needs to establish their working/studying zones.

And you really don’t want to turn working from home into living at work!

Desks and positioning. One psychological tactic is to arrange (ideally separate) desks or working spaces in such a way so everyone faces different directions and that will give you a sense of privacy through your own mental space. If you have to sit at one table, sit diagonally to each other, not opposite since that kind of arrangement can be confrontational. Make sure that everyone has their own lighting which will increase a sense of control over your personal space.

Create personal space by using partitions as room dividers. Bookshelves, rugs, screens or furniture arrangement can serve this purpose. You can create low-tech curtains with fabric or plants with large leave such a banana tree or palms. Folding screens can make stunning room dividers and these can be in different designs such plain, patterned, with reflective surfaces to bounce light as well as photographic.

And probably the easiest way to create and mark your own space to move furniture or desk or just use your kitchen table but in a different location. Moving to a different space marks the change and getting into a work mode and mindset.

By individualising your working environment you empower yourself and take control of your workspace. If you’re working from a table in your living room or kitchen, tidy up at the end of the working day so it stops being your office. Blocking the view of your desk with a screen or room devider is another way.

Backdrops are indispensable when you need to make a video conferencing call and you don’t want unwanted distractions of your kitchen or living room at the back. Obviously, plain beats the messy/busy backgrounds. These can also work as screens and separators.  Skype and Zoom have options to blur the background and add your own customised image or virtual conference rooms (go to Audio & Video Settings). My favourite one is The Rijksmuseum Research Library in Amsterdam below – not exactly a plane one but quite ‘fractal’ (or check out Libraries by Candida Höfer (Author), Umberto Eco (Introduction).

The Rijksmuseum Research Library in Amsterdam

The Rijksmuseum Research Library in Amsterdam as a backdrop for Skype or Zoom

Use colour to mark zones
If practical, paint walls different colours to create different zones for different functions. You can also mark space with rugs. Soft furnishings such as rugs will also reduce noise problem (noise-cancellation headphones are an easy option). Colour affects our behaviour and happiness so choose your colours carefully.

Ideally, you need a quiet workspace, unless you like the noise and the buzz of the traditional offices. Studies have shown that the noise that you have no control of can lower your productivity. You need to be comfortable about having business calls without worrying about background noises. Get noise-cancelling headphones. Use white noise apps to create a gentle background noise or if you want to simulate the common buzz of open-plan offices. Double glazing and soft furnishings will reduce noise levels.

Light affects our mood, happiness and behaviour (performance) as well as our circadian rhythm. Research suggests that light can affect your health, mental health, mood, happiness and performance. A study from Copenhangen‘s hospital showed that people with depression who were staying in the north-facing wards stayed longer (59 days on avarage) as opposed to people who were staying in the south-facing wards (29 days). Danish people are famous for burning lots of candle as part of their hygge lifestyle (levende lys – living light).

Organise your lighting to suit your needs. The general rule is to have a good warm ambient lighting and a task lighting. Daylight is obviously most desirable so position your workstation near a window if possible. Research suggests that any window views (even if it’s just the street) boost general wellness as well as creativity and productivity. If you have your desk near the window, get it right so you don’t get glare on the screen which can cause you to strain your eyes. Go outside during daylight hours, as many times as possible to allow natural light work it’s magic with endorphine-releasing mood.

If you’re doing video calls, don’t have light behind because your face will be in the shadow which poses problems for meaningful communication and reading your body language.

Keep your workplace warm enough and comfortable. A study on office productivity showed that being warm enough (about 22C) can boost productivity but when it got hotter, the productivity started to fall.

Studies suggest that nice, clean, fresh scents make people more likely to be more organised and tidy. Invest in good quality aromatherapy oils that you can use easily. I don’t recommend scented candles or inscence since they pollute the air.

Bedroom/office arrangement is a popular move these days. Make sure that your workspace is positioned to look out the window, not at the bed which will help you visually and psychologically sperate work from rest and sleep. When you finish working you can put a throw on the desk to make the work disappear – out of sight, out of mind trick.

If you have a garden, an external office is a good investment. Or balconies are as important for those who work from home to make the connection to the external world.

Turn unused wall or corners into workspaces or reading nooks for quiet moments. The small scale is actually an advantage since we all love the concept of tucking oneself away into a cosy corner or nook (as you did as a child).

Working from the kitchen table
Clear anything from the table to create the right vibe that this is where I’m working now. Try a different position. Organise the lighting differently. Get a good office chair – see above re ergonomic office chairs. Your employer has a legal duty to ensure your work station meets health-and-safety requirements. Have a work box where you keep all your workrelated things and close it at the end of your working day – or have a shelf in the kitchen cupboard.

Maintain good posture while working from home.
Although, you’ll be saving time and hassle of travelling to and from work, working on a laptop on the kitchen table might not seem like a dream come true for WFH. Sooner or later, your body will remind you who’s the boss, so take care of your body. Learn about work-place ergonomics and invest in a good office chair.

• Mess vs order – how to optimise your workspace and desk
If you’re a fan of Marie Kondo, who is an advocate of tidiness and categorising everything into neat boxes and mindsets (a tidy desk = a tidy mind-type of thinking), then you know what to do ie do a rigorous decluttering. But if you are like most people, not very motivated by spending lots of time organising things and tidying up, I have good news for you. A mess is good for you – in small doses (read about the benefits of the mess). The key distinction is: if you can still find things in your mess, it’s not that bad. If you can’t find things, start clearing your mess. Also, if you feel overwhelmed and stressed by the mess then do something about it. Researchers at the University of California suggest that too many things can increase the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. On the other hand, developing a higher tolerance for the disorder (entropy) might be a good thing since then you can handle the complexities of life better.

Jeff Bezos is famously frugal, reusing old doors as desktops.

Jeff Bezos is famously frugal, reusing old doors as desktops.

• Rest – do nothing. Create separation between work and life.
Rest/relaxation is the key to life. So kick back, close eyes and let your thoughts go wherever they want – at least for a few minutes. To nurture your wellbeing, minimise screen time outside of work – listen to a podcast or read a book or do literally nothing ie meditate, daydream, etc. If you need any further encouragement, just follow a piece of very wise advice from a very wise person Lao Tsu (author of the second most read book, after the Bible, at one time) ie Tao Te King who said, “Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing.”

Nature has a huge capacity to help us to restore ourselves, recharge and boost our ability to concentrate. Wide-open spaces allow our eyes to refocus (zoom out) after staring at computers all day. Go out – the love of outdoor living has a term (Danish): friluftlsiv.

• Make your workplace as engaging as possible
If you love your work or at least enjoy it, then making your workplace more engaging is the icing on the cake. But if you want to make it engaging because you need an extra boost to motivate yourself, then this model from environmental psychology can help. Kaplan and Kaplan’s preference model (1989) looks at four preference factors such as coherence, legibility, complexity, and mystery which are key to engaging, stimulating and creative environments. People, whether at home or workplace, thrive in environments that comply with the Kaplan and Kaplan model. Read more about Kaplan and Kaplan’s preference model

Kaplan and Kaplan Preference Model

Kaplan and Kaplan Preference Model

• How to motivate yourself while working from home
The office face to face teamwork routine helps with motivation while working from home can pose a challenge. While, as humans, we’re individualistic, we are also social beings, motivated by meaning as well as money. For companies, it’s a constant challenge of how to motivate the workforce. Social loafing is a well-recognised syndrome (first tested in the 1880s by a French engineer Max Ringelmann) at work where teamwork total output can be lower than the summing of the individual output or contribution. In virtual working environments that can be a challenge where it’s difficult to monitor the efforts of colleagues. Companies that don’t embrace ‘positive-sum’ environments where teamwork is essential to survival, perish. So, if your company is important to you, can you get self-motivated. Find a bigger meaning and value for your the legacy of your work. The collective value of your work can give you extra energy to work. Vince Lombardi, the greatest American football coach put it: “The challenge of every team is to build a feeling of oneness, of dependence on one another. Because the question is usually not how well each person performs, but how well they work together.”

Organise your workspace so there are no unnecessary distractions which can be a huge drain on our attention resources. Distractions make us less productive, tired and less happy. There are two types of attention: 1) Narrow/focus 2) Broad/vigilant/open. By reducing ambient distractions you can release extra attention for narrow focus ie the task at hand.

• Drink water
Drinking water throughout your working day will make you get up and go to the loo which will help your blood circulation and provide the necessary break which in turn will help to boost your dopamine levels which is essential for focus, motivation and memory.

If you need further help with optimising your home working environments, book a remote, online feng shui consultation with me – call/text/whatsapp me on +44 7956 288574 or email me.

My remote feng shui consultation includes:
• All aspects of feng shui (Bagua, placement, colours, layouts, orientations, images, symbols, etc).
• Checking Sick Building Syndrome (SBS): geopathic stress and solutions, advice on EMF /electromagnetic smog pollution, dirty electricity and solutions
• Feng shui astrology analyses, which is optional (If required please provide DOBs before the consultation) for up to 4 resident family members.
• Actual consultation – which will last up to 2 hours
• A complete written feng shui report (by email).
• Full support during the whole process (via email /Skype/telephone). My feng shui approach is person-centred, evidence-based (I’m a scientist and environmental psychologist as well) and solution-centred so I’ll focus on solutions that will work for you.
• Follow-up fine-tuning consultation if necessary once you’ve done most of the improvements (within 3-6 months) via Skype/FaceTime/phone.
• If the actual feng shui or interior design interventions (i.e. mirrors, pictures, dirty electricity filters, etc) are suggested by the consultant, these would be at an additional charge or you are responsible for purchasing them.

I would need:

  1. a floor plan of your place with compass directions
  2. full address, so I can check how the external environment, including mobile masts, etc looks like on Google Maps

The consultation can take place via Skype/WhatsApp/Zoom/etc or FaceTime if you’re on iPhone so I can see the place.

Posted in Feng shui for career and work.