May 03, 2022

Article at WSJ

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How We Renovated Our House So It Was Perfect for Working From Home

We bought our house with remote work in mind but found it wasn’t suited to full-time working from home once the pandemic hit. So we set out to transform it. Kevin Hand

The easy fixes didn’t get us what I—and my family—needed. We had to reimagine the whole house.

For my family, working and learning from home during the pandemic hasn’t just meant reorganizing our lives. It also meant reshaping our home.

My husband and I had worked remotely, off and on, for many years—but we had done a lot of our remote work outside of the house, mostly at coffee shops and restaurants. The arrangement let us find sanctuary, social time or a change of scenery when we needed it.

When...

For my family, working and learning from home during the pandemic hasn’t just meant reorganizing our lives. It also meant reshaping our home.

My husband and I had worked remotely, off and on, for many years—but we had done a lot of our remote work outside of the house, mostly at coffee shops and restaurants. The arrangement let us find sanctuary, social time or a change of scenery when we needed it.

When Covid hit, we no longer had the option of going elsewhere to recharge while we worked. Though we had purchased our home with remote work in mind, the experience of being jammed in together, along with a child who was learning remotely and another being home-schooled, made our 1,750 square feet feel more like 75.

That’s why we set to work on reinventing our house as the perfect work-from-home home.

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It wasn’t easy. Reimagining and renovating a home to be more suited to remote work requires an unflinching inventory of your work-from-home pain points and a clear sense of the different types of work you and your family members need to do from home. And you must be prepared to reshape your home during the process—not just make easy fixes like putting a desk in a spare room.

Sure, I’m starting to try out coffee-shop work again. But making my home-office setup truly comfortable has given me the flexibility to choose the right environment for different types of work.

Taking stock

We started out by reviewing the particular range of work activities that unfolded in our home on any given day or week. My husband’s work is a mix of focused writing, team video meetings and podcasting, all of which require an enclosed, quiet workspace. My work is a mix of writing and data analysis with only occasional meetings, so I rarely need an enclosed workspace: Good noise-canceling headphones are enough to shut out distraction.

The carpenter who had recently built us a deck became my partner in the gradual revision of our home. Once I emptied the clothes out of our walk-in closet, Gregory installed more shelves and a desktop, and drilled a hole that let us thread a power cord out to the outlet in our hallway. Now my husband had the enclosed office he needed and—by hanging moving blankets around the perimeter of his desk—a podcasting studio.

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Gregory pointed out that my eldest child (who is nonbinary, and uses gender-neutral pronouns) could get the creative workspace they needed for art school if we took full advantage of the portion of their room that had a 16-foot ceiling: He built a sleeping loft with storage underneath, liberating the rest of the room for art supplies, art projects and schoolwork.

When I decided to commandeer a tidy corner of my younger kid’s room as a good spot for delivering presentations, we added ledges so I could put up copies of my books as a backdrop. (When I’m done, we take down the books and replace them with a selection of my son’s favorite art and games, so he doesn’t have to live with a wall full of business books.)

Walling off

Next, we tackled the dining room. The table had long since become a de facto workspace but, along with a buffet, was largely used for home-schooling and office supplies. We evicted the buffet and replaced it with floor-to-ceiling IKEA wardrobes. Now there is plenty of room for our office supplies, home-schooling gear and our pantry overflow—and our table is available for work or (gasp!) actual dining.

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Once my husband moved into the closet-turned-office, I inherited his loft space overlooking the living room; since I have far fewer calls, I thought I’d be fine with an open-concept office. But without any kind of barrier between the living-room home school and the loft, my son was constantly interrupting my workday, whether with requests for tech support or simply by playing his favorite background music too loud.

Gregory replaced the open staircase leading from our living room to my loft with a floor-to-ceiling glass wall and a door. My office space felt a lot more private; surrounding the loft with a 40-inch-high glass enclosure has made it quieter still. In pursuit of a truly private workspace, we’ve now enclosed a small area of the loft with soundproof walls and a heavy glass patio door.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

What would you like to change about your house to make it easier to work from home? Join the conversation below.

The price of all these changes is that we’ve spent the past two-plus years in a state of near-perpetual renovation. And we had to make some financial and logistical sacrifices to get a better work-from-home home. I spent my usual theater-ticket budget on a new projector and screen (I wasn’t going to the theater, anyhow!) and dedicated our usual travel budget to home improvements (we weren’t going anywhere!).

But the process of rethinking our work-from-home space has given us a fresh perspective on our work, our family relationships and how they fit together. Our children now treat our office space as mostly off-limits, and they have tailored their own workspaces to support their learning. My husband has stopped treating his closet/office (now known as the “cloffice”) as temporary space, and is adjusting it to suit his personal aesthetic.

When we reconvene in the living room at the end of the day from our respective work areas, it feels more like a real homecoming and a chance to catch up on the events of the day. Instead of accepting interruptions, mess and backaches as the inevitable price of working from home, we’ve learned to take charge of our space and the way we use it.

Dr. Samuel is a technology researcher and co-author of “Remote, Inc.: How to Thrive at Work…Wherever You Are.” Email her at reports@wsj.com.

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