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 Lighting and a dedicated workspace are important features of a home office.

Lighting and a dedicated workspace are important features of a home office.

Photo provided by Corie Conroy, of First Impression Home Staging


Lights, a door and a good connection are key to working from home

By: Kristyne E. Demske | C&G Newspapers | Published July 22, 2020

METRO DETROIT — Across the United States, about 5 million employees work from home at least half of the time, according to the U.S. Census American Community Survey.

That number has likely been pushed higher now — at least temporarily, but in some cases permanently — by a shift in the way companies do business in the COVID-19 pandemic.


Working remotely
As a school district administrator, South Lake Schools Superintendent Ted Von Hiltmayer shared the same experience as many office employees in having to make the switch to working from home virtually overnight.

“I’m fortunate in that, in my house, we had an area we had already designated as an office,” he said.

While it already had a desk he could use, Von Hiltmayer found it helpful to add an extra docking station and an extra monitor so his at-home office would mirror the space he has when he’s at school. The second monitor has made it easier for Von Hiltmayer to see information and documents that he needs to reference when he is on a video conference call with coworkers, while still being able to participate fully in the call, he said.

He found he had to connect to the internet via a hard-wire connection, though, because his home Wi-Fi was weak.

South Lake Schools officials utilized Microsoft Teams to conduct meetings with central office staff daily and with all district administrators once per week, he said.

“I was still able to stay in contact with everyone. Even right now, I’m still doing some time at home and some time in the office,” he said. “We basically split it up through the department ... so we don’t have too many people in the office.”


Setting up a workspace
For those looking to create a great space to work from home, Corie Conroy, president of First Impression Home Staging in Bloomfield Hills, said it is crucial to find a spot in your home where there is enough room for the work environment. Being able to close it off from the rest of the household is also important, so that it can be closed and set aside once the workday is done.

Natural light is a great component of a home office because it’s a mood booster, she said, but if the workspace is in a basement or otherwise lacks natural light, use artwork and lamps to boost your mood.

“Placing artwork, something that makes you happy and is colorful and bright and can act as your window to the outside world, is really relevant to any home office,” Conroy said.

While many office buildings are painted in neutral tones, using bright colors and perhaps a pattern can help bolster a pleasant mood, as will greenery and personal pictures.

“It should really be something that inspires you,” she said.

Controlling clutter is essential.

“Have files easily accessible so if you get invoices or bills ... you can quickly put them in a tray or filing cabinet that’s readily convenient to your desk,” she said. “Those piles cause stress, so it’s important to have an efficient organizing system so you can quickly put things in their spot.”

Conroy said people are still gravitating toward traditional desks, and the most important piece to focus on is the chair.

“I would really like people to pick a chair that they can actually sit in” prior to purchasing, if possible, she said. “The chair, I would tend to spend more money on to get the right fit. That’s going to make a difference.”

Lighting is crucial to a home office, to both reduce eye strain and also to improve the view during videoconferencing. Conroy said a small investment that can pay dividends is a ring-shaped webcam light, which softens features and improves the image of employees on video calls.

Recessed lighting is great for a home office, she said, or if that’s not available, adequate use of lamps and other lighting is essential.

“It really makes a difference. It doesn’t strain your eyes as much, so you won’t feel as tired at the end of the day,” she said.


New factors for homebuyers
As more employees move to working from home, Tonya Newberry, a Realtor with Max Broock in Birmingham, has seen a “huge shift” in what is important to homebuyers.

Some employees have found that their office has permanently moved to their homes as companies discover the benefits of saving money on commercial space, and that employees are just as productive outside the office.

To facilitate that productivity, however, people are finding that they need a dedicated workspace — not just the kitchen counter or table — so homebuyers are looking for specific office space in a room or a basement that will include a place for files and a printer.

“It seems like a lot of them want a space where they can actually close the door because there’s a lot more videoconferencing, Zoom,” she said. “Something you can close off to the rest of the family network.”

Newberry said some people moving to Michigan are looking farther outside the metro area to Clarkston, Oxford, Lapeer or Ann Arbor, because while that may create a one-hour commute to the city, it’s more acceptable if the employee only has to make the drive once or twice a week.

“Ironically, to add to that note, we’re seeing more that would like to have lake access or (live) on the lake,” she said. “They’re looking for an activity to do. That’s been a really interesting request we haven’t had before.”

Sellers working from home have had to adapt, as well, Newberry said. Showings have to be scheduled around meetings, and sellers must make sure their home office is tidied up before a potential buyer walks through.

It’s not just adults who need a space to work. Newberry said she’s working with clients to create a space for children to do schoolwork, too.

“We’ve offered tips like, ‘This would be a great space for homework,’” she said. “Where should we have Johnny ‘Zoom’ with his teacher? A large office and a smaller office-type environment for kids who are doing home schooling” is what buyers are looking for now, she added.

Connectivity is key, as well.

“They’re all checking their cellphone connectivity and asking about the internet,” Newberry said. “Some homes they’re in, they have no cell service, and they (buyers) will say, ‘I cannot have that.’ More and more pull out their phones to test the calls and then they would ask the seller what internet (provider) they use.”

Von Hiltmayer said he and others have been surprised at how productive they are able to be in a home office versus the school administration building.

“Is it how I’d like to work the rest of my life? Maybe not, but it also showed us that there is the opportunity for some balance there, too,” he said.

Obviously, he said, when students and staff return to school buildings, he and other administrators won’t be staying home, but when staying home was required, “It certainly worked pretty well,” he said.

For more information, contact Tonya Newberry at (248) 390-8833 or www.newberrycollection.com, or Corie Conroy at (248) 761-3380 or www.firstimpressioninterior.com.