The Neuroscience of Home Office Design

March 17, 2024 | by

It’s time to get your home office in tip-top shape. After all, the season is changing and isn’t there “no time like the present”?

Reconfiguring your at-home workspace using what neuroscientists have learned about effective office design can be time well spent.

To boost your performance and well-being without clearing out your bank account:

  • Bring in the natural light. Make sure as much glare-free natural light as possible flows into your office. Test things out, and if you need to rearrange your furniture or add a blind or curtain to eliminate onscreen (or other) glare, definitely do so.
  • If you have several view options when you position your desk, pick the one with the most visible nature—whether that’s the tops of plants in a window box or an expanse of vegetation and trees in front of your window.
  • Add a couple of green leafy plants. They’ll work even if they’re short, but a couple of feet tall is great—or include one or two images of nature (prints from your home printer of scenes you find online are fine) in your indoor view. If plants and you just don’t mix, you have too many allergies or too few horticultural skills, artificial plants work well in an office as long as they’re good fakes. You’ll know them when you see them.
  • De-clutter! This doesn’t mean creating a stark cube. Keep a few reminders of who you are and what’s important to you on view, but tuck the rest out of sight in cabinets and drawers without transparent sides. The goal here is a moderate amount of visual complexity in the space where you’re working. A good example to keep in mind as you add or remove visual elements is a residential interior designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Such spaces are right on target and appropriately visually complex for knowledge work.
  • If you have a wooden floor in your office and you’ve covered it with a carpet, roll that carpet back a little, if you can do so safely; Seeing wood grain destresses us, and who doesn’t need that from time to time as we work? Looking at wood grain can also elevate your cognitive performance and creativity.
  • If the weather and architecture allow, open your windows to add some fresh air and movement to your office.
  • Do what you can to work in a space where visual and audio distractions will be low. How well you can cut them out will depend on where and who you live with. Sometimes building a screen out of whatever you’ve got nearby can reduce visual distractions while also signaling to others that you’re “at work.”
  • Add a slight odor of lemon to your home office. It may be via a subtle air freshener. This odor will keep your space smelling good and your brain performing well. Studies show that lemon essence increases levels of alertness and enhances task performance. The scent of lavender will help you relax and trust others more (which can be good or bad, depending).
  • Play a nature soundtrack. Doing so very, very quietly as you work can help you feel mentally refreshed and boost your performance. Keep the volume low and tune into an online (or other) option that features the sorts of sounds you might hear in a meadow on a lovely spring day, such as burbling brooks and gently rustling leaves or grasses.

Sure, there are additional things you can do to your home office if you have more time and money (if you’re painting, for instance, choose a light sage green to enhance your cognitive and creative performance). But without too much effort, you can apply neuroscience research in your home office to significantly boost your professional performance and well-being.



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