How to Make a Work-From-Home Office on the Fly

COVID-19 required millions of Americans to suddenly work from home. And unless you have an established home office, pulling together a quick space can be challenging.

For one, you might not have spare furniture. Also, you probably don’t want to deal with delayed shipping times or spend the money on replacement wares to hold you over until you’re back in the office.

Well, good news: It’s possible to put a dedicated space together that won’t ding your wallet — or leave you feeling sore the next day.

How to Create a Makeshift Desk and Workspace

As more employees got the green light to work remotely, many people had to figure out how to make an office from basically whatever they had lying around their homes. Not exactly preferred.

As John Herrman in The New York Times put it, “Ideal: an office with a door, a space to work, a clearer line between the stresses of home and the stresses related to work. Improved reality: a table in a kitchen or living room, cleared off, where nothing can happen but work.”

In these times, we’re leaning into improved reality

Here are a few tips you can use to whip up a functional home office.

Use What You Have Around You

Our Shogun operations manager, Tiffany Cagwin, helped her husband create an office in late March.

“We kept it very simple and just used what we had in the house,” Cagwin said. 

Here was their process. They:

  1. Took an old desk (from her husband’s childhood bedroom) they had in storage in the basement.
  2. Brought up a lamp, also stored in the basement.
  3. Grabbed an old desk chair they had lying around. “I bought an out-of-stock showroom floor model Herman Miller chair from a local office furniture store when I started at Shogun,” said Cagwin. “A nice office furniture bargain shopping tip.”

From there, they gathered some simple decor for his desk and loaded it with office supplies and plenty of snacks (plus a few Post-It love notes).

vintage desk turned into a work desk
Image credit: Tiffany Cagwin

“We ran an extension cord/surge protector out of an upstairs bedroom, and then voila! Office space complete.”

Location was also key.

home office in a hallway with a dog on the floor
Image credit: Tiffany Cagwin

“We chose the upstairs hallway so we weren't interrupting each other on video calls,” Cagwin said. “My office is downstairs off the kitchen, and then my son has his school ‘office’ set up in his bedroom. This way we're all giving each other space.”

Get Creative

If you don’t have access to additional office furniture, don’t fret. Melissa Smith, founder and CEO of Association of Virtual Assistants, provided some suggestions for creating a workable space.

“An ironing board with books or even stacked plates can be perfect for creating a standing desk,” she said. “Look for easily stackable items — ones that can be easily put away afterward, especially if you don't want to feel like your entire space is disrupted.”

If you use your phone to record videos during the day, Smith offered additional suggestions. 

“If you have stairs with a window or landing, you can often create a makeshift workspace and recording area,” she said. “And if you don't have a tripod for your phone to record videos, take a napkin or cotton balls for phone protection, then clip on two large binder clips to the base and don't fold the clips over. Now, you have a hands free stable base for your phone.”

As for desk accessories, she said vases and cups make great pen and utility holders.

decorative white plates
Image credit: S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash

A bonus tip: If you’re worried about water glasses or warm coffee mugs altering non-desk surfaces, Smith adds, “Small plates were practically made to serve as coasters.”

Don’t Forget to Stretch!

Once you have a home office in place — particularly if it’s not particularly ergonomic — it’s essential you take care of your body during the day.

Catherine Culver, Doctor of Physical Therapy and Care Coordinator at Jaco Rehab in Honolulu, HI, has several tips for the working-in-sweatpants crowd.

In her article, “3 Things Your Physical Therapist Wants You to Do While Working From Home,” she highlights proper body mechanics, including a posture-friendly sitting position and computer monitor placement. She also includes images so you can mirror yourself after them.

Above all, make time to stretch during those long hours.

“It’s so important to perform frequent stretch breaks throughout the day to prevent your body and brain from burning out,” Culver writes. “These should be taken every two hours, at a minimum.” 

So, there you have it. With these tips, you can create a workspace that won’t break your back or your budget.

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Kathleen Garvin

Kathleen Garvin is managing editor at Shogun. She’s worked for back-to-back (to-back) startups and lives in St. Petersburg, FL, via Philadelphia. You can reach her on Twitter.