Arnt Gulbrandsen
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2013-07-18

Sitting down to work

This is my answer to so how should the office be, then? and so how does your office look?, both of which are are entirely reasonable things to say to me, particularly this month. If you haven't talked to me about work environments and productivity, this post may be one to skip.

I've I've worked at home most of the time since 2005, in a room that looks different from the rest of the place. The point of that is to create a natural mental barrier between work and home. Most people use a barrier called commute, but my variant wastes less time.

Overall appearance: There's an off-white carpet instead of the wooden floors at home, and the room looks dense or even cluttered, not sparse like the other rooms. The window faces south, so I have a white cotton curtain to take the edge off the light without darkening the room. For the winter I have a clever ceiling lamp with both fluorescent tubes for brightness and halogen to improve and vary the light colour.

There are two desks with space for a chair between. One desk is a sit/stand desk from OKA Büromöbel; it is the home of my keyboard and screens. Everything else on this desk is peripheral and subsidiary. The desk makes clear that keyboarding is the activity.

Since keyboarding isn't the only thing I do, I bought a fixed-height desk of similar appearance, and positioned it so that I can swivel from one to the other, but cannot see both at once.

Both are wood veneer, with a light, warm colour. I want to be productive here, and while gray plastic surfaces may be durable and easy to clean, they're bad for the soul.

The room is very quiet. I chose hardware with quiet fans, positioned the fans far from my ears, and the carpet dampens the noise further.

On the walls I have a whiteboard, an Yves Klein reproduction and a nature study.

I have a feeling that dust hurts productivity, so I fixed power strips and most of the cables to the undersides of the desks with cable guides, velcro loops, screws, whatever was necessary. It looks messy, but the carpet is cable-free and easy to vacuum.

(Update: Both the colour of the light and the tone of the ambient sound are different from home. My wife does not enter my office. These things matter psychologically.)

Desks, chairs: Some sit/stand desks have motors, others are raised and lowered by hand. I don't think that really makes a difference. What's important is that it can be adjusted properly. 3cm increments are much too coarse.

The proper algorithm for sitting down is: Raise/lower the chair until it's about right, slide in under the desk and place one hand on the keyboard, then then lower the desk until your elbow angle is about 90 degrees and the hand feels right. The proper algorithm for standing up is to press the raise button, put the other hand on the keyboard when the table approaches the right level, and release the button when it's perfect. Adjust if needed.

My work chair is a Håg Capisco in the extra tall version. That's not legal for German office employees, I gather the risk of falling over is unzumutbar, but I love it. I hardly ever spend more than an hour without sitting down, standing up, or sitting up — sitting perched with stretched legs, much as I might at the bar, having a cocktail. (Not that I know much about that, with two small children. But it's nice to dream.)

In addition to the work chair I also have a reading chair, a nice inexpensive affair from Ikea, positioned so I can't see the screens while reading. I've had that one in my last three offices, and I really should wash the seat cover by now. No bookshelves though, which is a bit of a bother.

Monitors: There are five or six monitors in my office. I have three connected to my main desktop, and I think that's the right number: Space enough for all the windows I need open regularly, with some to spare. These are expensive Eizo monitors (they cost almost as much as the rest of the office put together) because I look at them for hours every day and appreciate their solid colours. They're simply easy on the eyes.

I have two more screens at the moment, one for video conferencing and one connected to a test device. Those are dead cheap. And then there's a laptop, usually closed.

Other hardware: Mostly unremarkable. I spent money on speakers, because it helps with understanding what people say during video conferences, and somewhat less money on a fat black Posca pen to dampen all the insistent blue LEDs.