When Chattanooga-area schools cleared their buildings in mid-March in an effort to keep the coronavirus from spreading in Hamilton County, the move felt something like a fire drill: Grab what you need and get out. For most students, that meant a laptop for virtual learning at home over the next two weeks.
But the all-clear never came for a return to the classroom. Two weeks turned into a month, and eventually in-person instruction was canceled for the rest of the academic year. Even with a new school year underway, home will be the classroom for the majority of the week.
Many office workers have also shifted to similar work-from-home arrangements, taking computer setups but often little else to accomplish the tasks of a workweek away from the office.
As important as those digital lifelines have been to students and office workers alike, they couldn't overcome some of the impediments to remote work and distance learning exposed by all that time at home. Chief among them: the importance of proper furnishings.
Spend enough time away from school or the office and you learn that not all chairs are created equal. The kitchen table may be fine for a couple of hours of schoolwork or to set up for a Zoom call, but spend several hours there, day after day, week after week, and you may come to loathe a ladderback.
Such lessons in ergonomics are playing out to the benefit of office furniture retailers as the pandemic wears on. Desks and office chairs are hot commodities.
You may need a pretty pot of succulents and a Himalayan salt lamp for that finishing touch, but here are some basics as well as a few bonuses you might not have thought of when it comes to setting up a home office.
* Computer and internet connection. If you’re working or learning remotely, most of your tasks can only be accomplished with the tools of the digital age.
* Desk and chair. Whether fixed or mobile, you need a designated space to store your stuff and get your work done.
* Power strip. For plugging in your phone charger, laptop, lamps, speakers and other devices in one place.
* Surge protector. A necessity if you’re using electronic equipment.
* Cable clips. To keep you from getting tangled up in all those cords.
* Memory foam cushion. If your chair is new, you may be able to pass on this. Otherwise, you’ll come to appreciate the added comfort it provides in a long stretch of sitting.
* Desk organizer. Keep the papers you need the most close at hand.
* Calendar. You can save yourself a few mouse clicks to determine the date if you hang one nearby.
* Standing-desk converter. Give your butt a break with a device that lifts your keyboard and monitor to standing height.
* Cellphone stand. Keeps your phone upright for ease in taking calls or glancing at messages.
* Desk lamp. Good lighting helps prevent eye strain.
Wayfair, an online furniture company, reported a spike in sales in March, when many brick-and-mortar stores were closed. In a news release, the company said it entered March with gross revenue growth just under 20%, about the same as January and February. By the end of the month, after coronavirus lockdowns began, growth more than doubled, an increase attributed to customers updating home offices or using their extra time at home to redecorate.
Brantley Crowder, director of marketing for Smart Furniture in Chattanooga, says the continued uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus seems to be driving sales. When they were first sent home, families were thinking more about "how long can we make it work with what we've got," he says.
Months later, restrictions have created frustrations with the status quo.
"A lot of times, that's your breaking point," he says. "It's like, 'I can't do this anymore. We're getting a real setup so that we can focus [on the tasks at hand].'
"I think it's compounded by the fact that [whole families] are all in the same space trying to utilize the same technology, the same work tools," Crowder says. "You get to a point where you're just willing to make that investment for sanity's sake. Every day that goes smoother than the day before is a win."
Melanie Silva, sales director at Smart Furniture, says the Node desk has been popular among the retailer's range of products. Basic models feature flexible seats with adjustable heights, a storage base, a work surface large enough for laptops and books, and swivel wheels for ease of movement. It can be stored away in a 2-by 2-foot space.
In addition to schools, the company has outfitted The Chattery and the United Way of Greater Chattanooga's John P. Guerry Hub for Social Innovation with the combo desk/chair.
"It's not a new product by any means," Silva says, "but we're certainly selling it to a lot more people that in the past may have been ordering tables and chairs [for office environments]."
Beverly Jerman, vice president of business development at Office Furniture Warehouse in Chattanooga, says she often recommends a desk for students because it gives them a grounding space for doing their schoolwork.
"The child has a space that's just for them," she says. "They know that's where they go to get their work done."