Working from home? Hey, me too!
Okay, I guess working from home isn’t so novel anymore. Today, millions of professionals live where they work and work where they live.
Many of us currently do so out of necessity, but the fact is that remote work is here to stay. Companies such as Twitter and Facebook are already instituting indefinite telecommuting arrangements, and more organizations will likely follow suit. After all, there are plenty of ways in which working from home is better for workers and employers alike.
Remote work isn’t without its challenges, however. Kids, pets, cramped spaces, the neighbor mowing his lawn during your 11am meeting, the unshakeable feeling that you’re never truly working and somehow simultaneously never not at work…
It’s a lot. And between the myriad pressures on and off the job, there never seems to be an ideal time to figure it all out. Plus, as anyone who’s recently shopped for a chair can tell you, furnishing a home office isn’t cheap.
In the interest of helping you optimize your work-from-home situation as quickly and cost-effectively as possible, we thought we would share 7 home office setup tips you can apply right now:
1. Protect your neck (and back, shoulders, wrists, eyes, digestive system…)
Most traditional office environments are designed ergonomically. They’re built to help people feel as comfortable as possible during hours of uninterrupted work.
Unless you’re an architect or industrial engineer, your home office probably wasn’t set up with ergonomics in mind. That means the longer you work, the more strain you put on your body, and the greater your risk of injury and long-term health complications. Days spent hunched over a laptop can lead to all sorts of physical ailments—from neck and back pain to carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic headaches, fatigue, and even digestive issues.
Fortunately, it’s possible to fix these problems and reverse the damage to your body. Here are a few recommendations from ergonomics experts:
First, elevate your screen and improve your posture. Your monitor should be at eye level. If you use a laptop, you might need a stand and/or a pile of books. Your hands should rest easily on your keyboard (again, if you use a laptop, you might need to plug in an external keyboard). Your back should be straight, elbows and knees bent at 90 degrees, and feet planted on the floor.
Second, consider what you’re sitting on. If your current chair isn’t comfortable enough, it’s time to—yes—invest in a good office chair. It’s worth the cost—you’ll avoid some expensive medical bills later on.
Third, be sure to take frequent breaks throughout the day. Try to get up and stretch once an hour or so. Reduce eye strain by following the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, stare at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
You can find more work-from-home ergonomics tips here.
2. Let there be light.
The difference between a comfortable, welcoming, productive workspace, and that part of your home you dread entering frequently comes down to light. While many traditional offices are over-illuminated with harsh fluorescent ceiling lights, home offices tend to have the opposite problem—not enough light.
Brighten up your workspace with multiple light sources (e.g. two-floor lamps and a desk lamp). It’s a good idea to have both indirect, ambient light and task lighting available.
But whenever possible, natural light is your best option. Try to situate your workspace next to a window, and keep the blinds or curtains drawn. Your eyes will thank you. Here are some more lighting tips.
3. Close the door.
I know not everyone can apply this tip. Perhaps you live in a studio apartment or share space with one or more family members, partners, or roommates. Maybe you’re stuck working from a kitchen table, counter, sofa, or bed. You don’t need me to tell you that’s not ideal.
But assuming you have a separate room in which you can work, you should treat that room like an office. That means creating a clear boundary between your workspace and the rest of your home—both a mental boundary for yourself and a physical boundary to keep other living beings out. The easiest way to do this is to shut the door.
Keep in mind that you may have to explain to others why you’re shutting the door, and even then, that you may not be able to avoid every interruption. Still, it’s better than trying to take a call while kids climb all over you or compose an email on the couch next to Brad as he watches WWE.
4. Open a window.
Airflow also improves cognitive ability. In a 2017 study, public health researcher Joseph G. Allen found that “breathing better air led to significantly better decision-making performance among [the] participants.”
“We saw higher test scores across nine cognitive function domains when workers were exposed to increased ventilation rates, lower levels of chemicals, and lower carbon dioxide. The results showed the biggest improvements in areas that tested how workers used information to make strategic decisions and how they plan, stay prepared, and strategize during crises. These are exactly the skills needed to be productive in the knowledge economy.”
That’s right—clearing a stuffy house also helps clear your brain. Next time you have a major deadline, big project, or important meeting coming up, open your window and take a deep breath.
5. Cancel that noise.
Sensitive to noise? Take it as a sign that you might be a genius. German Arthur Schopenhauer once suggested, “that the amount of noise that anyone can bear undisturbed stands in inverse proportion to his mental capacity.”
I’m not sure I buy that, and the science isn’t clear either. Regardless, unwanted sounds are certainly annoying and distracting—for you, as well as anyone you’re talking to over the phone or video chat.
To the extent possible, try to reduce noise in your workspace. You might not be able to completely soundproof your office or work area, but you can and should consider some basic DIY solutions. Here are a few from SoundproofGuide.com:
- Place bookcases next to walls.
- Fill the room with heavy furniture.
- Decorate your walls.
If your space is still too noisy, think about purchasing a pair of sound-canceling headphones to listen to while working. Listen to some white noise or instrumental music.
When all else fails, it’s time to take matters in your own hands. Politely but firmly tell the person or people generating the noise to please keep it down until you’re done working. Be clear about what you need and for how long. If you have a meeting from 2 to 3, for instance, ask for some quiet during that time.
6. Make sure you have the essentials.
A computer, a phone, a comfortable chair, a desk or other flat surface, lamps, and a good pair of headphones are all musts for any remote worker.
Other essentials include…
- high-speed internet (with the modem/router ideally located in the room where you work)
- a writing implement and notebook/pad for jotting down thoughts and notes
- a wastebasket
- a printer and a supply of paper
- a paper shredder
- stamps and envelopes
- a filing cabinet or drawer
- sticky notes
- coasters for drinks and hot food in mugs/bowls
- a footrest
Many of these items can be purchased cheaply, and you don’t need to buy everything new. Ask around and check neighborhood listings (e.g. Nextdoor, Craigslist) for used office supplies and furniture.
7. Own and honor your space.
Your home office is your office. It’s yours to personalize and decorate as you wish (although be careful not to have anything inappropriate visible during video calls). You can fill it with art, plants, tchotchkes, collectibles—whatever you want—or keep it spartan and minimal.
Play around with your lighting, colors, and furniture arrangement to find a setup that pleases you. And don’t be afraid to change things up every now and then and try something new. Have fun with it and make it your own. There’s no reason you shouldn’t love your workspace as much as any other part of your home.
But make sure to keep work in the workspace. When your job is done for the day, leave your office, and spend time somewhere else. It’s essential that you honor the boundaries you’ve established. Don’t let life become work or work become life. Don’t do chores while at work. Don’t answer emails when you’re playing Monopoly with your family.
For more remote work tips and tricks check out our compilation of work-from-home fails and success stories.