A lot of us are working from home these days (up to 25-30% of us could be working from home a majority of the time by the end of next year). We all have components that we enjoy and some things that are tough regarding working from home. These are mostly individual preferences and vary widely based on our home situations. For all of us though, it has been months of adaptation, unknowns, and more adaptation. This post is about a few things we can control that should make our working from home lives just a little bit easier.
I work from home, since I am starting a business and don’t yet have the employees or capital to justify renting office space. I support the idea of co-working spaces but don’t have one close enough to my home to justify the commute or the monthly cost. So, I have been considering the best ways to set up a home office that keeps me happy and productive while I’m “on the clock”.
How You Work
The first thing to consider is your personality type which can be defined many different ways (Type A/B, Myers-Briggs, etc.). If you are focused and detail-oriented, your desk space may look different than when you are a big idea person who tends to think about a million topics at once. Contemplate whether you are distracted easily or can focus on a task too long and lose track of time. None of these traits are good or bad, it is just helpful to understand which ones apply to you. This understanding will help you make decisions when setting up your home office.
Our houses and apartments are not all blessed with a sun-filled home office with wall to wall bookshelves. I know that. We have had to find new corners of our homes where our computers and notes and printers will somehow fit and function. Especially if you will be working from home for the foreseeable future, I recommend carving out a dedicated workspace as best you can. Sacrificing a little floor space can do wonders for your productivity as well as your ability to balance home and work life.
So, when it is time to work, you can be “at work” in your dedicated workspace. Separating your deskspace somehow can signal to you and anyone else in your household that you are working and should reduce the amount of distractions and interruptions you encounter.
If you don’t have an existing office or room that is just for work, find a way to visually separate your desk or workspace from the rest of the room. This can be with art, a plant, or anything else that helps you delineate the space. I have been reading that it is important to replicate your commute, since commutes to and from work give us time to prepare for the day at work and decompress at the end of the day, even for just a few minutes. So, even if it just takes a few seconds to walk to your desk, it’s important to walk “into” your workspace and start your day as if you were in person at your actual office.
Many businesses these days are using cloud-based storage or employees are using VPNs to access day-to-day files needed to complete projects. Paper files are less necessary than they have been, so in a lot of cases, less desk space and less file storage is needed. This is good, since it leaves more desk surface for note taking or sketching or gives you the ability to function just fine on a small desk.
If you find you are printing and filing a lot of paperwork, you may consider finding some free or low cost cloud storage options to cut down on your ink and paper consumption. The forests will thank you. I think you will also find efficiencies in cloud storage, especially if you are working on team projects consistently. Cloud storage gives you the most up to date files that are accessible to anyone that needs access to them and has permission to view them. Cloud based files are often able to be edited in real time by multiple people. Imagine the time savings that can come from that feature alone.
Making Your Home Office Functional
When you were working in an office with your coworkers, do you remember if it was always hot or cold on certain days? Since you are in your own home, you can control (for the most part) the temperature! If the room you work in is drafty, find ways to reduce the draft so the temperature stays stable throughout the day. Keep a jacket, blanket, or fan nearby, so that you don’t have to go looking for one and end up getting distracted by something in another room.
The same goes for lighting. Be sure you maximize the amount of sunlight coming into your room. More sunlight can brighten your mood and help keep you focused. On the same token, be sure that the sunlight does not cause glare on your computer screen that can give you headaches. You may need to experiment with this as the sun moves throughout the day. Installing blinds and/or curtains can give you control of the amount and direction of sunlight. If your window is not especially sunny or your room doesn’t have windows, use ample overhead and task lighting that allows you to read and type without squinting or straining your eyes. Notice if dimmer lighting allows you to focus or causes you to get sleepy. If you fall asleep at your desk, increasing the lighting may help. For some people though, a dim room is the perfect working environment. The same goes for a well-lit room. If it seems too bright or the light is too focused on one area, try softer ambient lighting or dimming the lights just slightly. Lastly, on lighting, experiment with your computer or laptop’s settings to reduce blue light emittance that can inhibit our body’s natural sleep cycles. Lower your screen’s brightness when you can to reduce the strain on your eyes. Many computers have night mode settings that automatically dim the screen as the sun goes down, since you don’t need your screen to be so bright at night. For those like me in a creative industry, color treuness is important on screens when looking at things that have to translate their real colors. This applies to professionals like designers, game developers, marketers, artists, and photographers. Find ways to quickly change the screen settings to color trueness, then back to filtering blue light as you send emails or do other work that is not color dependent.
Many of our desks are at sitting height, which is not inherently a negative aspect. We all know that sitting is getting more negative press these days, and even so, there are a lot of ways to combat the negative results of sitting for long periods of time. There are many reasons to not sit all day including muscle atrophication and back pain. If your desk and chair require you to sit, explore ways to get up, stretch, move, walk, or bike at regular intervals throughout the day. To go a step further, consider investing in a standing desk or even an adjustable height desk that allows you to easily convert from sitting to standing height to reduce the temptation of sitting for hours and hours a day. There are free and inexpensive ways to find what works best for you in terms of your chair and desk. The main goal should be to keep yourself comfortable, pain-free, and energized throughout the workday.
I have heard of many desk substitutes including dining room tables, TV tables, laps, you name it. Many people don’t have a desk at home, because they have never had to have one. That’s great, but when you suddenly need a workspace, it is nice to have a dedicated workspace as described above. I suggest even using an old table that is the right height for you to comfortably work on a computer (around 30’’ high). You can repurpose one you have around the house or pick one up at a garage sale, thrift store, or from that family member who never seems to throw anything away. Some people are really investing in their desks and workspaces, which is amazing. This post is more about ways to make your office area functional without spending much or any money.
Whether you are using a rolling office chair or something else, make sure that your chair is comfortable for long periods of time and isn’t causing back pain. Chair pads can help adjust your sitting position and posture while reducing any pain points if your current chair isn’t working for you.
Your main working position should be ergonomic and maintain your comfort. If you are sitting, your knees and elbows should be at a 90 degree angle and you should sit up straight. If you cannot read your screen easily without slouching or leaning forward, you may need to adjust your screen’s position, zoom settings, or any corrective lenses you wear. If you have a standing desk (yay!), make sure the height is adjusted so that you do not have to tilt your head down constantly and that your arms are not in an uncomfortably high position when typing or scrolling.
If you find yourself working on a laptop and wish you had a bigger screen, many current TVs can work with your laptop via an HDMI cord. This may be an excuse to use your current TV as your monitor and upgrade the TV you use for binge watching Netflix. You can also purchase a monitor which is often better for color trueness and comes in many sizes and price points. I work with my laptop connected to a monitor and am very thankful for the larger screen, especially when working on presentation content or architectural drawings. I touched on lighting earlier, and it can be a good opportunity to repurpose a lamp you have on hand to illuminate your workspace.
Now that the space is functional, find some ways to make it show your personality. Can you showcase some art by your favorite artist (that may also be your child)? Your desk can display family photos, since having a family can be our biggest source of inspiration to succeed professionally and financially. Speaking of inspiration, a boost of inspiration can come from writing down what inspires you and any goals you have. This could be a simple list or a visual board showing vacation goals, savings goals, a new car or house, or your version of financial freedom. Especially if you have a degree, certificate, award, plaque, or other form o f recognition, I encourage you to display it. These are perfect motivators and reminders that we know what we are doing (at least partly!). Additionally, there are some great desktop accessories that are functional as well as aesthetically pleasing. Containers for pens, tape, stamps, etc. can be small but fun ways to show your design style (modern, chic, rustic, etc.). Read up on more ways to add personalization to any space, residential or commercial, in my most recent blog post.
Hopefully your desk is near a window and you are able to see the outdoors in some form or fashion. This also means you are hopefully getting natural light in your space. Even if you don’t have a window nearby, find ways to incorporate something natural like a plant, wave sounds, natural imagery, and the list goes on. These are effective stress relievers and reminders that there is more to life than spreadsheets and deadlines.
When you are finished working and have a plan for tackling the next day’s tasks, I suggest mentally “clocking out” from work. You can then go about your time off without worrying about emails or deadlines. If you do think of something work related you need to do, jot it down or send yourself a quick reminder email, then go back to doing anything your heart desires.
My main point with this post is to make your workspace work for YOU. Each of our individual situations is different, and each of us has different needs. We all have different solutions to making our desks work. My laptop sits on a cardboard box, so that it sits at my eye level, for crying out loud. It is nothing fancy. Understand that everyone is still adapting to our new reality and everyone has background noises like kids and dogs and neighbors. It is OK. Hearing kids or dogs play in the background is often a nice reminder to not take ourselves and our work so seriously that it becomes detrimental to our happiness or health.
Wherever you are working these days, please do so in a space where you are safe, healthy, and productive. If you would like to discuss your office whether it is at home or not, please reach out to me. I’d love to hear from you!