When the pandemic first happened and businesses went into lockdown, we all thought the change was temporary and we’d all be back to work within weeks. As the weeks dragged on to months and employers started notifying employees that they would work from home well into next year, we discovered the need to create a home office that both supported our work and enhanced our productivity. We also started suffering the mental and physical stress brought on by isolation in our individual homes rather than being able to work with colleagues face-to-face. If lockdown has truly taught us anything this year, it’s that many of us have the capacity to work from home. If you have spent the last few months working from your sofa or a haphazardly put together workstation – maybe it’s about time you built your own dedicated office space.
The changing face of office work
The pandemic certainly rocked our world, especially the nature of office work. Teachers and professors, like me, are teaching virtual classes from home or using a hybrid model where we’re still doing more work from home than in the past. Office workers used to congregating in open offices, like those at Google below, find themselves on indefinite work from home orders. In fact, some companies, especially in the tech industry discovered that workers were productive and happy working from home and decided to make office work optional. This decision allowed hundreds (or thousands) of workers to leave high-cost cities like Seattle and Portland, for less expensive options that provided wide-open spaces and improved quality of life.
So, let’s take a look at some things to consider as you create a home office.
Create a home office
A dedicated workspace
Not every house offers this option, but try creating a dedicated workspace, even if it’s a corner in the bedroom or the kitchen table. A dedicated workspace not only saves time spent on setting up and clearing up but offers a tangible signal to your brain and anyone you share a house with, that you’re working. If your workspace has a door, so much the better to keep out children and pets. Sure, they’re adorable, but constant interruptions from them or their noise gets old pretty fast.
The most important aspect of your space is somewhere as quiet as possible, where you won’t see many interruptions.
For most office workers working from home, your home office needs a computer of some type, although some folks can make do with a tablet. For higher productivity, add a printer and charging for all your devices. Some might add a landline to this setup, but I haven’t used one for years as my mobile offers more options.
I find adding a Google Home or Alexa device aids productivity. Throughout the workday, I set reminders on the device to ensure I show up for meetings on time. I use Amazon Music to offer inspirational background music and, because these devices are voice-activated, it means I don’t interrupt my day fiddling with another type of music player. When the phone rings, a simple stop command silences the device.
You obviously need broadband internet access with fast download and upload capabilities to allow effective collaboration with remote colleagues and clients. That means you need a router, preferably in your office to allow the best connectivity.
Although not technically a device, you need security, especially in your home office to protect the company’s sensitive information. It makes sense to work through a VPN (virtual private network) and using a free VPN doesn’t offer the same protection as paid services. If your company doesn’t offer this perk, consider some affordable options, such as Norton, that also protect your credit.
A bright space
Create a home office with plenty of light, especially for those of you over the age of 50 when your eyes seem to need more light. Natural light is best, but that also creates glare on your screen, making it hard to read. Some find fluorescent light challenging, so a steady light source from a blue/white light works best when you need to focus, stay awake, and maintain productivity over the course of the day.
If you participate in Zoom calls as much as I do, think about a lighting setup. Here are some great tips for Zoom lighting but, if you have a little money, you’ll find lots of options on Amazon and other retailers for ring lights that give your face an even glow.
A desk works best for your home office since it was created for that job and provides a flat, steady surface to work on. Drawers keep necessary supplies, such as envelopes, pens, staplers, and paperclips close at hand so you don’t interrupt your work searching for things you need. If you don’t have room, try adding a corner desk in the bedroom or other room where you can get some uninterrupted time to work. Worst case, you can use a table in the kitchen or dining room (if you’re lucky enough to have one). If so, use a decorative basket or bin to hold all the ancillary stuff you need. Then, at mealtimes, everything stows away until the next workday.
I have a few extra pieces in my home office that help improve my productivity, but these are strictly optional.
- A filing cabinet to keep papers organized
- Bookcases, which is one drawback of being a professor
- Storage cubes to hold unused cables (you never know when you’ll need an extra), paper, and other small office equipment and supplies
Make it homely
A home office is just that – homely. When creating a comfortable working space for yourself at home, consider adding some homely touches to make your space as comfortable as it can be. A plant, a scented candle, a floor heater or fan – all of these things improve your workstation and allow you to stay productive by relieving stress.
A comfortable chair
A comfortable chair is more important than you may think, and Autonomous explains why a good quality chair is crucial for your health and well-being when working from home. If you are looking to buy a new chair, there are plenty of places online that offer amazing deals, especially close to Christmas. However, if you already have an old chair, a simple repair of the casters and some headrest adjustments might do the trick. Take a look at this simple tutorial for how to repair the casters of your office chair:
Infographic design by Autonomous
Other aspects to consider as you create a home office
Many folks find it difficult to work from home. And that makes sense. In the US and Western Europe, we draw a hard line between our work lives and personal lives, with little fluidity between the two. Working from home destroys that balance. Here are some tricks to help you be more productive and less stressed when working from home.
Establish working hours
I find this the most important productivity booster around for work-at-home. I set certain hours as work hours and I only do work during those hours unless something unusual happens like a doctor’s appointment. During work hours, sit in your workspace and keep a schedule similar to the one you used in the office. Tell children and spouses that you can’t play with them during these hours and they quickly adjust to your routine.
During work hours, ignore the laundry and don’t get distracted with other things. For instance, keep the TV off during work hours unless there’s something related to work.
When you create a home office, provide a space for everything you need, even if that means just using a portable filing bin or baskets for work-related stuff. If you have to hunt for something you need, you’ll waste time and may get distracted with non-work tasks. A search for a needed document may result in hours reorganizing your photos.
The same goes for your computer, especially your email. Set up files for work and once you finish working on something, put it in the appropriate file. Use separate folders for personal stuff, including emails dedicated to different activities.
I find I’m super productive when working from home because there are fewer interruptions. By the same token, I find myself sitting for hours without moving, which leads to eye strain and sore muscles.
I use my voice assistant to prompt me to get up and move around every half hour or so. I try not to eat at my desk unless I’m up against a deadline. Instead, I eat lunch outside (if the weather’s nice) or relax with my dog on the sofa while I eat. And, work during my lunch break is an absolute no-no.
Protect your eyes
Staring at a computer all day isn’t something our eyes were made to do. A good pair of glasses with anti-reflective coatings help protect your eyes and leave you feeling less tired at the end of the day.
It’s hard to stay healthy with all the stress we’re under right now. Concentrate on eating healthy foods, which is actually easier without the office birthday cakes and co-workers prompting you to eat at restaurants that offer foods too high in fat and salt. Stock up on healthy fruits and veggies so you always have a quick meal or snack to keep you fueled.
Get enough sleep. Turn off all screens (or set to blue light) at least 1 hour before bedtime. I like reading as it’s relaxing and allows my mind to unwind from the day. Develop a routine for bedtime as this conditions your body to sleep.
Take time for yourself. Get away from the house for a nice, leisurely walk (socially distanced) or meet a friend at an outdoor cafe to get some rejuvenating social interaction.
Create a home office that works for you and the people you live with to see the most productivity and least tension. Work together to find a solution that works for your household and set boundaries that suit everyone’s needs. With a little planning and dedication, you’ll find a home office you’ll love.
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