Shifting out of the office and designing a home workspace that’s functional, helps you maintain productivity, and keeps your home life separate from work time can be a challenge. After all, lying in bed with your laptop or curling up on your couch just isn’t going to cut it (as comfy as it sounds).
If you’re entering the brave new world of working from home for the first time, or you’re trying to perfect your home workstation set-up for the long haul, here’s 9 ways you can level up your office space to help you adjust to remote working.
1. Carve Out Your Newfound Office Space
First things first, you need to decide where set up shop in your home.
Establishing a designated workspace helps differentiate between work time and play time. Some homeowners have the luxury of converting a spare bedroom, basement, or den into a home office where they can setup their workstation, and keep all their work gear in one place. If space comes at a premium in your home, pick a room to do double duty.
Interior design website, Houzz, found that almost a quarter of the global community works from their kitchen table. If you’re tight on space, you can carve out some table top square footage to house your desktop, notepad and a cup of coffee. Pack your office supplies into a caddy, and once the working day is over, simply tuck it away. If multiple members of your household work from home, you can also use your kitchen table as a coworking space.
Wherever you choose to situate yourself, ensure that it gets a strong Wifi signal, and it’s within easy reach of a power outlet.
2. Make it Comfy (and Ergonomically Sound)
When we say comfy, we don’t mean go to work in your pyjamas and slippers. Depending on how long you work from home, you may want to invest in real office equipment to make your workspace as efficient as can be (space permitting).
If you’re at home for a short period of time, you can probably get away with just your laptop and your charger. But if your home is going to be your office for months, it’s worth trying to mirror a conventional office setup with a monitor, keyboard, mouse, swivel chair, and printer.
Keep in mind, laptops have bad ergonomics, forcing users to hunch over to see the screen. If you can’t afford to upgrade to a monitor, an easy hack is to prop your laptop onto some books, and use an external keyboard and mouse, allowing you to keep your spin in line. As a rule of thumb, your eyebrows should be level with the top of your screen. The upside of only having a laptop? It’s portable so if you want to spend an afternoon working on your balcony or in the backyard, you can take your work with you.
A comfortable chair helps you stay focused. You don’t necessarily need a swivel chair – a cushion or back support on your kitchen table chair should do the job.
3. Troubleshoot All Your Logistics
On a Monday morning right before a meeting, the last thing you want is trouble connecting to the Wifi, or to discover you haven’t redirected your office phone calls to your smartphone.
Check that your technical requirements are all set up at home before the work week.
To begin, connect all your work devices to your home Internet and make sure you can download files, go through videoconferencing, and stream content. You may discover your Internet speed is too slow to work smoothly, and you’ll need to bump up your plan to avoid lagging video calls. You can also check your Internet bandwidth through service tests from your provider.
With the influx of at-home workers, Internet providers have promised there shouldn’t be issues with connectivity as peak home Internet usage is usually in the evenings anyway. But to play it safe, test out tethering your laptop or computer to your smartphone in case you need a backup. Keep all of your Internet passwords within easy reach on your phone or on a Post-It note stuck to your laptop.
Double check that you can still receive phone calls either by forwarding calls to your office line to a number you can access at home, or by sending your colleagues your cell phone number so they can reach you. Change your phone plan to accommodate more calls if you need to, so you aren’t faced with sticker shock when a hefty bill comes in.
4. Stay Secure
A valid concern for homeworking is security, especially if you’re working with sensitive information.
To keep information secure and safe, most companies use a VPN – or virtual private network – that creates an encrypted connection from your computer to your company’s IT network. When you’re in the office, your computer may automatically connect to the VPN but at home, you’ll need to connect manually. Your staff Intranet portal may be accessible by VPN only.
If you need VPN access to get to shared drives or other records, work with your IT team to ensure you can connect at home.
In addition to using a VPN, invest in an external hard drive or a USB key and save your work here – your laptop may save your work to your workplace server, but if you can’t gain access you’ll have a backup copy to work with. An external hard drive is also handy if your laptop runs out of space.
5. Usher in New Ways of Communicating
Working from home may mean losing out on face-to-face meetings and in-person conversations with colleagues, but with numerous apps at our fingertips connecting with coworkers is now a seamless process. Zoom and Cisco’s Webex are two videoconferencing options that have grown in popularity.
Without in person chats, your inbox may be inundated with messages pinging back and forth. Teams can avoid this by setting up chat groups on WhatsApp, Facebook, GChat or on platforms such as Slack, where one-on-one and group chats can be arranged. Sending messages on these tools will save you time spent on tidying up your inbox.
If you’re sharing documents or other materials, Google Drive and Microsoft’s Teams platform are also useful so you aren’t bulking up your colleagues’ inboxes with large files.
6. Reduce Visual and Audio Distractions
No matter where your designated office space is in the home, make sure you eliminate distracting visual clutter.
If your office is in a room that’s taken on a dual purpose or in a high-traffic living area in the home, keep your back to the action. You can even place a partition in the room to divvy up the space, and create a clean office space.
If your work involves plenty of conference calls and video meetings, consider what your colleagues will see behind you. You’ll also need to pay attention to noise levels – your family members may not want to hear you on the phone all day, and you may need a quiet space to focus, too.
7. Strike the Right Balance With Child Care and Work
If your kids are home with you, try to stick to their usual schedule as much as possible. Keep their wake up time, have breakfast and get them dressed.
In some households, parents can divide up work space: one parent could work in the home office, the other set up in the bedroom, while kids set up in the kitchen and dining room. There is a great silver lining to the household working from home like this: coming back together as a family during meals and breaks.
Parents can also take work and child care in shifts: one parent could start the workday earlier with uninterrupted time to focus as the other gets the kids fed and dressed before a later start time.
On a whole accept that your kids will have more screen time during these weeks at home, too.
8. Seek Natural Light, and a Personal Touch
Being cooped up indoors can trigger cabin fever, but working in a room filled with natural light and setting up your tablespace so you’re facing the window can make all the difference. This is why home offices are often in bright, airy rooms.
You’ll feel connected with the world, the natural sunlight helps with alertness boosting productivity, and we all love a bit of daydreaming while staring out of the window during the workday.
You’re no longer in a sterile office either so add some beauty to your workspace to make it a happy environment. Small additions like a few houseplants, a playlist with calming music in the background, or a kettle, a stash of tea, and your favorite mug can brighten up the atmosphere in your home office.
9. Establish a New Routine and Set Boundaries
Creating structure when you’re working from home is crucial – you don’t want to be sleeping in, skipping meals, or answering emails around the clock because your home is now your office.
Set your working hours and stick to them – it’s usually easiest if you continue with your normal work routine. Wake up when you normally would, and get dressed for the day. You don’t have to don a suit and dress pants, but getting out of your bathrobe and freshening up will wake you up and prep you for the day ahead.
If you’re homeworking with kids or other family members at home, set boundaries with them and indicate that when you close your office door, or log onto your company portal, you’re in do not disturb mode.
A lot of self-discipline and accountability are involved in working from home, but as you carve out your schedule for the day, include time for lunch and breaks. In order to stay inspired and productive you need time to reset and refuel too.
If you often bought lunch during the workweek, meal prep the night before so you aren’t cutting into your work day with an hour of cooking in the kitchen.
Finally, don’t be hard on yourself as you, your family, and your home all adjust to challenges. Working from home can be new terrain for everyone, and families need to be flexible with these environments.
Your house won’t always be perfectly tidy when everyone is home all day, and transitioning your home to accommodate everyone’s needs won’t be entirely smooth, but that’s okay. What matters most is your home is your family’s safe haven.
Carmen Chai is an award-winning Canadian journalist who has lived and reported from major cities such as Vancouver, Toronto, London and Paris. She started her career in journalism writing about crime and local news for the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest daily newspaper. After that, she covered a variety of subjects from federal politics in Ottawa to the 2015 attacks in Paris. She has also worked as senior health reporter for Global News and as now the Parliamentary Affairs Manager for UK Research and Innovation. For NewHomeSource, Carmen covers a variety of topics, including insurance, mortgages, and more.