Remote work has become more common in recent years and is becoming commonplace for many businesses. For employees used to working within the structure of an office environment, staying focused at home can be a challenge.
Productivity is hard enough in an office with managers right around the corner. Reaching goals and quotas without supervision takes practice and a little trial-and-error to create an office space that works for you.
If you’re wondering how to set up your home office, remember that productivity matters more than having the latest gadgets. Ergonomics, lighting, and distraction-free spaces are all essential to minimizing wasted time. Here’s a home office checklist for making sure your new workspace works for you.
Lighting and Eye Strain
Workspaces with insufficient lighting wear you down and have you looking for excuses to take a break. Although its brightness can fluctuate throughout the day, natural lighting is still best for workspaces. If you can work without getting distracted by what’s going on outside your window, keep the shades open to maximize available light.
Desk lamps and other lighting sources are helpful in the evenings or on cloudy days. Look for a daylight-replicating light source with a dimmer switch.
Avoid glare by keeping lighting a good distance away from computers. Use multiple light sources if needed to ensure sufficient visibility in your workspace. A floor lamp can help if your ceiling light isn’t bright enough. You can also get a matte screen cover to reduce glare further.
Ergonomics and Comfort
Maintaining the correct chair height is essential to reducing long-term back strain and minimizing stretch breaks. Adjust your chair so that you can sit with your feet flat on the floor. If you notice leg or back pain, re-adjust the chair height and the positioning of the backrest.
Also consider a sit-stand workstation, which is designed to be used while either sitting or standing. These desks can be raised or lowered with the push of a lever. Standing reduces pressure on the spine, so it can provide relief from pain caused by sitting.
An external mouse typically works better than a built-in laptop mousepad and is more comfortable to use for hours at a time. Buy a wireless mouse to avoid having extra cables cluttering your desk. You may need a cushioned wrist rest pad to reduce wrist strain.
Depending on your employer and work situation, you may be able to bring home a monitor from your base office. This can help with ergonomics by raising the screen level to a height that doesn’t strain your neck or back. If you can’t buy or don’t want a monitor, get a stand that raises the top of your laptop screen to eye level and plug in an external keyboard.
Audio and Video
Pick the quietest room in the house to serve as your office. Noise can distract you from work and make it challenging to manage conference calls. If there is excessive noise outside your office, a white noise machine or noise-reducing curtains may be able to help.
Listening to music can be helpful for productivity, but some music can be distracting. Look for instrumentals that can help you stay calm and focused throughout the day. Classical, piano, mediation, electronic, or even jazz can keep you from working in dull silence. Other people work well in the hustle and bustle of a coffee shop. You can download apps with ambient sounds to help you focus.
When planning video calls, make sure your webcam, headset, and other essentials are set up and tested well beforehand. Try to discourage unscheduled video calls, as they can derail your work even more than a voice call.
Adequate Desk Space
Now that you have all your essentials assembled, it’s time to reevaluate your desk. If you’re not accustomed to working from home, you may have bought a small desk for storage or guest use. Depending on the size of your laptop and other work essentials, your desk may be too small.
Adequate desk space makes it easier to keep relevant documents, day planners, and other frequently used items within easy reach. Desks should be at least 48” wide, especially if they don’t have many drawers or other storage space.
If your desk is at least 40” wide, you may be able to supplement it with bookcases or other storage nearby. Consider getting a new desk, especially if your current one is too high or too low to use comfortably. It’s a worthwhile investment for comfort and organization if you’ll be working at home long-term.
Printing and Scanning
Having a printer at home can increase productivity by decreasing runs to a copy store. Get the best printer for home use with copying and scanning features.
HP inkjet printers are an excellent choice for their long life and ease of use. A three-in-one scanner, printer, and copier comes in handy for a variety of tasks.
Modern printers are incredibly simple to install and use, with bright color screens and buttons, making it easy to see what you’re doing. Some even connect to your home Wi-Fi so that you can print from anywhere in the house.
Reading printed copies of documents also gives you a break from staring at a computer screen. Make sure you have more than enough ink cartridges to keep you working for months without running dry.
Most desks don’t have quite enough cubbies, drawers, and shelves for everything you need. Get some plastic trays, pencil holders, and small desk drawers to help keep everything where you need it. This reduces the amount of time you spend searching for supplies when you need them.
If your work is mostly digital, keep the writing utensils and papers to a bare minimum. Have a notepad and a pen for urgent notes, but other books and tools should be tucked out of sight to minimize distractions.
Your desk isn’t the only place for storage and organization, so put unnecessary items farther away to prevent distractions. Bookshelves and file cabinets help store infrequently used items.
Small offices can benefit from floating shelves, door racks, and other tools that take up little-to-no floor space. For items that aren’t used more than once a month, consider using a long-term storage space in your attic or another room.
Decluttering Desks and Drawers
Keep a recycling bin and a trash can close at hand and empty them regularly. Avoid eating at your desk, as the crumbs can scatter and get stuck in the keyboard and folders. Take empty water and coffee cups back to the kitchen as soon as you take a break.
Place any papers that aren’t needed right away in a folder and store these inside the desk. Get into this habit right away to avoid misplacing papers. You may need an additional file cabinet if you use a lot of hard copies of documents.
Once every few months, go through drawers and cabinets to toss old papers, sticky notes, and other trash that may have accumulated. Get a paper shredder for sensitive documents, including anything with your social security number and name and address on them.
Some people can work with a TV on in the background, but it may reduce your overall productivity. If you’re tempted to turn on the TV after a few hours of work, unplug it or hide the remote in another room.
If you’re working on something urgent, silence your work phone or instant messenger unless you’re expecting an important call. You can also encourage clients and colleagues to call during designated “office hours,” so you can have other time to work distraction-free.
If your spouse or children are in the house at the same time as you, ensure they’re aware of your working hours and rules for minimizing disturbances. Young children, in particular, may need a sign on the office door, reminding them to keep out unless it’s an emergency.
Separate the Personal from the Professional
Although a home office seems like a useful place for storing and using personal paperwork like bills, they can be a huge distraction as well. Any personal items that are stored in the office should be kept in a cabinet far from your desk. Get a separate file cabinet or safe for important personal files.
Keep your phone as far away as possible while working, unless you also use your personal phone for business. Tweak your computer settings, so private email notifications don’t come through in the middle of the workday.
Unless you work in public relations, block social media on your work computer. Even if you intend to only check your personal messages at lunch or at quitting time, having the sites available may drastically decrease your productivity. Depending on your line of work, you may want to block news sites and blogs as well. It is a good practice to use your computer for work and your cell or tablet for play.
The color of your office space has a significant impact on your mood. Colors like red and yellow are energizing but can cause a little anxiety in an office setting. Blue and violet are calming, which doesn’t always work to your advantage if you’re trying to be productive.
Neutral tones like white, gray, and tan are perfect office colors, as they don’t distract or evoke emotion. Green also works well since it’s the color of nature and isn’t too exciting or calming.
If you live in an apartment or don’t have time to paint your walls, hang up a low-contrast tapestry on two or three walls. Avoid tapestries with lots of exciting detail, as they may be more of a distraction.
Although most modern internet services are very fast, multimedia and engineering work can take a long time to upload and download. Maximize your at-home internet speeds by using a hard-wired connection when possible, although this may reduce your freedom of movement, it can make a huge difference when dealing with large files.
If your current internet still isn’t fast enough, talk to your internet company about upgrading your connection. Usually, this requires you to pay a little more per month, but, in some cases, there may be a damaged cable responsible for the slow connection. Your internet company can troubleshoot and propose the next steps.
Remind Yourself of Goals and Schedules
Although some wall décor can be distracting, work-related reminders can give productivity a boost. Wall calendars can be a stark reminder of looming deadlines.
Writing out your daily or weekly schedule can help you stay focused on each task without getting distracted by others. Set aside times for checking and answering emails, and then pivot to a few hours of other work. Build in generous breaks so you can rest your eyes and socialize by calling loved ones or eating lunch with the family.
Set a quitting time for the day and stick to it unless a genuine emergency pops up. You’re more likely to burn yourself out if you work unscheduled overtime regularly. It may help to set an alarm for 15 minutes before the end of the day, so you can wrap up current tasks and walk away from the computer.
Winning the Race
Working from home is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes some practice, especially if you thrive on the camaraderie inherent to working in an office. Maximizing productivity takes a few weeks, if not months, unless you’ve occasionally worked from home before.
The furniture and other equipment of your office are important, as they can either increase or decrease physical strain. However, your mindset when you start work is just as important. Take time to reduce the number of visual distractions in your office, except for work-related deadlines and schedule reminders.
As your family life shifts and changes, you may have to revisit schedules, rules, and other decisions. Have honest conversations with your family about your needs, especially if noise or interruptions are becoming an issue.
Good habits and the right tools can set you up for success. Be kind to yourself and to others and remember that some days will have unavoidable distractions and interruptions. As long as you continue to be accountable to colleagues and clients, you can make the most of short- or long-term remote work.