5 Tips for Setting Up Your Perfect Home Office

Working from home has countless benefits, but realizing these benefits takes forethought and planning. Creating your home office is no different. Here are five tips to maximize the benefits of your home office:

  1. Create a dedicated space. This one was #1 on my series Critical Tips To Help You Succeed While Working Remotely for a reason. If you have the means to create a dedicated home office, I highly recommend it. One of the biggest challenges facing remote workers is separating “work life” from “home life” — and having a dedicated home office will go a long way in helping you overcome it. Having the ability to close the door on your day (literally and figuratively) will provide a subconscious cue that work has ended and me time or family time has started.

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    A dedicated home office will lead to higher productivity and better work-life balance.
  2. Choose a setup that will maximize focus and minimize distractions. When designing my first home office, I had a vision of man cave meets worldly professor. The two focal points of the space were to be a large flat-screen TV on one side of the room and a wall-sized world map on the other. Turns out, I find both of those things terribly distracting, so I removed them both. In their places went simple works of art that I enjoy looking at, but wouldn’t unduly distract me. Choose colors, furniture, and artwork that you enjoy and bring you calm, but won’t serve as competition for your attention.

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    Simple decor and calm tones will help maximize concentration.
  3. Consider comfort and ergonomics. Like any office, your home office is one in which you are likely to spend the majority of your time sitting. So choose a comfortable chair. And not one that’s soft, choose one that will be supportive over several hours and will position you at the proper posture. Also, align your desk to maximize long-term comfort. Ensure that it is low enough to comfortably write and type and position any computer monitors at eye level. Making the desk surface low and monitor position high can be difficult, so use some vintage wine boxes or an aesthetic storage container to prop up the screen; your back will thank you!

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    Ensure your home office has a proper chair and ergonomic setup.
  4. Design the space to be versatile. I love changing up my workspace every few hours; the slight environmental change helps keep me focused. I’ll often lead webinars while standing, placing my laptop on an elevated surface. If you have the means, definitely invest in a standing or convertible desk; they’re all the rage and the health benefits are real. Additional pieces of furniture, like a couch or an armchair, can serve as temporary oases from your desk during slower periods of the day. Even sitting on an exercise ball for a couple of hours can keep you on your toes and improve posture at the same time. The point is, your home office doesn’t have to be a stuffy, static environment; design it to be agile and versatile to support whatever you might need during the day.

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    A versatile home office will allow you to adjust to the pace of the day.
  5. Turn to nature. Studies have shown that having live plants in a room makes its inhabitants happier. So add some plants to you home office; a standing plant for the corner, a cascading plant for the top of your bookshelf, a potted plant for your desk. Add flowers for a splash of color and pleasant scents. Also, if you can, choose a room with a view of exterior greenery. Move your desk near the window with a view of your neighbor’s old oak tree or position your monitors such that you can see the nearby park, but not the buildings below. The more time you can spend in proximity to nature (physically or mentally) the less likely you are to feel penned in, one of the major side effects of working from home. A window with a view of nature is also a good place to take a break and daydream for a few minutes, something that’s critical to maintaining productivity over the long term.

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    Working indoors doesn’t mean you have to be separated from nature.

What are some additional tips that you have for setting up a home office? Did something you try work out really well, or very poorly? Share your ideas and feedback in the comments below or reach out via the Contact section!

View from Today’s Office: Camden Market, London

View from Today’s Office is a new blog series detailing all of the fun and interesting places where I am able to work. As full-time remote worker AND a full-time live aboard on the canals of London, I am always cruising to new areas and finding cool places to spend a few hours on my computer. Follow along for all the fun!

The view from today’s office is Camden Market, one of London’s most popular areas for visitors. The area has over 1,000 separate shops, stalls, and eateries and is a hub for the city’s eclectic and hipster crowds.

I spent most of the day dog-sitting in my friend’s flat located directly above Regent’s Canal, which runs through the area. Yet another benefit of working remote: I get to help out a friend and see some new sites while still fulfilling all of my professional obligations!

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On my breaks, I took the dogs for a walk through nearby Primrose Hill and grabbed lunch from one of the market’s many food stalls; it was a burrito and it was delicious.

Overall, I enjoy Camden Market in regular but measured doses. It wouldn’t be my first choice to live permanently, but it’s a great place to explore and pick up a bite, a beer, and a souvenir. For more information or to plan a trip to the area, check out the official Camden Market website.

Where are your favorite places to work outside of the office? Any tips, tricks, or suggestions for staying productive while enjoying your workday? Leave a comment below or reach out via the Contact section on The Telework Guru. Thanks!

 

 

Critical Tips to Help You Succeed While Working Remotely (Part 3: Having Fun)

This article is the last in a three-part series highlighting the best ways to work remotely. Part One focused on “the basics” (create a dedicated workspace, commit to a schedule, and empower yourself to sign off), Part Two detailed ways to excel (develop a morning routine, set two goals for the week, and make yourself visible); this third part will highlight ways to truly enjoy the experience of working without an office.

1.      Work from a café. Cabin fever is a real thing, and it doesn’t just affect those who are snowed in in the woods. Working and living in the same place on a regular basis means you’re staying put a lot more than those who commute into an office every day. True, this is a blessing in many ways, but it can slowly eat at you over time. Take it from me, it’s very easy to look out the window on a Thursday and realize that you haven’t ventured off your property in five days. While this may seem like nothing more than a silly anecdote, working from home can lead to some negative side effects. The most prominent and innocent is feeling claustrophobic or antsy, but this can lead to more profound irritability and general discomfort. To prevent this, I recommend that all remote workers proactively plan to work from a nearby café, restaurant, or pub. The frequency and duration of these days can and should differ from person to person, but one should be proactive about it; don’t wait until you are feeling penned in to make it out. As an added bonus, I often notice a boost of productivity when working from these locations. There’s something about the change of pace, the background music, the less comfortable setting that actually helps me work better. Try it out and see what works for you!

2.      Make it a point to socialize/network. For many, the biggest downside to remote work is the absence of face-to-face interaction with people outside of your immediate circle. This downside is exacerbated if you’re working remotely from a new city, where you don’t have the network of friends and family that you might in other places. In any of these situations, it’s important to get out and meet new people to expand your network. Join a book club at the local library, play some drop-in basketball, join a local alumni club, meet your neighbors; but most importantly, put yourself out there. This can be uncomfortable for some, but the payoffs are extremely valuable. Being an avid ice hockey player, I make it a point to participate in local drop-in games a few times per week to meet new people when I moved to new areas. This quickly leads to finding teams in need of additional players, which leads to closer connections with larger groups in weekly games and occasional tournaments. I’ve made dozens of lasting personal bonds via sports in this way.

3.      Travel. This may sound simple, but teleworking means you can work from anywhere. Most read that to mean “work from home,” but I advocate that everyone take it more literally. You’ve been given a tremendous opportunity to work without an office, take advantage of it! Now this comes with some caveats; make sure that you have an adequate internet connection, can stay connected (via telephone and IM) with those you must, and remain productive. But with some basic research and minimal discipline, you should be able to comply with these from just about anywhere. So travel! Go upstate with the family, visit friends across the border, or find that picturesque beach and work a few hours from a hammock. Mobile internet is so fast these days that there are relatively few places you can’t work. To do this seamlessly and successfully, however, requires planning. Call ahead to the hotel to check the Wi-Fi speed, schedule a quiet place from which to take your calls, and plan connection redundancies. It takes some up-front planning, but the rewards can be tremendous. Imagine working the rest of your day normally, but instead of signing off to prep dinner or walk the dog, you take the elevator down to the hotel pool or take the family for a mountain hike or explore a new city that you’ve never visited. For many remote workers, this is a possibility, just one we never seize.

I sincerely hope that this series of articles has been enjoyable and valuable for those teleworking and working from home. As always, I welcome any questions, feedback, etc. Just drop a comment in the section below or reach out to me directly. Thanks!

Michael Collar is an American expat working remotely in the tech space from his houseboat in London. He writes on a variety of topics, including travel, professional best practices, and what it’s like to live on a narrowboat.

You can follow his travel/lifestyle blog, Andiamo Bambino!, at andiamobambino.wordpress.com and his professional blog, The Telework Guru, at theteleworkguru.wordpress.com

Critical Tips to Help You Succeed While Working Remotely (Part 2: Excelling)

This article is number two of a three-part series that will help you succeed while working remotely. Part 1 focused on the basics: create a dedicated work space, commit to a schedule, and empower yourself to sign off. This second installment focuses on tips to truly excel while working away from the office. Enjoy!

  1. Develop a morning routine. What do you mean “morning routine”? I thought working remotely meant you didn’t need a morning routine?! While that might technically be true, those who excel while working from outside the office generally have a regular and consistent morning routine—and I am a big advocate for it. You see, morning routines do more that physically shift your body into a certain place at a certain time, they prepare you mentally for the work of the day. How one prepares themselves will vary notably from person to person, but I like to do things that get me into “work mode.” First and foremost is getting dressed. It may seem trivial and unnecessary, but your brain probably links pajamas to rest and relaxation, so getting out of your PJs—however comfortable they may be—is a good first indicator to your subconscious that it’s time to get to work. After putting on a pot of coffee, consider some form of mild physical and/or mental exercise. On the physical side, it might be some light stretching or taking the dog for a quick walk around the block; on the mental side, try setting aside a few articles to read as you enjoy your coffee. This need not be work reading, but it also shouldn’t be fluff; pick articles that are engaging and interesting. Everyone’s routine will vary slightly, but it’s important to build consistent triggers into your morning to help you hit the ground running when you’re finally ready to log in.
  2. Set two goals for the week. This tip can apply to anyone, but I think it’s absolutely critical for teleworkers. Why? Because those of us working from home have ample opportunities to become distracted. Family, odd jobs, solicitors, and a million other things are constantly present to pull you off track, in addition to many of the same work distractions and short-term fires that plague your in-office colleagues. In this wash of distractions and time-suckers, these goals will help keep you oriented and aligned with what’s truly important. And it doesn’t have to be two goals; depending on your day-to-day workload and schedule, it may only be one. It could also be more, but I caution against making more than four, because then it becomes a to-do list—which these goals are not. To-do lists tend to be collections of tasks that are agnostic to timeliness, priority, or both. These weekly goals should be how you define success for the week; these are high-level strategic objectives that will drive you, your colleagues, your partners, and your customers forward. For example, my goals for this week are to support the transition of my development team to a new sprint and to successfully brief my new boss on a suite of internal tools that I manage. These may seem fairly mundane, but each include a number of sub-tasks, as well as significant preparation and follow-up. Looking back at the end of the week, barring any cataclysmic events, if I have been successful in these two areas, I will have had a successful week.
  3. Make yourself visible. By far the biggest downside to working remotely is your physical separation from peers and superiors. This is especially pronounced if most of your team is collocated. It’s easy to take for granted the amount of team building that takes place in the office, even in informal settings. This can make it hard as a remote employee to connect with your teammates. Similarly, it can be more difficult for your accomplishments to get due visibility and credit when you’re not interfacing directly with your superiors. To remedy this, it’s important to find ways to make yourself and your accomplishments as visible as possible. Obviously, this must be done in a measured and tactical manner; no one wants to hear you brag. Instead, send drafts of work out to peers and superiors for feedback. Rather than sending an email for assistance, try to schedule a brief call to talk through what you need. To build better relationships with your teammates, connect, engage, and endorse them on LinkedIn. To stay involved, schedule recurring (but brief) meetings to touch base with peers and superiors to discuss important projects and ways to contribute. If you manage your time closely, as I do, make your calendar visible to others so they can see what projects you’re working on. Being proactive about making yourself more visible will take additional effort, but will be well worth it in the long run.

The final part of this article series, focusing on enjoying your time while working remotely, will be released tomorrow. In the meantime, please share your experiences and feedback in the comments below and reach out via the Contact section above. Thanks!

Michael Collar is an American expat working remotely in the tech space from his houseboat in London. He writes on a variety of topics, including travel, professional best practices, and what it’s like to live on a narrowboat.

You can follow his travel/lifestyle blog, Andiamo Bambino!, at andiamobambino.wordpress.com and his professional blog, The Telework Guru, at theteleworkguru.wordpress.com

Critical Tips to Help You Succeed While Working Remotely (Part 1: The Basics)

May of 2018 marked seven years since I started working remotely full-time. I’ve worked for the same company over this span, but held several different positions in multiple departments. The teams with whom I’ve worked have been diverse as well; some were fully collocated, others fully remote and spanning multiple time zones. Through all of this, I’ve developed a laundry list of tips and best practices that have helped me continue to thrive from afar:

Part One: The Basics

  1. Create a dedicated workspace. Everyone operates most efficiently when they are in a familiar and comfortable work environment. For most people, their company office or desk serves this purpose; a place designated solely for business and designed—intentionally or not—to foster productivity. The most important thing to do while working remotely full-time is to create this dedicated work environment. If you have the space, I highly recommend a dedicated home office. Creating and customizing this space not only empowers you to work most effectively during business hours, but allows you to “clock out” at the end of the day by leaving the room and shutting the door. You’ll be amazed at the psychological benefit of this practice over the long term. If you don’t have the space for a home office, create that dedicated business environment in some other way. Pick a chair at the dinner table that you don’t normally use and designate it as your “work spot.” The location, layout, and size of your remote workspace isn’t as important as it being a dedicated and unique environment specifically for work. Over time, this will create a subconscious trigger in your mind when it’s time to “clock in” and “clock out,” which is critical to working effectively and happily from home over the long term.
  2. Commit to a schedule. Strictly adhering to this tip may not be for everyone; after all, one of the big benefits of working from home for most people is the ability to quickly bounce between work tasks and home chores as the need arises. And while I understand that, to me the most effective way to have long-term success while working remotely is separating work time from personal time. I do this by creating and committing to a weekly schedule, which outlines the time that I will be spending on specific work tasks each day. I refine this as needed throughout the week, but I rarely make on-the-spot changes. In order words, I’ll bump movable work time a couple of days ahead to accommodate a plumber, but I won’t delay the start of my work day because I want to rearrange my living room—that can wait until personal time. The schedule can be different every day, but the most important thing is to commit. When done right over time, your mind will more easily switch between work time and personal time. Additionally, this often has a side benefit of making you more effective at work, as people are more likely to succeed when they commit to a specific goal.
  3. Empower yourself to sign off. The longer you work remotely, the more you’ll realize that separating work time and home life is more difficult than you expected. Done improperly, work mind and non-work mind never really separate which often results in a constant feeling of residual anxiety as your conscious and subconscious minds regularly jump between personal and professional thoughts. To combat this, it is critical to effectively “sign off” when your workday ends. When I had a home office, the act of shutting that door (and keeping it shut) was an effective trigger to signal that work was done for the day. More important than any trigger, however, is the commitment to respect the boundaries of your professional and personal time. Plainly put, this means resisting the urge to check your email after you’ve concluded your workday. If you use your computer for personal and professional tasks, make sure that your work applications are closed out before you sign off. Even before finishing your day, make sure that you’re respecting your personal time. It’s very easy, especially when others know that you work remotely, to get roped into a late meeting or continue down whatever rabbit hole you find yourself. While exceptions can be made in certain circumstances, make sure they don’t become the rule. Use language like “I’ll be signed off at that time” to set these boundaries with others, you from two years from now will thank you.

This is just the first in a multi-part series to help you work remotely more effectively. I’d love to hear your feedback, stories, successes, and failures too! Leave a comment below or message me in the Contact section.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more!

Michael Collar is an American expat working remotely in the tech space from his houseboat in London. He writes on a variety of topics, including travel, professional best practices, and what it’s like to live on a narrowboat.

You can follow his travel/lifestyle blog, Andiamo Bambino!, at andiamobambino.wordpress.com and his professional blog, The Telework Guru, at theteleworkguru.wordpress.com