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:
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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.