Without a doubt, working from home (WFH) has become more commonplace since the coronavirus pandemic – in fact, as early as 2020, one Stanford economist said “the new working-from-home economy…is likely to continue long past the coronavirus pandemic that spawned it.”
For many of us, the transition from the office to home was originally pretty rushed – when restrictions or recommendations required us to work from home, we may have been able to grab our laptops or an office chair if we were lucky. We certainly didn’t have much time to prepare our homes.
It’s likely the first WFH setup you had was far from ideal. Hunched over a laptop? Working from the comfort of your sofa? Dealing with regular interruptions and noise? Starting to get aches and pains? If any of that sounds familiar, you’re not alone. You may have already started adapting your WFH setup or are slowly realizing it’s no longer fit for purpose.
Whatever your circumstances, with home working set to stay, it’s more important than ever to assess where you work and whether it’s optimized for productivity. A poor setup will not only affect the quantity and quality of your work, but it could affect your health and wellbeing.
In order to allow more workers to feel the benefits of remote work – including saving money on a commute, having more time to spend with friends and family, and embracing a better work-life balance – we’ve put together five essentials for a good WFH setup. These are:
1. An area to work which is separate from your living space
One of the downfalls of home working is that you may be tempted to work longer hours – after all, you’re saving time on the commute. It’s easy to feel like you have to earn the privilege of working from home, right? Wrong.
To establish a healthy work-life balance, you need to keep a strong disconnect between your home and office life. At the end of the day, you need to be able to walk away from your desk and switch off. Having this downtime is essential for returning to work the next day feeling refreshed and relaxed.
It’s a hard balance to achieve, but having a desk in a separate room or area where possible can help cement the feeling you’re finished with work for the day. Many of the numerous working from home guides stress the importance of a routine for your day, including established times for when you start and finish the working day.
If you’re short on space, think about how your work station could be tidied away at the end of the day. There are a number of wall-mounted desk options that fold away and take up less space than a permanent desk.
2. A desk setup optimized for health
It’s not only where you work that’s important, but how. If you’re reading this from your desk now, think about how comfortable you are or whether your body is strained or twisted. The right desk setup supports all of your body and encourages good posture.
Ideally, you’ll have an adjustable chair so that you can change the height and position to suit you. You want your elbows to rest by the side of your body, with a 90 degree angle at the elbow joint. Your wrists and forearms should then be straight and parallel with the floor. Your keyboard should be within easy reach and your screen should be at eye level. Your feet should rest on the floor.
To achieve the right setup, you may need to get a laptop stand to raise the height of your screen.
3. A household understanding of your work routine
We’ve all seen the hilarious clips of children interrupting video calls at the worst moments. While it’s funny to watch, it’s quite stressful if it happens to you. Interruptions – whether that’s children, pets, the doorbell going and so on – can be very disruptive while you’re on a call, but they will also take your attention away from whatever work you’re doing.
On average, after a distraction, it takes our brains 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task at hand. If you get interrupted a couple of times a day, that’s a considerable amount of time which may be wasted simply refocusing your attention.
One of the best ways to eliminate the chance of interruptions is communicating. Make sure your household understands when you’re working and whether or not you can be interrupted. Your household might include children – depending on their age, it can be tricky to make them understand that you’re not available. You’ll know what’s best for your family, but communicating clearly what your routine looks like (including when you’re on calls) is a great starting point.
It’s also important to establish the difference between interruptions and distractions we have control over and those we don’t. All your efforts to create a separate working area free from interruptions will go to waste if you’re picking up your phone every half hour.
4. The chance to interact with colleagues or other workers
When compared to an office, working from home can be isolating. There’s less opportunity for casual interactions – traveling into work together, making coffee in the kitchen, having team brainstorms and so on. Where possible, some companies are operating a hybrid working structure with people going into the office some of the time. Make the most of those opportunities if you’re afforded them.
If you’re working from home full time, you have to create these chances – set up regular virtual social events or consider how you can collaborate with different departments online. Although virtual interactions can’t quite replace in-person ones, it will make a difference having the chance to speak to people throughout the working week.
5. A space you enjoy being in
Last but not least, consider how the environment around you makes you feel. We spend a considerable amount of our time at work. It should be a space you enjoy.
Natural light, plants (which have been found to boost employee satisfaction and productivity), photos of your loved ones – these are all additions to your office space that will encourage an improved mood throughout the day.
At the very start of the pandemic, you may have held back from investing in your office space at home. That’s understandable. No one was quite sure what the long-term impact coronavirus would have on the way we work. But now is the time to create a productive area where you’ll enjoy working, but also a space you can distance yourself from at the end of the day.
Be sure to check in with your employer too, as many companies are starting to offer budgets to their employees at home. You can use this to optimize your setup. After all, home working benefits employers in numerous ways too, including saving money on office space.