How to make your home office a better place to work
This pandemic has more people working from home than ever before, but it’s not just lollipops and daffodils. While there may have been some excitement at first about not commuting or being inhaled by Chet the Xerox Tech, a true home office can be downright depressing and / or uncomfortable. I should know that.
As a self-employed person for the vast majority of the past decade, I have worked from home most of that time, even when the house was an RV for more than five of those years. Yes, it was a tight space for a home office, but these constraints caused me to fine tune my WFH game to keep my body healthy and my mind at least partially sane. Here are some of the tips (and things) that made the biggest difference to me.
If you only do one thing on this list, make sure your desk and chair are comfortable. This is general advice, but it must be, because every body is different. What you find comfortable could be a medieval torture device for me. Case in point: I once bought a desk online that received rave reviews, but it turns out that if my chair is set to the right height, the front of the desk sinks into my thighs. Not ideal! So, if possible, try to sit down at a desk before you buy it. You can also consider a standing desk that increases the number of positions you can work from. Personally, I haven’t found one that worked with the rest of my setup (I’m a fan of a lot of drawers).
I would say the chair is even more important than the desk. You’re going to want something ergonomic and with adjustable lumbar (lower back) support. Working hunched over can destroy your body, and your shoulders, back, and neck will all suffer. Chairs can cost a pretty penny, but they don’t have to be. Craigslist, OfferUp, Nextdoor, and similar sites can be treasures for used office chairs. I read some great things about the Herman Miller Aeron so I went to a store to try it out and then found a slightly used one on Craigslist for about 30% of the cost of a new one. You can also turn to gaming chairs, as they are designed for long periods of sitting. Just make sure it will fit your desktop.
Finally for this section, let’s talk about what’s happening on your desktop. Depending on what field of work you find yourself in, a second screen can be a game-changer, so consider an additional monitor for your desktop or laptop. It makes multitasking much easier with a lot less clicks. If you are using a laptop this can be particularly telling. Personally, I recently went back to a desktop setup (a Dell tower with an Intel Core i7, an Nvidia RTX 3070, and 32GB of RAM, which was great for photo and video editing as well as breaks from VR game), and instead of two monitors I went with a big one that I can split into halves or quadrants. I chose the Dell UltraSharp 32 4K monitor and I’m in love with it. If you don’t do photo or video editing, you might not need something this high end. The goal is to give you more space to work.
There are a bunch of different studies that explore how different shades of light can impact our minds and bodies. They can affect everything from the quality of sleep to alertness, mood and our productivity at work. My best advice is to set up your desk near a large, well-lit window, but I know that’s not always possible. The next best thing, in my opinion, is a set of lights that change color.
Personally, I have used Philips Hue for years and even put them in my van, back when it was my home. Philips has spent a lot of time working on their light recipes, and the system comes preprogrammed with “Energize” and “Concentrate” settings which I find really useful. Personally, I use Energize when I first wake up, then Concentrate (which is slightly warmer) for most of my workday. When I’m ready to start relaxing, I’ll switch to the Reading setting, which I find warm and relaxing. There are many other brands of color changing lights out there, and if they don’t have presets like the ones I mentioned, you can experiment with different shades of light (bluer for more alertness, more red for chilling). , or something like that ). It’s a small thing, but it really makes a huge difference in how your home office feels.
Plants and animals
There is something about surrounding yourself with living beings that makes your home office more natural and less like a sterile shoebox. Having a few houseplants can really change the mood of the whole room, and they can even make it look slightly cooler. I would recommend placing them near your desk, but also close enough to a window that they get plenty of light. If that’s a problem, you can get a hydroponic garden – for example, I recently had the little Rise Garden. I’m bad with plants, but it allowed me to grow a lot of fresh herbs which made my apartment smell amazing. If that seems overkill (or expensive) to you, you can just start with this cool looking snake plant that we’re a bit obsessed with (it’s $ 35).
When it comes to animals, I know a lot of people who have adopted pandemic puppies and kittens. It’s cool, and it might be a good fit for your life, but it sure wasn’t mine. So I bought a hummingbird feeder called HummZinger.
I got this one because it’s simple, but still has ant and fly protection. I am now obsessed. I can see the manger from my desk, and every time one of these little guys shows up, I stop what I’m doing and watch. On the days when I fry my eyes on my computer screen, it really helps me feel like I’m still part of the natural cycle. You can get a regular bird feeder if you want, but I wasn’t interested in constantly cleaning up bird droppings from my small outdoor space, and the hummingbirds are nice and tidy.
Take care of your body
Eliminating your commute can actually have negative impacts on your body, especially if your commute involves some amount of walking or cycling. These days, you might not be able to leave your house for days, and being that sedentary is really not good for you. Get up, move and get your heart racing. You don’t need a fancy home gym. Get a yoga mat and watch YouTube workouts that only require your body weight. Force yourself to go for walks, even when you don’t want to. Stretch!
I also tend to have quite a few knots in my shoulders (and in my legs if I run). For those who like the Hypervolt 2 massager very much. It is incredibly powerful, very portable and comes with five different attachments for different stubborn muscles. At just under $ 300 it’s not cheap, but it was worth it for me. The other thing that I’m obsessed with right now is this pair of slippers from LL Bean. They are so warm and comfortable that I work on them most of the day and then lounge in them the rest of the evening.
Snacks and meals
This is one of the most delicate elements. Suddenly you have unlimited access to your fridge and snack cabinets, and it can be very tempting to just graze all day. So what are you doing? Here’s the strategy that has worked better for me than anything else: fill your kitchen with healthy foods, and only healthy foods. Yeah, really. If I walk around my kitchen, wanting a snack, and there are fries there, I’m going to eat those fries. But if I go and the only foods to snack on are carrots and crackers, then this is what I’m going to eat. Basically, I have to use my laziness tendency against my gluttony tendency, and it really works!
Beyond the superficial reasons for eating healthier, it will lead to better and longer lasting energy levels, as opposed to spikes and crashes. Not only can I subjectively feel the difference, but when I recently reviewed this continuous glucose monitoring system, I was able to get some real data to back it up. When your kitchen is bursting with tasty but highly processed foods, you need to be willing to make a healthy decision every time you want a snack. It’s easier to be strong just once, in the grocery store, and you don’t have to make those tough decisions a dozen times a day in your own home.
I call it a day
You have to know when it’s time to quit, and then you have to walk away. It was a more defined status for many of us: if you were in the office, you were working, and if you were not in the office, then it was your personal time. Working from home makes those lines much more blurry. It can easily feel like the work never stops or that you always need to be reachable. Set limits for your own sanity. Do your job and when office hours are over, get up and step away from your computer for a while. You will be glad you did and will come back to your “office” tomorrow more refreshed and ready to go.