Home Office Essentials during COVID-19
Updated: Oct 4, 2022
For decades people have spoken about work-life balance. Chances are you spend more time at work per week than home. Some call work, their home away from home. Others love their job so much they will tell you that they live to work instead of working to live. With COVID not going away anytime soon, many are now seeing that they need to continue working from their homes. Thus, maintaining that work-life balance has become a challenge.
Companies are seeing that having their employees work from home is making them more effective. On average, a person working from home will work an extra hour per day more than at the office. Some people are close to burnout because they not only need to work but are also homeschooling their children. To maintain your sanity and not burn out, there are some key things you can do:
Find a spot in your home to be your workplace. If possible, re-purpose a guest room or spot in your home that you can dedicate to work only. Having a dedicated office has many benefits, one of which is maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Working from your kitchen table or dining room table will distract you because of all the noise around you during the day. It may work if you live alone, but I found I was way too close to my fridge which is not always a good thing.
Divide up your home into designated spaces. Have a family meeting so everyone can adopt part of the house as their designated workplace or schoolwork place. It is harder if the children are younger than teenagers. You may need to have activities to keep the younger children occupied. They will carry them out by themselves and should not last longer than an hour. This way you can take hourly breaks to check up on the kids. If you are single, dividing the space may be easier but being isolated is detrimental to mental health. So, find a way to interact with neighbors, colleagues, friends, and family.
Settle in a routine. You may not be driving to work these days, but you can still grab your coffee and walk to your office. If you are consistently going to the same place to work at the same time every day, you create a habit that can help you maintain that separation between work and life.
We are going to be expanding on your dedicated area you now call the office in this article. If your area is the dining room table or kitchen table, it may work short-term, but COVID-19 is a pandemic where chances are you will be working remotely for the next year or two. You want to avoid turning your personal space into your workplace. Doing so will plug you into work 24/7 and will lead to a burnout or decrease in productivity. Basically, you are never disconnecting from work and giving your brain a break.
Let us look at a possible layout to see if you did have a room in the house you could use as an office. Two items that are essential are: a door and at least one window. The door should be there because it’s what you close in order to get into your work environment and focus. The window is important for morale and your mental health, and it is known to make you more productive. If you don’t believe me, just do this following test. Work in front of a wall for one day and then place your table so you are facing a window the following day. Record how far you’ve gone through your to do list. Also record how many times you got up and walked around. You’ll see that you will be more productive with a window. You can do the same test with the door opened or closed.
If you are living alone, this may not really matter but if you are working in one room while your partner is in another and the kids are somewhere else in the house, the open versus closed door will make a difference. Closing the door doesn’t mean you are shutting out your family. You should be having a family meeting where you set the ground rules. If the door is shut, then chances are you are in a meeting or concentrating on something and can’t be bothered. If the door is open, you are working but available for them.
Next, we look at the furniture you will need. If you are at your desk for a long period of time, you need to make sure that your desk is ergonomically friendly. The ergonomically friendly tables are the ones that can be raised for you to work either standing up or sitting down. This will help with posture, and you won’t cramp up. If you cannot afford an adjustable desk, then invest in an adjustable laptop stand you can place on top of the table you are working on. Either one will allow you to work comfortably and avoid back aches. If you are someone that doesn’t believe there is a difference between tables, it is easy to test this theory as well. Work on different tabletops you have at home. Buy a laptop stand and try it out. Chances are you will not be returning the item after 30 days.
If you do get a desk that allows you to stand while working, invest in a good anti-fatigue floor mat. This helps greatly for anyone with back issues because it improves your posture and makes it easier to stay standing longer.
Of course, when you are seated, having an ergonomic chair will help you adjust yourself to your desk. It can also adjust to your natural posture so that you are seated comfortably. Along with the chair, get a footrest as well. A good orthopedic one maintains an adequate position.
Other furniture you may consider if you have space is to get a cabinet. This is to organize your clutter. Keep all your papers, pads, folders, and other documents all in one place. As much as we are to be a paperless society, I challenge you to keep your desk area clean of clutter for a week without having a location to place these things. If a cabinet is not possible, then get a desk with drawers. Or just use a storage box you can keep under your desk. Any storage or organizer can help you have a cluttered free desk.
When it comes to electronics, we start with your most vital piece, your computer. When placed on the desk, verify that it is not too close to you nor too far. Positioning your computer screen should not stress you out. All you need to do is ensure that you can view the monitor and its content without hunching over. The idea is to sit comfortably with your back straight. Then move your screen to a place where you can still view it without changing your seated position or drooping your head. If you have 1 or 2 additional screens, place them side by side so you are not continuously turning your head left to right giving yourself whiplash.
Since your computer is now at arm-length, you will be thinking “how do I type or move around the mouse?” Well, you don’t. It is wise to avoid using your computer’s keyboard and mouse. Instead, invest in buying an ergonomically as well as a wireless one. Ideally your keyboard should be positioned in a downward tilt towards you. The mouse and keyboard should be placed next to each other, between your shoulders.
We are all talking virtually with people during these times. The computer’s video camera may be good enough. If on the other hand you need to do presentations, webinars, or interviews, you want to be your best so investing in a camera may make sense for you. Get a 1080p HD webcam with a decent view angle. Along with the camera, if you are in an area that has background noise, spend some money on a headset. You want one that has noise cancellation and audio control. This way all your audience is listening to is you and not your neighbor mowing the lawn.
Though we live in a paperless society, we do still print documents today. So, investing in a good printer makes sense. There are many 4-in-1 printer types on the market with which you can also scan, copy, and fax. Get one that is wireless with Bluetooth so you can have it placed anywhere in the house. Though it is ideal to have your printer close to you, taking a break to walk to your printer can be a good thing.
Finally invest in a shredder. You are working at home and chances are you are set up with VPN by your company so as to keep the information protected from hackers. If you print anything sensitive, you need to shred it before recycling. Do not take any chances! There are inexpensive shredders you can buy to keep your information secure.
Along with the shredder, have a thin waste basket under your desk. From candy wrappers and chewing gum to pens and Kleenex, you need a place to dump the garbage close by. If all your recycled paper is shredded, then you do not need to invest in another recycling bin, just use the shredder’s bin.
Finally, you can add some personalized touches to your home office like picture frames, clock, working board, and/or calendar. Calendars are great because you can see dates in a glance instead of using your mouse to get the computer calendar. They will also help refocus your eyes and give them a break from looking at the computer all the time.
Working boards, whether they are cork boards, bulletin boards, magnetic boards or white boards, help you post important messages. You can use them to write up what your goal is for the week, memos, or inspirational messages to keep you on your journey. Many place their vision boards close to them so they don’t lose sight of what they would like to achieve.
5. Putting it all together:
The layout with all the items we talked about is shown here. Use this visual as a starting point. Chances are your home will have a room or spot that is slightly different. You may already have some of the items mentioned. What is important is to be aware of all the items that will make your workplace more relaxing and safer!
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