More than two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, a whole lot of us are still working from home.
What we thought would be a temporary setup in 2020 has, for many, turned into the way we’ll be working for the foreseeable future. Experts say that even when the pandemic is a memory, many of us will work in a hybrid arrangement where we split our time between our home office and the company office. Some of us will never go back. One survey found a quarter of companies plan to move at least 20% of their on-site employees to permanent work-from-home positions.
As we enter year three of the work-from-home era, it’s time to upgrade our home workspaces to make them more functional, more professional and more comfortable. If you’ve spent months at your kitchen island, perched on a barstool and hunched over your laptop and a pile of papers, it might be time for a change. Here’s how to make your workspace work for you.
Designate a specific space
Not everyone has a separate room in their home they can turn into an office. If you’re in that camp, pick a space in your house and declare it your work area. Maybe it’s a counter in your kitchen, a corner in your bedroom or a spot in the living room. Wherever you choose, commit to it. Work there every day. (No hopping from spot to spot!)
Set up your chosen space to provide the environment you need to succeed, paying attention to everything from the lighting to the accessories.
Go for layers of lighting
The right lighting is crucial in a home workspace. Lighting affects your mood, your productivity and how you look during Zoom meetings. Don’t settle for a single overhead light. You need an array of lighting for specific purposes. Get an adjustable desk lamp for task lighting, so you can point a beam of light exactly where you need it. Add ambient light with a desktop or floor lamp that diffuses light through a shade or bounces it off a wall or ceiling. The goal: To bathe the entire space in soft light.
To help you look better on conference calls, consider investing in a ring light. This isn’t just vanity; it’s a matter of professionalism. When so much of our communication happens on a video conference instead of across a conference table, the people we are talking to need to see our faces clearly on screen. If you’re lucky enough to have natural light in your home workspace, great! Not only does natural light help your Zoom lighting (just be sure to sit facing a window), but it also can improve your mood and work accuracy and reduces drowsiness, headaches and eyestrain.
Declutter and organize
This seems obvious, but let’s be honest: When was the last time you cleaned your desk? Yeah, that’s what we thought. Well, now’s the time. Toss anything that needs to be thrown out, put those stray pens in one decorative container and file the piles of paper. Make sure you have all your workday essentials close at hand, and move all non-essentials elsewhere. Clutter can be a distraction, and dirty coffee cups and piles of dog-eared folders won’t look good on Zoom either. Cleaning up your workspace is not just about appearances, though. Research has shown that cluttered spaces can negatively affect our stress levels and hinder our ability to focus.
Mind your background
One of the early diversions of the pandemic was Room Rater, a Twitter account that praised and ridiculed the home setups of pundits who appeared on cable news channels on Zoom and Skype calls from their makeshift offices. Messy shelves and bad lighting received a 5 out of 10; nice art or styled bookshelves got a 9 out of 10. We all know the drill now — keep the background in your home workspace clean and uncluttered. If you have room, show off your style. Hang your favorite piece of art, or arrange a collection of interesting books and objects on your bookshelves. If you’re unable to change your backdrop, consider adding a filter to create a virtual one instead, or blur out your background so it’s not a distraction.
Get serious about your office furniture
It used to be that an office manager worried about ergonomics, the science of fitting the equipment to the worker. Now that’s your job. Make sure you have what you need to stay healthy and comfortable while working. Instead of slouching on the sofa hunched over your laptop, choose an office chair that supports your back and a desk that’s the right height for your frame. Try a standing desk, so you’re not sitting all day, and consider getting a monitor stand to elevate your screen for the most comfortable viewing. If you’re looking for a DIY solution, create your own monitor stand by using a few large hardcover books to raise your monitor. Investing in ergonomic furniture can keep you healthy by preventing carpal tunnel syndrome, muscle strains and lower back injury.
Divide a room for privacy
If you don’t have a separate room to dedicate to a home office, a room divider is an easy way to carve out a bit of privacy for your workspace in a larger room. Use a folding-style divider that you can pack up and stash at the end of the workday or curtains to create privacy. For a more permanent divider, use large, freestanding bookshelves to divide a room while giving you storage for your supplies. Dividers will screen out distractions, block some background noise and even provide a backdrop for Zoom calls. Consider adding a white noise machine or using noise canceling headphones to help block out even more background distractions.
Make your space your own
The best thing about working from home? This is your space. You don’t need to get approval from your boss or facilities to make the place you work reflect your personality. Hang art on the wall that matters to you. Surround yourself with tropical plants. Put your dog’s bed near your desk, so your best friend can snooze at your feet while you work. Set up an aromatherapy diffuser, and paint the walls your favorite color. Create an inspiration board and fill it with things that make you happy, like images of your family, friends and pets or pictures of your dream vacation spot. This is your space. If an object makes you happy, calm and productive, put it in your line of sight.