Who could have predicted that the deadly coronavirus would attack every country, every industry, and every way of life to force the world’s population to work from home?
So, here you are, like so many unprepared workers, left to figure out how to work from home (aka WFH – today’s newest acronym) and be productive. While none of us expected this new work environment to happen so quickly, why not set up your home office to include all the “bells and whistles” so you can get the job done quickly and efficiently?
Try some of these 8 essential ideas to help you improve home office productivity while creating a safe and healthy atmosphere:
Before you do anything else, you’ve got to find the best spot in your home to work. While it might be convenient to have a desk in the corner of your family room, kitchen, or even next to a reading space for your kids it’s probably best to find a quieter place away from distractions.
If possible, this space is should be able to accommodate all the same things your traditional corporate office did. Is most of your work done on a computer or do you need a place to spread out? Do you have a strong and reliable internet connection within range? Are regular Zoom conferences with your coworkers going to be professional or embarrassing? Is there a way to maintain a kid-free zone without interruption?
If you don’t a have a dedicated den area, think about converting an existing space like a bedroom or little-used formal living room or dining room. Add French doors to separate the area from the rest of the home and create a quiet environment that’s more conducive to work.
No extra room available? How about setting up your office in the basement? This renovation project will require some extra time and money, but if the new normal will mean more WFH hours, this might be the ideal spot. Consider partitioning off the area to create a much larger and more private workspace than would be available in the upper living area.
If you’re a DIYer, you might be able to start preparing the area right away, but if you need a building contractor to frame in your basement office, you should check your local COVID-19 restrictions to be sure what companies have essential business status.
Before you start ordering the building materials, you’ll want to first make sure the space is dry and stable. If the area is damp or musty, you should run a dehumidifier to eliminate the excess moisture. Any water leaks should be repaired and concrete walls coated with waterproof sealer or paint.
You’ll want to insulate the walls to keep winter chills away. Also, consider building a bathroom and small kitchen nearby for convenience, to reduce distractions, and stay as productive as possible.
The current conditions don’t mean you can ignore building codes. Before starting construction, check with your local municipality to make sure you’re in compliance. New codes may require an egress window in addition to the basement stairs for emergency exit. If you plan to meet with clients in your home once stay-at-home restrictions are lifted, you should also consider adding a separate exterior entrance. This will definitely require the expertise of a contractor to safely cut an access door through the basement wall.
No matter where you locate your office, you should carefully layout the room for maximum utilization. Sketch out the floor plan on paper to determine the most efficient set-up. Start with the major components like your desk, your chair, your computer and workspace. Make sure to measure each item as well as the floor space around them to make sure everything fits and is easily accessible.
You can’t be productive if you have to get up ten times a day to retrieve something from your printer or filing cabinet. Make sure you have plenty of space nearby for documents and files. No office is totally paperless so you’ll need to make sure you have a place to work with documents.
Don’t forget to identify environmental factors that will reduce comfort. If you’ve set up in the basement, do you have a reliable HVAC source? You won’t be very productive if you’re too hot or too cold.
The Right Lighting
No matter where your office is located, lighting is the most important component of the room. You’ll want to create a warm, inviting space so combining smart functional lighting with good task lighting will be needed.
Natural daylight in the office has been proven to have great health benefits like improved sleep, physical activity and quality of life. The effect of natural light on your mood and mindset is remarkable. Especially in today’s lockdown, when so many are working from home, it’s important to keep your immune system strong.
Where possible, try to utilize light from the sun through windows, skylights, or solar tubes. Morning sunlight will provide extra vitamin D to maintain strong bones and uplift your mindset for a more productive workday.
Unfortunately, not every place in your home will always include enough natural illumination, so consider adding recessed lighting. They don’t take up valuable desk space and don’t cause glare off your computer screen. Use compact fluorescent flood lights for maximum brightness and energy efficiency.
Add wall sconces, pendant lights, table lamps to create more ambience to the office space without compromising functionality.
While you may not have needed it before, with today’s stay-at-home orders, high-speed, reliable connectivity is more critical than ever. You’ll need the proper equipment and wiring to connect a network router, email server, and telephone or VoIP service. Keep a mobile phone charger close by too. You can’t afford to miss out on important calls or texts because your battery died.
Don’t forget that you’ll need sufficient bandwidth to manage multiple streaming and video requirements, especially to stay in touch with coworkers and clients who are also isolated and working from home.
Don’t forget to protect your equipment from damaging electrical disturbances with surge protectors. Check with your local electricity provider for whole-house surge protection so all the appliances and other electrical components are safe from power spikes too.
If your home experiences frequent electrical interruptions, you may also want to consider installing a back-up generator. There’s nothing worse than working on a project for days only to have the time wasted when the power goes off.
While personalizing a typical office space is often limited, your home office comes with endless possibilities. You get to choose everything from the paint colour to the artwork to the flooring and everything in between. You shouldn’t be afraid to add your own style to the room, but sticking with a minimalistic environment will promote creativity and smooth-flowing thinking.
To keep your decor from being a distraction, stick with a neutral colour palette for a clean, visually pleasing area.
Flooring should be determined by the room location. Upper-level offices can use hardwood, laminate, or low-pile carpeting. Basement offices will require a little more research to make sure the flooring is moisture-resistant and won’t warp or cause mold and mildew to grow.
Although natural sunlight shining through the windows can lift the spirits, too much glare or heat in your office will make you lethargic and uncomfortable. Get the most out of your daytime work by adding blinds or shades to your windows that can be adjusted during the brightest hours.
Add some decorative artwork, accessories, and some live plants or greenery to soften your environment and provide extra health benefits. Studies have shown that indoor plants clean the air by absorbing toxins, increase humidity and produce oxygen. You’ll notice a better mood, increased productivity, concentration and creativity. Although those beautiful blooms haven’t yet been credited with helping fight coronavirus, they have been shown to help reduce stress, fatigue, sore throats and even colds.
This is where you can let your personality shine through with a few accent pieces and bring your home office to life.
Furniture and Equipment
You’ll probably use a desk as your primary workspace, so you’ll want to give careful consideration to your needs. Depending on the type of work you’ll be doing, your desk should fit the tasks. Options include a traditional wooden or steel desk with a large top and drawers (with hanging files), a modern glass top with sleek legs, a standing desk with adjustable laptop surface for a healthier, less-sedentary option, an antique drop-leaf desk with cubbies, or a table with credenza. No matter what style you choose, consider one with enough workspace and separate storage cabinets. Keep your desk uncluttered for a clear mind, timely task completion, and for the most productive work environment.
Don’t skimp on your office chair. To reduce stress on your spine, invest in an ergonomic office chair. Select a chair that fits your body (not too big or too small), that swivels 360 degrees, and has casters to move easily. It should also have armrests and adjust easily up and down.
While your employer may provide equipment that you can use at home, you may also be responsible for purchasing a desktop or laptop computer, a tablet, a Smartphone, and a desk phone. Video conferencing is an important tool for today’s WFH needs so consider investing in noise-cancelling microphones and a wireless headset. Your type of business will dictate what capabilities are needed to be most productive.
If you use a keyboard or laptop for extended periods, invest in a wrist guard to protect against carpal tunnel syndrome. Purchase a raised laptop or monitor desk stand to position the screen at eye level. This will promote better posture and reduce neck strain from looking up or down for extended periods.
No home office is complete without a multipurpose printer. While you may do most of your work online, there are always going to be documents that need to be printed or scanned, or copied. Save time and money by investing in a wireless printer with Bluetooth capabilities. New units print, scan, fax (yes, some people still use this vintage technology), and copyright from the convenience of home. Ink can be expensive and run out quickly so you might consider a subscription service that delivers the necessary supplies right to your door.
Keep confidential information from prying eyes by including a paper shredder with your office equipment. They’re inexpensive and are the best option for disposing of sensitive data.
Don’t worry about losing important documents in case of a fire, purchase a fire-safe box. They come in various sizes and security levels (key or combination access) to protect from theft also.
Storage space for all your supplies, such as pens, paper, printer ink, business cards, paper clips, etc. can be as simple as a roll-around cart or built-in cabinets. Traditional filing cabinets with a key lock might be best for document storage, while open shelving may work fine for industry-related books or reference materials.
Make sure to avoid stacking books and paperwork. It’s easy for clutter to build up when you don’t have the proper storage capabilities. Keep everything organized and easily accessible for the most efficiency and calming atmosphere.
The Last Word
Working from home is critical to flattening the curve and saving lives while we all strive to contain this deadly pandemic. Careful planning of your home office location, layout, lighting, connectivity, decor, furniture, equipment, and storage can improve your home office productivity, your mood and overall health.
Whether you continue to WFH or return to your traditional work environment, maintaining a well-equipped workspace in the comfort of your own home will ensure you’re prepared for anything life throws at you.