For many, working from home is a brand-new experiment, and even after a few weeks you may still be trying to piece things together. Working remotely comes with unique challenges, which are multiplied by the number of people working or learning from home. The couch or the bed will only cut it for so long before you start to feel achy, annoyed and unproductive, forcing the need for a proper work set-up.
Creating a new office/ learning space
If possible, try to carve out a dedicated place to “go to work” or “go to class” each day. If you’re lucky enough to have a home office, that’s wonderful. But for many it may be a stand-up desk or the kitchen table and there may be a need for both parents and several children to have a place to work. This need for a workspace may be somewhat temporary, but that doesn’t lessen its importance. To be productive you want to establish the proper setting to meet each person’s needs throughout the day. Some may need quiet; others may need space to spread out.
Look around your home with a critical eye. There are the obvious areas, such as a guest room, dining room or a finished basement. But if those aren’t practical options, or they are being used already, try to reimagine a part of your living area or bedroom as a temporary office. Is there an underused corner that could be cleared? What furniture can be moved to carve out a little more capacity? How much stuff can be boxed up and put somewhere else for now?
The good news about social isolation is that no one will be stopping by unexpectedly. So, this is a time to construct your workspace for performance, not Pinterest.
A desk is ideal – if you have one. But some families now need several and that can get difficult. If you need to create a desk, use a surface big enough to hold a computer and other equipment, and still allow space to work comfortably. It could be a dining room table or a piece of plywood over two end tables or cinder blocks. Placing two tables in an L shape can maximize your workspace within a smaller footprint. If the kitchen table is the only location available, make it work for you. Stage a place for supplies or files within reach to leave more space on the table. Assign a spot nearby to stash each person’s “stuff” when the table is needed for dinner.
Most people don’t have a suitable office chair at home, with adjustable features, such as seat height, arm rests and lumbar support. If you do a lot of computer work, and working from home is going to be an extended event or possibly permanent, investing in a good chair is critical to your overall comfort and effectiveness. In the meantime, you can make an ordinary chair more comfortable with a pillow underneath your seat and a rolled-up towel at your back. Switching seats occasionally can help alleviate tension, as well.
Proper ergonomics are crucial
Don’t overlook tension in your shoulders, neck, or wrist, as it can lead to injuries, pinched nerves in particular. A pinched nerve can trigger tingling, pain, and numbness. Proper posture is essential to combat the stress and strain that arises from working in a compromised position. If a work surface is too high, it causes strain on your forearms as you type; but a low desk causes you to bend forward as you work, straining your back and shoulders. Good working posture looks like this:
- Your elbows are supported and are at the same height as the table (approx. 28.7”).
- The monitor is at least an arm’s length away.
- The top line of your screen is at or below eye level (use an adjustable stand or a stack books to achieve the proper height for your monitor).
- There are two-to-three fingers’ width between the edge of your seat and the back of your knees.
- Your feet are squarely on the floor or on a footrest ( a box or a book work well).
Laptops are designed for portability, not ergonomics; the screen is either going to be too low or the keyboard is going to be too high. Because of this, they’re simply not designed for sustained periods of work. A properly arrangement desktop computer is best, but if you need to work on a laptop, add an external monitor, an external keyboard and mouse. Ordering a monitor might be problematic right now, with lots of people suddenly working from home. In the meantime, look into using a flat screen TV is an option. The top of your monitor should be just below eye level, so you don’t have to strain your neck to read. Some other options to consider adding in include:
- Keyboard tray
- Noise cancelling headphones
- Docking station
- An external hard drive or USB thumb drive
- A dictation app
- Selfie light for video calls
- High-speed business internet service
Inadequate lighting will drain your energy, strain your eyes, cause headaches, and impair your ability to work effectively. The ambient lighting in most rooms is not intended for functional lighting, so it’s often necessary to add additional sources. An adjustable desk lamp can put light exactly where you need it. But if you have a sizeable work area, you may need more than one light source. Sunlight is a wonderful way to light your work environment, but you’ll need to account for cloudy days, too. Be careful to avoid light shining behind you as you work on your computer, as this will create annoying glare on your monitor.
For many companies, video conference meetings are now the norm and classes take place over Zoom. If you have a work meeting, take a minute to look at what is visible in your background. Clutter, an unmade bed or your family making lunch can be distracting. Tighten your camera angle, hang a backdrop or change the viewpoint to a simple wall. If the only quiet spot in the house is the bathroom, there are blur features on several platforms, or you can drop in a background from Zoom or West Elm. When you’re using a laptop, elevate it to eye level with a stack of books and be sure you’re well-lit from the front.
If people can see your screen on team meetings, get in the habit of closing all your browser tabs. Better yet, use a different browser for work mode. And if others are in your home while you’re joining a video call, place an “on air” sign on your door.
Schedules are a key element to success
Everyone in the house should create a daily schedule and put it in writing. It’s not only important for your own structure; it also helps to set boundaries and manage the expectations of anyone who demands your time. Post this schedule if you live with others to keep them in the loop, and share it with your colleagues, too. Post the schedules where everyone can see them or share them by text daily. If your child needs your support during school time, consider working “off peak” hours, before everyone is up, or after dinner. Establish a schedule for the kids too: Plan out naps, class time, allocate down time for TV or technology, and match this up with your workload when possible.
- Keep your work area clear of clutter and the house as organized as possible. You want the energy around you to be calm and enjoyable. In family settings, tidying-up should be a shared activity on everyone’s calendar.
- Don’t skip meals! It’s easy to forget to eat properly, or to just snack all day when it’s just you. Add breaks into your schedule to eat and stay hydrated.
- Sitting all day is not good for your well-being. When you’re alone it’s easy to become hyper-focused, so set a timer to remind yourself to do some stretches or walk around for a few minutes. Better yet, step outside!
- Implement the 20-20-20 rule from the American Optometric Association’s to prevent digital eye strain. Every 20 minutes you should take a 20-second break to look at something up to 20 feet away. This will be a more common practice for those with kids at home.
This is not business as usual. We’re all figuring it out as we go. Be realistic and appreciate that it won’t always work perfectly, and it may not often work smoothly. There will be interruptions, poor Wi-Fi connections, missed deadlines and likely noise while you’re on a call. We all just need to be kinder to each other and ourselves.