More than 2 years ago, the COVID-19 pandemic sent millions of office workers into remote work situations. Even as the pandemic eventually recedes, many employers discover they don’t need the high overhead of office space and are enjoying the increased pool of potential employees that a work from home option affords, while employees have discovered additional productivity due to quiet spaces, elimination of long commutes, and the culture benefits of a company that recognizes the preference of some for non-office work. Although remote working doesn’t suit everyone (for example, highly social people may not prefer the isolation of a home office) many welcome it. After more than 2 years of remote work, work from home has become part of the norm. But what does a productive home office look like?
Designate your space.
Home offices began to trend in the 1980’s as computer usage began to grow, and people looked for a dedicated space to pay bills, store important papers, and take care of family business. While the space often was relegated to a corner of the bedroom or rec room, it served its limited purpose, primarily for personal use. As COVID-19 forced many people into home working environments, the home office became the space where employees spent their day, and those limited spaces didn’t prove a good alternative for long-term usage. Ideally, work from home requires a dedicated room that can hold a desk and computer equipment and whose door can be shut for the essential need to separate work life from home life. Even without a dedicated space, a guest room can often be dual-purpose: an office most of the time and a guest room when people visit.
Ergonomics is critical.
Your space needs a desk or table that is at work height. The industry standard is 29 inches from floor to work surface, but that’s based on writing, not using a keyboard and mouse, and most desks have keyboard trays that are lower than a writing surface. You know your work surface is at the correct height if, when sitting up straight, your forearms are parallel to the ground and your wrists are not bent up or down when you type or mouse. The top surface of your wrist should essentially be on the same plane as the top of your forearm, with your fingers dangling slightly down to the keyboard. Bending the wrists for prolonged periods is an easy way to cause injury. Your monitor should line up so that if you look straight ahead at it, your eyes are 25% to 30% below the top of the screen. This helps keep your shoulders level so you don’t hunch your back.
Get a good chair.
Face it, that dining chair probably isn’t the right height, and it’s hard as a rock. If you can afford one, get an adjustable office chair with lumbar support.
Don't sit with your back to a window.
We’ve all been on a zoom call with the guy that looks like the shadow from the witness protection program. Putting a window behind you casts light toward the screen that wipes out your face and features in an online call. Eye contact is critical for working with customers and colleagues online, so move your desk accordingly. Not to mention, excess light on the screen causes glare that can affect your eyes in the long run.
Get reliable internet.
Most urban and suburban areas have at least one high-speed provider for internet service; 50Mbps is the minimum speed to shoot for. The more people that use the internet at the same time, the more you want to get a higher-speed service.
Work with IT.
While some of the demands of your IT department may feel like a hassle, be assured they are critical in keeping your computer and company information safe. With work from home has come additional log in protocols, enterprise accounts, and third-party authentication. Welcome and embrace them and be sure to let IT know if anything questionable or seemingly unsafe happens to your equipment so they can react accordingly.
Finally, treat your home office as an extension of your company.
If you wouldn’t do it while at the office, don’t do it at the home office. It’s easy to work 12+ hour days from home if you don’t set reasonable limits. Conversely, while they are cute, don’t expose people on a work call to your kids, pets, etc., it’s essential to maintain a professional atmosphere. This work/life balance is one of the hardest parts of managing WFH and why it just doesn’t work for some.