How to Set Up a Home Office for Remote Work
Are you still struggling with this whole work from home thing? If you were thrown into working from home with little time to plan and no choice in the matter, it’s understandable. You probably didn’t do much to make your at-home work environment your own. But it’s never too late!
Most of us spend about one third of our time at work. Whether that work is done in an office or at home, that’s a big portion of our lives. It’s important that you’re comfortable during that time.
It’s also important that you’re productive during your work hours. If you get your work done during the day, that means you (hopefully, at least!) won’t have to spend time after hours doing work and can focus on yourself and your family.
One of the best things you can do to ensure you’re productive during the workday is to create a separate space for yourself. Here are some tips on creating a workspace at home—even if you live in a small apartment or don’t have a separate area you can designate as an office.
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Why It’s Important to Have a Separate Workspace
Many of us need clear boundaries between work and home. When you work in an office, this isn’t so difficult (in theory, at least). You can turn off email notifications after 5PM or keep your work phone in another room when you get home.
When you work at home, the line between work and home life can blur more easily. You can’t rely on separate physical spaces to set these boundaries.
According to a study published in the Journey of Vocational Behavior, employees who do keep these boundaries experience fewer conflicts between their work and home lives. This helps lessen stress and anxiety related to work.
With so many other stressors impacting our mental health these days, why add more? Separating your workspace from your living space can go a long way to improving your daily well-being.
How to Set Up Your Home Office
If you’re lucky enough to have a separate space for an office, you have some more flexibility in setting up your workspace. Once you set up a basic table or desk for your computer and notebook, I recommend making the space your own.
Decorate your desk with things that make you happy. Add a plant for some natural air-purifying and a greenery boost. Hang some motivational art to help you get through a tough day. You can even set up an under desk bike to keep active during the day.
It’s important that you add some warmth with personal touches, but make sure you keep your space organized so you can focus on your work. Invest in a good pair of headphones to block out noise if you have a lot of distractions at home.
Don’t skimp on your comfort. A good desk chair can make all the difference. If that’s out of your budget right now, a lumbar support cushion can make a regular chair more bearable for a long workday. Add a convertible standing desk to relieve your back pain that’s worsened by sitting all day.
You may not be able to add a full-size Xerox machine to your home office, but with a few small investments, you can make your workspace just as functional as a cubicle at a corporate office. Just with a much better commute!
How to Figure Out A Workspace if You Don’t Have a Separate Room
Having enough space for a separate office is definitely a luxury. Especially for those who never worked from home before, home office space just wasn’t something that many people prioritized. With the shift to remote work, you may still be trying to figure out the best space in your home to work from.
For my first few months of working from home, I used my dining room table as my desk. It fit my needs pretty well. It’s a tall table, so I was able to use it as a standing desk for much of the day. And because it’s so large, my sister and I were both able to set up our laptops and separate monitors to work from. But we had to get creative about where to eat, because it was too difficult to move our work stuff at the end of the day.
I recommend finding a surface where you won’t have to move your computer when work is over. This will give you more time in your mornings and evenings, since you won’t have to worry about setting up your space, and it’ll add that all-important separation between work and living space.
Some ideas for work spaces include:
- Dining Room or Kitchen Table (if you use one infrequently)
- Hallway Table
- Closet Space
- Unused Corner
- Attic or Basement Space
Do you get the theme? Basically any unused or underutilized space can be turned into your own mini-office. Your options will depend heavily on your living situation.
If you live in a house, chances are you have a room that’s not used extensively during the day, like a guest room or an attic that can be cleaned up and converted to a small workspace.
If you live in an apartment, setting up a corner desk in your living room or switching out your decorative table in the hallway for a workspace might be your only options.
Set up a Desk in Your Closet
To set up a workspace in your closet, you’ll unfortunately have to give up some storage space. Clear an area large enough for you to place a small table and a chair. Warning: you may need to take a page out of Marie Kondo’s book (literally!) to find enough closet space.
Once you’ve cleared some space, figure out what you’ll use as a desk. I used a rolling storage cart that has a large surface for my laptop. At the end of the workday, I can simply move the chair and close the closet door, and my bedroom returns to its intended purpose.
With such a small desk area, you won’t have room for an external monitor. If that’s a deal breaker, consider a laptop monitor extender. They’re great for small spaces and also work well for business travel. (If we ever have that again!)
Set Up a Hallway Desk
Extra space in a hallway can also serve a work area. I used the same rolling storage cart to show how I found a little nook in my hallway to make my own. The chair would have to be rolled away every evening, but that’s a small price to pay for dedicated space.
One caveat with a hallway desk—noise cancelling headphones are a must if this is your only option, since you won’t have doors to close to block out sounds around your home. This could also be a challenging option if you have curious kids or a rambunctious dog that might knock your stuff off your “desk” after hours.
What to Do If You Don’t Have Any Extra Space for a Desk
Let’s face it. Not everyone is going to be able to find even a spare corner to set up a designated workspace. If you have kids, the chances of your laptop going untouched in an open hallway are slim to none. And extra closet space is definitely a luxury.
So what do you do if you can’t find a single space in your home large enough to dedicate to your laptop and a notebook? You’ll have to figure out a temporary space that you can break down every evening when you’re done with work.
Dr. Sahar Yousef, a cognitive neuroscientist at UC Berkeley who studies the science behind productivity, has a simple suggestion on how to create a temporary workspace. She recommends setting up certain items to delineate your office space only during work hours and putting them away when work is over.
Dr. Yousef suggests using a scarf or a tablecloth to change the appearance of your space during the workday. This will trigger your brain to recognize this as your work area, helping you make the shift from home to work mode. At the end of the day, clear the area to shift back to home mode.
To take this to the next level, trigger additional senses. Burn a specific candle while you’re working, or place a fragrant bouquet of flowers next to your computer to ignite your sense of smell. Play ambient music to help you focus and trigger your sense of hearing. You can even put a cushion on your chair for work to experience a different sensation for your sense of touch.
The more you can transform your everyday space, like a kitchen table or coffee table, from your home experience to a work experience, the better you’ll be able to make the mental shift to work mode. Small changes can go a long way, without requiring any additional space in your home!
Prioritize Your Home Office Space
If you were forced into working from home during the Coronavirus pandemic, you may not have prioritized your home office space. After all, it was supposed to be temporary, and there was so much else going on for you to worry about.
But for many employees, remote work is becoming more permanent. Even when offices fully reopen, many companies anticipate allowing or requiring staff to work from home at least some of the time.
If you plan to work from home at least part time in the future, make sure you have a dedicated space to work. That may mean a full office, a corner of your own, or a counter that you transform each day, but designating a place for work will go a long way to improving your productivity.
Once you have your workplace set up, here’s how to fall back in love with working from home.