A Guide To Setting Up A Home OfficePopular on CamTrader
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Want to set up a home office?
You’re by no means alone.
In the US in 2019, people working from home accounted for 7% of the civilian workforce, some 10 million people – up from just 5.2% in 2017.
Other developed countries report a similar leap. In the UK, the ten years between 2008 and 2018 saw a 74% leap in home working, with over 1.5 million people regularly working from their home offices.
In Australia, by 2016, 30% of the entire workforce earned their living mostly or entirely from their home office.
And all of that was before Covid-19.
While there may well be a backlash and a restoration to previous norms, the virus seems likely to have made two fundamental changes to office working patterns.
On the one hand, it has proved to many companies what’s possible without a central office hub – much office-based work depends on getting only a handful of elements right.
And on the other hand, it has turned on a lightbulb above many companies’ heads. Do they absolutely, positively need an expensive piece of corporate real estate? Do they need to pay ground rents, insurance premiums, power bills? Do they need to staff lunchrooms, hire janitors or buy enormous quantities of office equipment?
Historians tell us that the Black Death was both a global catastrophe and a force for social change, because in its wake, workers were able to demand better pay and conditions, because there were fewer workers around.
Covid is unlikely to become so cataclysmic a plague, and it may not change the economic structure of the whole world.
But one thing is certain. Most office cultures that were reluctant to allow their workers to have home offices before the Covid crisis have had proof handed to them of just how much can be done from home, while keeping office workers safe from the risk of infection.
Putting that genie back in its bottle may be a thing that neither workers nor companies are in any hurry to do.
But let’s get real for a minute. The people who worked from home during the Covid pandemic’s first wave weren’t doing it as it would ideally be done. They were working from bedrooms. From spare rooms. From living rooms and dining tables. They were doing it as a stop-gap, rather than as a long-term working solution
What’s the difference?
Planning. Thought. Long-term physical safety.
If you, like the millions before you, are going to set up a home office from which you intend to work indefinitely, no couch or kitchen table is going to cut it.
If you’re going to do it – let’s do it right.
ASSESS YOUR REQUIREMENTS
You are the most crucial piece of any home office set up. So before you create your office, take a look at yourself, both inside and out.
How’s your eyesight? Wear glasses or contacts? Get advice from an optician or an ophthalmologist. Firstly, there might be special coatings or lenses that will help reduce screen glare and its potentially harmful effects on your eyes. But beyond that, they can advise you about the size of screen that’s best for you, and how far away you should place it to minimize eye strain.
How’s your posture? Do you need a chair with extra lumbar support, or extra cushioning? Do you need a fixed-position chair or one that rises and lowers depending on your needs at any given time?
Do you need a footrest? A wrist-rest? A separate number-pad for the intensive use of figures?
In addition to the physical issues that prolonged office work can bring, what about your mind? Are you more comfortable in confined spaces, the hug of a nook or the comfort of a cubicle, with everything in easy reach? Or do you need light and air, wide windows, plain walls and a view of the outside world to give yourself a sense of creative space?
Think of all these things first and you’re doing the kind of thinking you need to fix every other element of your home office into place
Think of all these things first and you’re on the road to building a home office which won’t lead you into real physical problems down the line.
Think of all these things first and you’re putting yourself at the heart of the office design – exactly where you should be.
MAXIMIZE YOUR SPACE
Once you know the things you need in any office space if you’re to avoid pain, discomfort and actual injury over time – from eye-strain to posture problems to carpal tunnel syndrome and mental frustration or depression – you’ll have an idea of what your must-have list looks like.
How you build up from that list depends on the space you have available.
Whether you have only a tiny closet available or a spare bedroom you can convert, commit to the space. It’s not a closet or a bedroom any more, it’s your home office. Choose a room that gives you as much or as little of the space you feel you need to focus and be productive, and work with it.
If you have square footage to spare, then finding the right room to turn into your home office won’t be a problem.
If you don’t have space to spare, you need to get creative in how you establish the work-life divide that brings the ability to focus, to switch off, and to achieve a balance between the two.
If you don’t have a room with a door you can close, consider a couple of cubicle panels, available from Amazon, to separate your work environment off from the rest of your home space. Any way in which you can separate your work space from your living space will help you make that mental shift between environments.
Walls and a door are best to separate you from your home life, especially in terms of sound if there are other people at home during your working hours. If you don’t have them, anything to make your working environment ‘other,’ be it panels or bookcases or even other bits of home furniture can be useful to establish a ‘work zone.’
THE IMPORTANCE OF LIGHTING
Ideally when choosing your office or work zone, lay claim to one of the windows in the place, so you get a source of natural light and even possibly a view in your workspace, both of which can help even a small space feel bigger and brighter than it is.
Quite apart from which, if you have a natural light source through a window, it cuts down on your need to turn on electric lights for at least part of the day, which can make you feel better about your space and which costs you less in your power bills each month.
While we’re on the subject of light, whenever possible, choose natural lights and lamps for your home office.
The benefit of natural light, both sunlight and the artificial alternatives in natural lamps, has been proven to raise people’s moods in office environments, focusing them, boosting their calm and their productivity, and in combination with periods in the actual, Vitamin D-producing sunlight, guarding against both a depressive attitude and the likes of Seasonal Affective Disorder. So whenever possible, aim to have natural light and at least one window in your home office.
TIPS FOR YOUR WORK SPACE
One thing to consider in your home office which is probably not a factor in your company’s office is noise. If you happen to live by a lake or a coast, you’re probably going to want to choose a room or space with the ambient noise of nature coming in through a window.
If on the other hand, you live somewhere where there’s a noise of construction, or traffic, or rowdy neighbours, you’re going to want to flee to the other end of your home, where those noises stand less of a chance of interrupting your concentration day in, day out, so you can focus on getting as much work done as possible.
It may be that not all the things you feel you need in an office in terms of space and light and quiet are available in your home, but if you commit to a particular space that gives you most of what you want, you can begin to make it your office by the things you do to that space.
Part of the wonder about working from home is that – you’re at home. All your familiar things are with you. But beware too strong a merging of your home environment and your work environment. Feeling like you’re ‘at home’ can lead you to work longer hours unpaid, or let your focus drift for hours, aware you can technically make up those hours later. But those made-up hours are a mortgage on your home time, eating into the hours when you’re at home, either with friends or with your family, living your larger life.
Be strong. Where the day-to-day routine of going in to an office marks a natural boundary between your work-self and your life-self, working from a home office blurs that boundary unless you can bring the discipline to set up your own version at home.
If possible, choose a room with a door you can firmly close. When you’re on one side of that door, you’re at home, with your at-home mindset. On the other side, you’re at work, with ideally a minimum of distraction.
Unless it’s genuinely necessary for your work, keep all the distractions of home life out of your office space – your TV, your games console, your library of ‘for-fun’ books, your friends and your family. Whatever work you do, keep it within your home office space, so that wherever possible, when your paid hours each day are up, you can walk through the door and leave the office behind you.