Setting up a Suitable Home Office for the First Time
Over the past year, the number of people switching to full or part-time remote work has exploded, and with an estimated 42% of the U.S. labor force working from home, impromptu offices have begun appearing in houses everywhere—from that little nook under the stairs to a full-on shed conversion at the bottom of the garden!
This shift away from conventional offices has been on the cards for a while, and for many people, teleworking and remote working could very well be here to stay. However, if that is the case, then perching on the end of your sofa and hurriedly moving the cat out of your conference call might not be conducive to your best work. It’s probably a good idea to think about a suitable home office setup sooner rather than later.
The only problem is, setting up a home office for remote work for the first time can be a job in itself, especially if you have no home-working experience. But don’t stress, here, we’ve put together a bunch of top tips so you can set up your physical, digital, and headspace and turn any space into the perfect home office. Read on to learn more and build a comfortable workstation or area designed to help you focus and produce your best work!
Best Ways to Set Up a Home Office – Physical Space
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, full-time employees spent an average of 8.44 hours per day at their workplace, and regardless of how much time you spend at the water cooler, that’s still a whole lot of desk time. Luckily, leveraging the power of the ‘desk effect’ can help you boost productivity and efficiency, hopefully leading to LESS time spent procrastinating at your screen.
The “desk effect” is the potential impact that one’s desk layout and office environment has on productivity, professional output, and even professional satisfaction. Customizing a space to your needs and preferences can increase your productivity, promote positive habits, comfort, and even boost your happiness and professional joy.
Get Creative on Location, Location, Location
One thing never seems to change – location matters, especially when it comes to increasing productivity. Time to do a location check! Do you have the optimal location for your home office desk setup? What could you do to improve your location? What kind of things can you control or change?
If you need quiet to get into a work groove, a desk in an area where housemates or family can walk by and chat isn’t a great idea. On the other hand, perhaps working in the same room as somebody else will stop you from drifting down YouTube rabbit holes. Additionally, look at optimizing natural light, integrate space to stretch out and relay, and ensure you have access to all the plug sockets and/or LAN connections you need!
Think About the Right Home Office for You
This is your space, and it can be tailored entirely to your needs. No more being shoehorned into a one-size-fits-all cubicle nightmare. Instead, think about the perfect space for your workflow and build towards that.
For example, if you are in a client-facing role, you might want a nice background, good lights, a dedicated camera and microphone, and a decent screen to share. On the other hand, a designer might need a larger desk for a tablet or multiple screens to pull up projects.
You know what kind of office you need, so try listing out the various parts before you start on your new home office space or if you’re looking to revamp your current one. Next, split these aims for your home office into “must-haves” and “nice to haves,” then start gathering the former and planning for the latter.
Figure Out Your Aesthetic
The more you love your workspace’s design, the more energized and inspired you will feel as you begin each day. Take 10 minutes to dream up your ideal home office setup and layout. If you find this difficult, start by identifying how you want to feel at your desk. Focused? Calm? Creative?
What colors are you seeing? Try to imagine the furniture, art, plants, lighting. What kind of aesthetic does it have? How do you feel walking around the space? What’s on the walls? As you begin to imagine your dream space, ask yourself, “Which workspace design aesthetics help me focus and get my creative juices flowing?”
Love spending your weekends in nature? A warm, natural elements style with colors like beige, brown, and muted blues and greens may help calm and clarify. Plants or fresh flowers are a must!
Work best with minimal distractions? If you’re a fan of clean lines and ‘less is more’ thinking, a minimalist home office setup can help keep you focused and centered. Stick to whites, grays, and splashes of color to keep your workspace clutter-free and Zen.
Do you have a creative role? Are you a visual learner, or do you thrive when you have physical materials and inspiration nearby? Think about an artistic home office setup with inspirational art. Hang a bulletin board so that motivation is at your fingertips.
Love city life and the hustle and bustle of making things happen? A modern, industrial-style space can work well for you. Think metal, glass, and exposed cabinets and shelving.
Every home office setup has a few key components: a desk, a chair, lighting, and a computer or laptop. Each element must be appropriately positioned to fit your body’s build and your regular movements. The United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has a computer workstation checklist full of work productivity tips that you can use to make sure your home office computer setup is ergonomically-friendly. Here are a few important considerations to get you started:
Head is facing forward – not angled down or overextended past shoulders. The top of the screen is at or below eye level.
Forearms and thighs should be parallel to the floor.
Your lower back is well supported, and your shoulders are relaxed (not up near your ears).
You can also purchase ergonomic accessories for extra support, such as a laptop lift, wrist rests, or footrests. These items make an immediate difference in structural support. Back pain is gone!
Declutter and De-paper
Block off a few hours from your schedule to sort through any existing desk clutter, and the KonMari Method™ is an excellent way to do this. While decluttering consultant and bestselling author Marie Kondo often works with clients in their homes, she also transforms workspaces. Getting rid of anything that doesn’t spark joy in your home office environment can help you build a better workspace.
Begin decluttering your workspace by first sorting ALL items into categories such as books, supplies, papers, and miscellaneous items. Then, examine each object, one by one, and ask yourself, “Does this contribute to me feeling more positive, and also does it contribute to my efficiency?” If you find yourself unsure about an item or are hesitating, ask yourself whether this object aligns with the dream home office setup you envisioned earlier.
When you get to the paper category, sort through all of the papers, and take a few extra minutes to figure out which of the documents you can digitize. If you don’t have a dedicated scanner, use a mobile scanner app to digitize your papers and then upload them to the cloud, making them accessible anywhere, anytime.
And what about the bits and pieces that you can’t just get rid of but still have no place on your desk? Well, that’s where you need to start getting serious about storage.
Get Serious About Storage Space
Having storage to file away all your necessary clutter is vital for a productive work-from-home office, but can be tricky if you haven’t got much space to work with. Try to move away from traditional solutions such as heavy filing cabinets, and look instead towards more creative ways to integrate storage into your space.
Some simple ways to get serious about storage without sacrificing space is to:
Use wall-mounted storage – this could be as simple as screwing baskets on the wall
Choose a desk with in-built storage
Look into pegboards – also wall-mounted and they look very “Pinterest-y”
Arrange paperwork on a corkboard
Look into movable storage (like a drinks tray with paperwork that you can wheel into the cupboard at the end of the day)
Protect Important Work
Of course, all your work is essential, but some work is more important than others. It may not be sensitive enough that you’re worried about an intruder looking for it, but that doesn’t make it safe. A curious child, a partner looking for something to scribble a phone number on, or a cat being a cat can all spell disaster for important paperwork.
When setting up your home office, think about investing in lockable storage solutions for critical documents that you just can’t afford to lose. These don’t have to be the grey 70s blocks that adorn many offices and only open when you kick them, there are plenty of lockable cupboards out there that fit any aesthetic, size, and security level.
Rearrange Your Desk to be Distraction-Free and Encourage Good Habits
Now that you’ve decluttered, it’s time to rearrange your home office desk setup. For productivity and habits author James Clear, “Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior.” Clear advises: “Whenever possible, design an environment that makes good decisions for you.” For example, if you know that your energy tends to drop mid-morning, stock up on some brain-boosting snacks like walnuts or pumpkin seeds rather than sugar-crash-inducing candy bars. Put them in a clear jar on your desk so that good snacking becomes effortless.
Another part of your desk clutter is the wires. We all use multiple devices every day, so your desk can quickly become overrun with cables. To combat this, invest in some kind of cable management system, which could be as simple as some wire or something more refined like cord clips and Velcro ties.
Leverage Visual Tools to Increase Productivity
It’s easy to get sucked into the high volume of emails and constant incoming questions from your team and lose sight of more significant targets. A visual productivity tool can serve as a powerful reminder of your commitments and goals and help you stay focused on being productive, which can be especially hard when working from home. One of the easiest ways to make sure you are keeping yourself accountable daily and increasing productivity is to add a visual tool to your desk layout.
Test out a whiteboard, post-it notes, calendar, or visual to-do list, and figure out which of these tools works best for you. One of the most commonly used visual tools is the to-do list, but while to-do lists work well for some people, they can also enable procrastination. What’s the problem? High impact, demanding, or creative tasks end up holding the same weight as low impact, logistics-oriented tasks.
If you want to increase your work productivity, try this technique from JotForm CEO Aytekin Tank. Think “about the one thing you can accomplish today that would have the most impact. If you are having trouble thinking of something, I’ll give you a hint — it’s usually the thing you least want to do.”
Tank recommends starting each morning by writing your one big impact goal on the post-it and sticking it on your laptop or computer. If you can get in the habit of conquering this goal early in the day, you can ride your productivity high for the rest of your shift.
Think About Natural Light
Strong natural light is essential for both wellbeing and productivity. It’s also something that people are very keen to have in offices. A 2018 study that polled 1,614 North American employees found that “access to natural light and views of the outdoors is the number one attribute of the workplace environment, outranking stalwarts like onsite cafeterias, fitness centers, and premium perks including on-site childcare (only 4-8% of FORTUNE 100 companies offer on-site child care).”
Now you have control over your own office, get the perks you want – get the natural light! If this isn’t possible for any reason, experiment with different lighting options until you find one that enables you to work comfortably without having to strain. There is also the option of daylight lamps (aka SAD lamps), which can help deliver some of the benefits of natural light to your home office.
Optimize Sound and Scent to Enhance Focus and Increase Productivity
Subtle changes in our environment can play a significant role in shaping our focus levels. Get your brain at its peak productivity state by complimenting the right lighting with brain-stimulating sounds and fresh scents.
Natural light enhances our focus and productivity. If you’re not getting natural light at your home office desk setup, make sure to venture outside during your breaks.
Classical, electronic, and instrumental music can all help get you in the zone. Check out some of the best playlists for cognitive state-enhancing music.
Bright, fresh scents help perk us up. Place a bottle of your favorite essential oil (lavender, eucalyptus, or citrus) on your desk and take a whiff whenever you need a burst of fresh energy.
Personalize Your Productivity Palace
Now’s the time to add a few finishing touches. Think back to that ideal home office setup aesthetic you envisioned earlier. Bring in key elements of color, art, and style to life to make the space feel more “you.”
No need to spend big here; just look around and see if there’s anything you want to move from the kitchen or living room to your home office setup. Get creative, and with a plant, a few books, an artistic postcard, or photos of loved ones, you can easily add a personal touch to your redesigned, productivity-enhanced workspace.
Best Ways to Set Up a Home Office – Digital Space
There is no point clearing your desk if your digital desktop is a mess, and all the Post It notes in the world won’t help if your digital notes are scattered across three devices and half a dozen apps. So, it is just as important to consider your home office setup’s tech side as it is your physical space and environment. Read on to learn how to optimize your digital life and encourage focus.
Clean Up Your Digital Life and Work Smarter
Working from your home office setup might mean working on your personal computer (and almost certainly if you’re a freelancer!). As such, there can be many digital distractions that lead you down the path of procrastination. Some simple ways to combat this:
Inbox overflowing with thousands of emails? Spike’s conversational email inbox has an auto prioritization feature that sorts your primary inbox according to people you’re most in contact with.
Feel like you can never find a file when you need one? Desktop littered with files? Take a few hours to set up a simple file architecture on the cloud so that all of your documents are available anytime. Fewer folders = less time wasted searching!
Feeling unfocused and like you’re jumping from thing to thing without progress? Limit notifications to minimize digital interruptions and stay focused and on task. Spike’s customized notifications feature lets you easily select what type of notifications you want to get, when.
Constantly zooming back and forth across collaboration and messaging tools? A platform like Spike can consolidate your go-to tools so that messaging, collaboration, work, personal email accounts, and all of your calendars are in one place.
Internet holding too many distractions? Install a website blocker and select the sites you know you tend to procrastinate. You can always give yourself a set amount of browse-time, so you’re not left completely high and dry.
Multiple Desktops to Organize Your Projects
Windows 10, Mac OS, and various Linux distros offer users the ability to create multiple desktops with different apps running on each. This is a great way to divide projects, tasks, or workflows in a semi-physical way. Are you moving onto the next piece of work? Pull up the new desktop and put on that next hat.
Set up and Use a Separate Phone Number
In a traditional office, having a phone at your desk to take work calls would be considered pretty standard. But, as the use of cell phones increases and people work more from home, you’re less and less likely to have a dedicated work number and more likely to use one device for everything.
However, having a dedicated work number could save you a lot of hassle! Having one number for work and another for your personal life is a great way to separate things out, especially when working from home. Work intruding on your personal life has already become such a problem, in fact, that countries such as France and Portugal already have legislation to stop bosses texting or calling after work.
While getting a whole other physical phone and contract is not in the budget for most of us, there are plenty of digital options now out there. These are Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) services. Chances are, you’re already familiar with some of the bigger ones such as Skype, with which you can set up a new number relatively quickly and cheaply that either redirects to your phone number or to Skype applications.
Similarly, Google offers a service called Google Voice in the United States, allowing you to quickly and easily set up a second number just for work. There are plenty of other VOIP options out there to suit various needs and budgets.
Consider a Gadget Draw
The next of our home office setup tips is creating a gadget draw! Alas, this isn’t nearly as fun as it sounds. A gadget draw in your home office is somewhere you can put your various bits of tech – smartphones, smartwatches, etc. – during your working hours. You can’t be distracted by the digital when it’s physically locked in a draw.
Even if you do occasionally need one of your devices for work to, for example, make a call, having a dedicated space for them that isn’t directly in front of you will still help to keep focus and reduce distractions.
Blinded by the Blue light
Almost any device with a screen, whether a computer, smartphone, or TV, will emit blue light. This simply refers to the blue wavelength of light, which has some properties that differentiate it from others and can impact your home office setup both positively and negatively. Blue light can be very beneficial during the day since it can increase attention, reaction times, and boost mood. However, these same qualities are what make it so detrimental at night, when electronics and their blue light can throw our sleep patterns — or circadian rhythm — completely off the rails. These bad sleep patterns can cause short term problems (aka being tired) and, more worryingly, long term health issues.
You should avoid bright screens for two or three hours before bed to work around this. However, sitting in front of a screen for 8+ hours a day is a reality for many now, so it is also worth looking into blue light filtering glasses and apps that change the amount emitted by your computer. With a bit of digging, you’ll probably find that some of your devices already offer a night mode or blue-light filtering mode along with dark software themes that can have the same effect.
Best Ways to Set Up a Home Office – Head Space
In addition to how your physical and digital environments look and feel, it is also vital to put in place systems to keep a good headspace when setting up a home office for remote work. With crossover between your work and personal life likely, burnout can be a real issue, but there are some ways to tackle it.
Establish Your Working Hours
Working from home with flexible hours is great – you can get stuff done when it suits you, and find more time to do the things you love. However, without a lot (and we mean a lot) of self-discipline, it can be easy to slip into unhealthy routines. Fortunately, you don’t need to set out on a lifelong journey of self-discipline to effectively work from home if you just lay out some ground rules.
Functionally, this means establishing your working hours and sticking to them. Literally block out times on your calendar for work (or better yet, different types of work), and then stick to them as if you were in the office.
Create a Break Schedule
In the office, you’ll be prompted to take breaks by colleagues and hopefully head out for lunch, if only to the office canteen. However, when sitting at your home office setup, it can be all too easy to just power through the whole day, eating at your desk, or even skipping meals entirely.
You may have your working hours set out, but part of creating the best home office setup is also knowing when to take a break. This break schedule could be noted on a calendar hanging on the wall or, more practically, reminders on your digital calendar to get up, walk about, eat, drink water, and take a break!
Hang a Clock on the Wall
Or on your desk, if you’d prefer, just so long as you have a timepiece handy – and one that isn’t your phone. It can be all too easy to lose track of time while working from home, and a physical reminder to stick to your schedule can be incredibly useful. While using your computer, you are able to quickly check the time in the corner of the screen, but if you’re working on anything else, then opening your laptop or phone can be an instant productivity killer.
We’ve all done it – you open your phone to “check the time” and half an hour later you’re still scrolling through Instagram. A clock on the wall means fewer opportunities for distraction and greater focus throughout the day.
Plants are Home Office Setup Essentials
It may seem simple, or even a little silly, but one of the best ways to set up your home office for a more enjoyable work-life is by including plants! Introducing plants into your new home office setup can improve air quality, promote productivity and wellbeing, and reduce stress and sickness.
Tips for Setting up a Home Office on a Budget
Setting up a home office on a budget doesn’t mean a bad working experience. There are plenty of low-cost alternatives to the tips that we’ve gone through, and a little imagination can save a lot of money.
As mentioned earlier, when adding the final touches to your home office setup, you can repurpose items that you already have about the home, whether a kitchen cork board or a plant from your living room, for example. Additionally, there are now also numerous online platforms to swap (or buy at a very low cost) some of the key items you need, such as desks and chairs. Even if they don’t fit your ideal aesthetic, a quick lick of paint is often enough to turn a worn-out table into a minimalist desk.
When it comes to your digital space, you can also take some steps to have a more budget-friendly home office setup. The installation and bills for the latest high-speed internet, for example, can be very costly, but many people’s browsing experience could be greatly improved with a simple ethernet cable. These can be picked up for less than $10 and offer higher speeds, lower latency and a more stable connection, which is especially important if you’re looking for how to set up a home office for video conferencing.
Furthermore, while we recommend a second phone number for work, if you don’t want to pay for a VOIP subscription, you can always just not give out your number and conduct all business calls via your productivity platforms voice and video calls function.
What’s more, a sluggish computer — which can be a nightmare when working at home — doesn’t necessarily mean you need a new one. There are plenty of ways to speed up slow machines and give a new lease of life to your home office computer setup.
Updated on 12/04/2021
Home Office Set Up Tips FAQs
Setting up a home office in a small space can actually encourage some of the harder aspects of creating a great work environment, such as:
- Minimizing clutter
- Organizing files, stationery, and wires
- Removing distractions (you have no space for them!)
Along with this, think about the ergonomics of the space for your key pieces: a desk, a chair, lighting, and a monitor or laptop. How can these best fit with you and your home office space?
One of the most important things to consider when setting up a home office in a bedroom is separating your work and personal life. Look for physical barriers that can be created between your home office setup and your bed, as well as physiological ones such as never working in your bed (however tempting it might be).
There are several key considerations for setting up a home office for video conferencing:
- Where is the light? It should be in front or to the side of you, never behind
- What is behind you? Clear the walls and remove distractions
- Steady internet — upgrade or get an ethernet cable (or both!)
- Raise your camera. If you have an external webcam, try to place it at eye level. If you’re using a laptop, you can raise the whole thing up on books.
- Clear your desk so your eyes aren’t flicking to clutter in front of you
- Turn off notification on your computer and phone
- Put up a sign for your housemates/family/significant other to let them know when you are and aren’t on a video call.
When deciding where to create your home office set up as a freelancer, some points to consider are:
- The amount of foot traffic a room/area gets
- Light (both natural and artificial)
- Noise levels
- Space for your key pieces: desk, chair, lighting, and a monitor or laptop
- Air — is there an opening window?
- Internet — WIFI signal or access to ethernet cables
- Video conferencing — is there a clear background and enough light?
- Visual distractions — is there crazy wallpaper that will give you a headache or a beautiful river out the window that will send you into reverie?
Setting up a home office on a budget often means switching out rather than cutting back. For example, instead of upgrading your internet, you can buy an ethernet cable (<$10). Instead of buying a new desk, have a look for local swap groups or epicycle an old table. Drab rooms don’t have to mean renting a separate space when a lick of paint will do.
The future of email is here,
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