COVID-19 has changed life drastically for a lot of us. And, with so many of us being thrust into a new reality of working from home, we haven’t had the time to figure out how to best create a space at home to get our work done. While makeshift workspaces might suffice for a week or two, now that the “new normal” includes a home office, it’s worth it to take the time to carve out a space for yourself that is sustainable for the longer term.
Offices can be a blessing and a curse – they create structure for getting work done, but that structure isn’t always in tune with how each of us best operates. Just like some people are visual learners and others are auditory learners, some of us do our best work first thing in the morning at our desk while others do their best work later in the day on our laptops in a cozy chair.
Although working from home isn’t a free-for-all (you still have to check-in, complete tasks, and be available to colleagues), it does give you the opportunity to determine how you are most productive. Structure both your daily schedule and your workspace around your own brand of productivity. That might look like scheduling meetings after lunch when you’re more energized or leaving the brain-heavy work for first thing in the morning when the house is quiet and you can settle into an armchair.
We don’t all have the luxury of a room in our house dedicated to a home office (but if you do, great!), so if you have to set up a makeshift workspace, it’s important to give yourself room beyond the edge of the kitchen counter.
Versatility is the name of the game – if you’re using the dining room table, for example, ensure that the rest of your household understands that between 9 AM and 5 PM (or noon and 8 PM, whichever hours make the most sense for you), this is your office, not the lunch table. Make space for a shelf in the room so that you don’t have to build an office each morning. Can you borrow a nightstand from another room to act as your filing cabinet? Even a small sense of permanence will help your new workspace feel less chaotic.
Many of us are using laptops and makeshift desks to work from home, so remember that even a few weeks in a temporary setup can end up causing us joint and muscle pain if we’re not careful.
Find a supportive chair that allows you to sit upright without craning your neck downward. Keep your feet firmly planted so that your hips, knees, and elbows remain at 90 degrees, and raise your monitor or laptop so that the top edge of your screen is just below your eyeline to keep your neck neutral. Make sure you’re positioned away from lamps or sunny windows to reduce the glare off your monitor as well.
A benefit of the traditional office setup is that breaks are often scheduled into our day. They’re important not just to ensure we’re eating and moving around, but even more so for our mental health.
Set an alarm on your phone to remind you to get up, stretch, drink a glass of water, and get some fresh air every hour or two. Without the usual commute to work, working from home means that we simply move less, so periodically moving around is even more important. Taking a walk over the lunch hour (or whenever the sun comes out each day) also means that we will produce better work! Our minds need a chance to reset and recharge after staring at a monitor while the stress of managing this new work life is constantly running in the background. Now more than ever we need those breaks. They don’t have to be long, as even five minutes of movement and respite from your inbox every hour will make a big difference to your day, your productivity, and your state of mind.
With a few tweaks and some careful choices, we can make the best out of a less-than-ideal situation. If we’re mindful of the way we’re working and the space we’re working in, this new reality won’t be entirely disruptive and can actually be an opportunity to learn about our own work and productivity preferences.