Let’s dive into the remote work waters!
Whether you’ve spent the pandemic times working remotely, or you’re considering a permanent jump into the remote work waters, the rewards of flexibility are often overshadowed by the frustrations of a remote environment. The good news is that you’re in control of your remote workspace, and we’re going to deep dive into setting yourself up for success!
We’re going to discuss the challenges you’ll need to overcome, how to determine your style, picking the perfect spot, setting up your environment, minding your health, drool-worthy tech tools, and of course, setting clear boundaries.
The challenges you will face
Even folks who have worked remotely for decades are now refining their processes as more folks work from home, and the universal challenges for freelancers or teams are:
- Clear and consistent communication
- Stability (not just wifi, but reliability of team members)
- Boundaries between personal and work lives
- Employer requirements and restrictions
Over-communication is key to keeping all stakeholders on the same page, yet so few remote teams excel at this skill. For many, productivity and a healthy work/life balance are mythical creatures they’ve been chasing for years, but we’ll address how to take control of all of these common challenges.
First step: Determine your personal style
Think back to your most productive self. Was this in high school at a minimalist desk and your pen that wrote just right? Or was it in college, studying in a loud student center that kept you focused? Perhaps it was your wildly messy desk at your last job, where only you knew were each thing on your desk was, but your 3-monitor setup got your creative juices flowing?
Picture that most productive version of yourself and consider what the catalyst was for your success. Was it a clean desk? A noisy room? A personal clutter? They’re all valid answers.
Once you have a clear picture in your mind, we know what you’re working towards (even if it’s an out-of-control messy desk but your inspiration was those fancy monitors).
Pro tip: Before you buy a single thing or determine that you’ve just mastered a home office workspace after reading a few sentences, hold up – let’s talk about what all you’ll need! It can get expensive to shoot from the hip and working from a sofa is hugely different than outfitting a private office with a door.
Next step: Picking the perfect spot for your remote workspace
If you have the luxury of choosing what spot inside of a home you’ll be working from, congrats, this section is for you. If you are rolling up the West Coast in your RV, you may already have your dream spot picked out.
Think back to your personal style regarding your environment.
- If you are laser-focused in a silent environment and the dining room table or sofa is your only option, Amazon has foldable room dividers that range in size. If the budget is tight, consider hanging a curtain. Sometimes a physical divide between you and the rest of the world can get you into the focus zone and help people you live with to understand that you are literally at work.
- For those in a full house with no option of a separate space, consider a “when these headphones are on, I am at work and no one is allowed to contact me unless there is an emergency” policy. This is a common tactic for workers of all types, not just remote!
- Are you lucky enough to have a private office with a door that closes (hallelujah!)? You already have the perfect spot, congrats! Sometimes, seeing real-life examples of how others have set up their workspaces can be helpful – check out these 10 home setups, and an inside look at remote workers’ offices.
Time to set up your space
If you’ve never worked remotely (or have always hated your home office), there is a lot to take into consideration, but we’re old pros at this, so here is everything you’ll need to ponder:
- Laptop or Desktop? Answering this depends on your industry and needs. If you’re in IT, a 2008 laptop isn’t an option but if you’re a novelist, it could be. Do you work with tons of visual details or high-powered software? A desktop might be your best bet. Working with what you already have is ideal, but can always be supplemented. For example, a laptop can benefit from an external monitor and travel keyboard/mouse combo.
- High-speed internet isn’t really optional in today’s work world, but if you’re traveling it’s not always available. We acknowledge that the following might not apply to you, so just do your best! If you are in a stationary spot and in control of your internet provider, snag the fastest option available, because we now live in a world where we stream music while using dozens of online tech tools, then hopping on to a Zoom call. Plugging an ethernet cord into a desktop or laptop is the best option, but powerful wifi is another great option. Don’t swap productivity to save a few dollars – it’s one of the most important investments in working from home!
- No matter what line of work you’re in, get a VPN (virtual private network). It protects everything you type from being seen by hackers or other bad actors that you’d be surprised want your info (not just work info but email passwords, bank info, or literally anything you type into your keyboard). PCMag has ranked their top 10 VPNs, so the research is already done for you.
- Protect your expensive equipment with a surge protector. Please, for the love of dogs, don’t plug stuff into a wall. Please. Even an inexpensive surge protector is better than none. If you’re serious about your technologies, consider an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) which will keep your equipment powered up if electricity goes out, for anywhere between a few minutes (to allow everything to save), to an hour. Keeping your computer and router plugged is ideal to safeguard your work.
- Review your renter’s or homeowner’s insurance policy before working remotely – coverage of equipment varies wildly and it’s info you should know. If you own your business, review your business insurance policy. Each may have requirements for documenting your belongings before an event, so take note!
- You’ll want some basic office supplies that don’t seem necessary in this digital world, but become inconvenient when missing: A stapler plus staples, paper clips, pens, a notebook, files, a file box, and some functional storage. Toss it all into a small box to tuck away, or buy attractive supplies to display on your desk – there’s no wrong answer here!
- We mentioned the universal “I’m busy” signal as being headphones. Be they your favorite AirPods or wired headphones that blast bass into your earholes, marry them to your workspace. Especially if you live with other people, it can be your way of being polite. If you’re in the market for upgrading, consider a headset or headphones with a built-in microphone (most of which have noise-cancellation), as the world has evolved into constant Zoom calls.
- Adapters! You’d be surprised how helpful adapters are in a pinch, whether leaving your home workspace to present to a client, or while traveling. A simple USB-C-to-USB 2.0 adapter helps in case you need to use a thumb drive, an external drive, or a different keyboard or mouse than what is currently plugged in. Lifesaver! Also, if you travel internationally (or plan to), snag a multi-country adapter so you don’t lose any productivity.
- External accessories can be tremendously helpful if you don’t plan on buying a whole new computer or laptop. You can still get a lot of work done from an older laptop with an upgraded external monitor. Or if your desktop has a great monitor but the webcam sucks, don’t toss the baby out with the bathwater, just get a USB cam and/or USB microphone.
Now, let’s take your health into consideration
You may be an ultra-healthy nutritionist that stays hydrated at all times, but are you considering proper lumbar support? You may struggle with chronic health issues, so you’ve researched and know that blue-light glasses help avoid migraines, but did you know your monitor may be up too high or too low and be contributing as well?
No matter your health, let’s make sure your space is set up to help you, not hurt you!
- Let’s start with choosing your desk. Although 29” is the standard, if you’re 4’9” or 6”7, that’s not going to work for you. Perhaps you’ve been curious about that standing desk option (there’s a lot of research on that). Because it’s hard to know what is going to feel right until you experience it for a few work days, aim for flexibility. If you can afford a desk that adjusts electronically, awesome! If not, at least make sure the legs can be lowered or raised (even $4 IKEA legs do this).
- Your chair is your best friend. If you’re not working from the sofa, it’s what most folks say is their top investment for their home workspace. Get a rolling chair with adjustable height that has lumbar support for your lower back. It’s ideal if it has adjustable seat pan tilt and adjustable arm height. You may think you don’t want arms on your chair, but it’s what keeps you in the healthiest position – your forearm should just barely rest on the arm rest with no pressure from your arm.
- Monitor height and angles are extremely important. Did you know that when sitting straight and looking forward, your eyes should be at 25-30% below the top of the screen so you don’t hunch your back or shoulders? This is impossible with most laptops, so consider a foldable monitor stand for proper height. For external monitors, consider a monitor bracket or monitor shelf and adjust accordingly.
- Wrist pads in front of your keyboard and mouse are so useful, but should only be used for breaks in between typing, and your palms should rest on them, not your wrists (despite the misleading name). Proper typing form is wrists parallel to the keyboard, hovering slightly above it. This is why so many employers insist on using pull-out keyboard drawers.
- Consider lighting. If you have access to natural light, position your desk nearest to that light for some good ol’ vitamin D. But don’t sit with a window behind your back if possible, as it can jack up your next video call. If your workspace has no windows, you’ll want a desk lamp that isn’t next to your screen (it can cause a glare and hurt your eyes over time), but also consider a sun lamp. While we’re at it, protect your eyes with adding bluelight protection to your next set of new prescription glasses, or snag an ultra inexpensive non-prescription pair online to avoid eye strain from staring at screens all day!
- Did you know that 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated? If you think kidney failure sounds fun, don’t consider your water intake, otherwise, make this part of your work day! Some folks benefit by investing in an attractive BPA-free water bottle that looks great on their desk (thus incentivizing their use), others straight up drink from a jug. Do your thing, just be sure to incorporate it into your workspace setup!
- PLANTS! Hear us out – no matter your setup, you can incorporate a plant or two. It’ll help filter the air in your space, perk your desk up, and maybe become your new friend if you name it? Small or large, give it a shot.
- Whether exercise is part of your daily life or not, consider it in your home office. Stretching and taking regular breaks are commonly forgotten by remote workers, but if you want your body to function in 20 years, there are super easy ways to incorporate it! If fitness is central to your life (or you want it to be), make it part of your workspace – create room for your stationary bike in the corner, or keep pedals under your desk. Fitness equipment is not required to be in a separate room just because you’re being professional!
Drool-worthy tech tools
The most successful remote workers and teams know that technologies (especially software tools) can speed you up or slow you down. Whether you’re solo or on a team, this roundup will give you ideas of tools that folks from across industries are using as their competitive advantage.
Note that some tools are listed more than once, so take those seriously – they multi-task just like you do!
Tools for your workflow, project management, and accountability:
Apps to keep your communication and projects flowing:
Tools to track your time:
- Harvest (which also has invoicing!)
- Also, less time tracking and more of a secret method: Pomodoro!
Automation tools take time to set up but are serious superpowers:
Technologies that will backup your data:
File sharing tools will keep things running smoothly:
Tracking your to do lists:
Note that if not working on your own, your employer will most likely have requirements on the technologies you use (so use those!), but may also have restrictions on things like data backup and file sharing, so be sure you know the rules of the road before you roll!
Now it’s time to set up your remote workspace
As you begin implementing tools and setting up your home office, remember that it should evolve until you find what works best for you. Continue tweaking. Consider what inspires you to want to head into the office – is that shiny new tech toys? Pretty office supplies? A to do list that explodes at the end of the day? Do more of that and center your space around what inspires you and gets you into the right headspace.
Also consider what’s missing. Do you miss the sounds of a coffee shop? Those can be found online! Maybe you miss being around humans, and while a pandemic makes that complicated, schedule regular happy hours on Zoom with folks that motivate you.
Set your own policies for your workspace – do you have regular work hours or is it better for your health to work according to your energy levels each day? Are you able to take a regular lunch? Do you clean your desk at the end of every workday? Can you set three goals at the start of every day? Commit to what makes sense to you in your home office.
Now it’s time to get going!