As more workers around the world are forced to work from home, it’s actually my hope that companies will start to understand the value of remote work for both employees and themselves. In order for that to happen, though, employees will also have to be ready to adapt to working without going to an office.
To give you a little background, I am a freelance writer and author who has been working and writing from home for over a decade. By now, I have a pretty awesome setup. However, that is not what I started out with.
When I first started, I worked at a desk in my bedroom. It was tiny, in a corner, and did not have much of a view at all. But it worked, temporarily. When my ex-wife and I moved, to a new house, I conscripted an office. It was a former closet, under the stairs in the basement. The walls were pure white, there were shelves where canned goods had been kept that became bookshelves. There was a tiny window on the top of one wall. That was it.
That’s where I wrote the majority of Redemption, my first novel, and where I did a lot of early freelance work, pounding out articles for pennies a word. It wasn’t ideal, but I made it work. Since then, my office has evolved back and forth, from well-constructed and dedicated spaces to wandering from coffee shop to coffee shop, sitting in uncomfortable chairs and mooching Wi-Fi.
The odds are that if you are new to working at home, you may not have a dedicated space, and going out to get things you might need is, well, less than convenient or even forbidden. You can order some things online, but for some, the only way to know if they will work for you is to try them.
So how do you make it work with what you have? Here are some tips and tricks.
Find a Dedicated Space
Since your children may be home too, this may not mean conscripting one of the rooms in your home as an office and moving may be a challenge at the moment for a variety of reasons. Remember, we are working with what you have. If you happen to have an unused cargo container, tons of construction supplies, and a whole lot of time on your hands, you can create a container office in your back yard. However, most of us don’t have that.
A dedicated space can be something as simple as an area you clear on your kitchen table or counter during your work hours. This is what New York Times bestselling author Amanda Turner does. She and her husband Mike both work at home and have very different needs when it comes to their working spaces. But almost every work at home author or entrepreneur I know has a place where they work most if not all of the time.
Of course, if you have kids at home, this may be more challenging as you may need somewhere you can close the door or at least have some privacy. While the videos of kids interrupting conference calls are amusing and can go viral unless you’ve actively monetized your YouTube channel and can duplicate the events over and over, it may not replace your job should you get fired.
Other people need windows and light, but I have another author friend whose desk deliberately faces the wall in his office because the distraction of a window is too much. The key is not where your workspace is set up, but whether it works for you, even temporarily. This might mean a space you create in your garage, your living room, your bedroom, a spare room you were using for storage, or even a former closet under the stairs.
Having a place gets your mind into “work mode.” This is where you work now. Many people struggle with working at home for that simple reason: there are a lot of potential distractions including laundry, dishes, home improvement projects, and more. It may take a bit, but you can train your brain to ignore those things when you are in your workspace.
Your Work from Home Desk and Chair
I started out with a little $20 thrift store school desk. Because I am a “hard typist” that little table would shake as I typed, so my monitor (we’ll get to that in a moment) would wiggle too. It worked, but I replaced it as soon as I could.
The most important thing is the height of the surface compared to that of your chair (more on that in a second, stay with me). You want to use as good of ergonomics as you can manage. Many people who type a lot end up with carpal tunnel and other issues simply because of this one thing.
I’ve been typing away like this for over ten years in various spaces, I type 120 words a minute when I really get rolling, and I’ve typed over 237.000 words already this year as part of my “Million Words in a Year” challenge. I have zero issues with carpal tunnel. The reason is that no matter what, I have tried to pay attention to the height of my chair and my desk, and how that affects my posture, but mostly my hands and wrists.
So which to you choose first? The table you use or your chair? It’s like a chicken and the egg question and depends entirely on what you have on hand. If you have only one desk or table sturdy and large enough for you to work on, then that is your starting point.
As to your chair, ideally, it will be adjustable. If you don’t have one, this can be a challenge. Chairs are such an individual choice, you will have to try a lot of them before you get one that works. However, if you have one that is at least in the right height range, you can make adjustments with pillows or cushions to make it work until you can get a better one.
My first chair was a Walmart special that probably cost me about $30. I’ve had about eighteen thousand chairs since then. My wife had a kitchen chair she used until recently and completed her entire Master’s program online using that chair.
So it can be done. Use the diagram above, and the tons of internet advice out there, to make sure your seated height is good, and your hand and arm positioning are as ideal as you can make them.
Keyboards, Computers, and Monitors
Most of the time when your employer tells you to work at home, they provide you with a laptop and perhaps a docking station. Maybe you have an extra monitor at home, but if you are like many families, your phones and tablets have become your home computer, and you don’t have a monitor handy.
Working for eight or more hours on just a laptop screen can be a problem in many ways. Your eyes will probably be strained, and if you are used to multiple monitors at work, like many of us are, or even a large monitor, this can really affect your productivity.
The solution? Well, there are actually several. The simplest is to use a television. Most computers will connect with an HDMI cable, and you can set up your computer to display on the larger screen. This can be extremely helpful, even as a second monitor. If you have a smaller television in one of the rooms in your house, you can move it to your desk.
If not, monitors are pretty inexpensive online, at least the ones you need for working at home unless you plan to do some online RPG action while you are cooped up. Despite the online run on other items, monitors are pretty plentiful, although that may change for a little while as more people transition to the remote work model.
The same is true of keyboards. Get the best, most ergonomic keyboard you can afford, preferably one similar to the one you have at work. You can work on your laptop keyboard, but for many people, doing that long term creates issues for them. Trust me, keyboard matter, they are inexpensive for the most part, and all of them are less expensive than any kind of hand surgery.
How do I know? Because as the result of a motorcycle accident, I’ve actually had hand surgery. I’m an unusual typist as a result, but I manage, and keyboards, mice, and trackpads that work well are critical. You can use what you have for now, but if you end up working from home long term, a good one is worth the investment.
Paying for Upgrades
First, if you are made to work from home by your employer, they will likely want to you be comfortable and productive. This means they will often pay for simple upgrades like monitors, keyboards, and chairs. If not, buy them yourself and take the tax deduction.
But if you have to, you can make the things you have work. Just remember the basics and start simply. With patience, you will find what works for you, and you may even find that working from home is better for you than working in the office.
Next time, we’ll talk about being productive at home, and how to make that work for too. Until then, stay safe, take care of yourself, and help others when you are able.