Over the past couple of years, working from home has become the new normal for millions of people around the world who don’t perform customer-facing functions – and in many cases, the people who began working from home in 2020 weren’t exactly prepared for the change. If you were one of those people, there’s a good chance that you didn’t have a dedicated home office and simply had to throw together an ad hoc environment that suited your needs as well as possible.
If you’re still working in that same ad hoc environment, though, it’s likely that you’re not as happy or as productive as you could be. How can you possibly maximize your productivity in an environment that you constructed on the fly with no regard to ergonomics, cleanliness and efficiency?
It’s time to stop thinking of your workspace as the place where you sit while you’re working and start thinking of it as a true home office. Working from home is great for maintaining a healthy work-life balance, but you’ll only reap the maximum benefit if your home office is a space that you truly enjoy using. Here are some easy ways to make your work-at-home environment as great as it can be.
Invest in Better Ergonomics
If you want to be productive at work, you’ve got to be comfortable. Work-related pain can also carry over into the rest of your life; nagging soreness in your back, neck or arms can leave you feeling tired, short tempered and unable to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle. With those things in mind, there’s probably no better way to improve your home office than by investing in better ergonomics.
OSHA offers the following recommendations for the positioning of your computer, desk and chair.
- Your feet should be flat on the floor.
- There should be plenty of room on your desk for your mouse, keyboard and other peripherals.
- When you rest your elbows on your chair, your arms, wrists and hands should make a straight line leading to the keyboard and mouse.
- Your chair should offer comfortable support for your back.
- When you hold your neck straight, the top of your monitor should be positioned at or slightly below eye level.
If you work from home, buying a comfortable chair and an appropriate desk is one of the best investments you’ll ever make. If you spend your days squinting at a small monitor, it’s time to buy a larger display that’s sharper and more legible. If you use a notebook computer for work, you can reduce the strain on your wrists and arms by buying an external keyboard and mouse. Don’t be nervous about asking your employer to cover these expenses; many employers are happy to provide the equipment that you need. If your employer won’t cover your home office expenses, they may be tax deductible.
Stop Smoking at Your Desk
Smoking is the absolute worst thing that you can possibly do in your home office because there’s no built-in limiting factor. In a traditional office environment, you can’t just smoke at your desk – you have to leave your desk and go to an outdoor smoking area. When you go outside to smoke, you’re not working – so you can’t spend all day taking smoke breaks. Those factors limit the number of cigarettes you smoke per day.
In a home office environment, on the other hand, it’s a different story. Unless you’re on camera talking to customers or coworkers, there’s really nothing to prevent you from chain smoking all day. You’ll end up smoking far, far more often than you would in a traditional office environment, and that’s going to be horrible for your health in the long run. Try buying some disposable vapes and switching to vaping instead. You’ll feel better and save a lot of money. Your home office will also smell much better.
Keep Your Environment Clean and Uncluttered
It’s hard to maintain an uncluttered mind when your environment is the opposite – and it’s difficult to remain focused on the task at hand when all that you can see around you are other tasks that you’re putting off. One of the pitfalls of working at home is that if you’re paid according to your productivity, the amount of money that you can earn is theoretically unlimited if you simply never stop working. In that sense, working at home can actually be a detriment to having a healthy work-life balance because you’ll be tempted to put off tasks that have no direct monetary benefit.
If your environment is dirty, your mind will tend to wander while you’re trying to work. That’s a serious detriment to productivity. You’ve almost certainly heard the phrase “work smarter, not harder,” and that definitely applies here. Close your computer for a few hours and transform your home office into a clean and uncluttered environment that you actually enjoy using. The increased productivity will be more than worth the time spent.
Upgrade Your Computer and Internet Connection
There’s a reason why the federal government is working to improve the nation’s broadband infrastructure: People are more productive when they aren’t waiting for their computers to transfer data. If you spend much of your day waiting for files to download or upload – or video conferences keep cutting out because you don’t have enough bandwidth – upgrading your Internet connection could significantly boost your productivity. This is another situation where your employer might be able to help. If that’s not an option – or you’re self-employed – federal financial assistance may be available if you’re unable to pay for a faster connection.
If you’re working on a computer that’s several years old, it might also be worthwhile to consider an upgrade – especially if you’re using a computer that stores data on a traditional magnetic hard drive. A solid-state drive offers dramatically faster file transfer speeds and will make your computer’s response times seem almost instant.
Add Plants to Improve Your Home Office’s Air Quality
Although you obviously don’t want to work in an environment that’s cluttered and dirty, you wouldn’t want your home office to be completely bare either. You’ll almost certainly want to decorate your workspace in some way, so what can you do to give yourself an area that’s enjoyable to use but still feels professional? We suggest getting some plants. Plants are appropriate in any environment and will help to prevent your home office from feeling too stuffy or too casual. Plants are also natural air purifiers and can help to improve the overall air quality in your home.
Lynn Martelli is an editor at Readability. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University and has worked as an editor for over 10 years. Lynn has edited a wide variety of books, including fiction, non-fiction, memoirs, and more. In her free time, Lynn enjoys reading, writing, and spending time with her family and friends.