The Ideal Work from Home Setup: How to stay productive and effective working from home
Read this post if you need help in creating a solid work from home setup.
Many businesses are trying to come to terms with the majority of their employees forced to work from home due to the Coronavirus outbreak. Most businesses, whether big or small, are struggling to set up systems and processes for managing employees working from home. On the other hand, many employees are also struggling with their home office setup and routine.
I have been working from home for almost four years. I am a marketer living and working from India for companies in India and the US. I work with teams and clients spread across the world. So I think I am well qualified to talk about the work from home setup – what works and what doesn’t.
I hope this post helps you in managing your own home office setup and for your team. Let’s dig in.
The right work from home mindset
Working from home is very different from working in office. There is no manger looking over your shoulder. But it also means that you can’t watch people reporting to you. There are no colleagues to talk to and have lunch with. While work is the same, the work environment is fundamentally different. You need a very different mindset and thought process when working from home.
There is both time and peer pressure when you work in an office. When you see others working, it both motivates and pressurizes you to work harder. It’s very easy for someone to fall off the pace when working from home as there is no one around to set the pace.
When you work in an office, you follow a routine that’s set by office timings. In a work from home setup, there is no time pressure to get ready and do things at a specific time. You can create a work from home schedule, but there is no one around to enforce it. You need a lot more discipline and commitment when working from home.
You also need to change the way you communicate with your team. You need to become comfortable talking to people over phone and computer. When you work in an office, you spend more time meeting people at work than your family or neighbors. But it’s the reverse when you work from home. It takes some time to get used to it, but it’s easier than developing the discipline to complete your work.
One area where I have experienced a lot of difference is in ideation and problem-solving process. When you are in office, you can just walk up to someone and bounce things off them. You get many ideas during casual chat with co-workers. But when you are working from home, you don’t have that luxury. Of course you can call people to talk, but they may be busy and not answer the call. So you need to think through issues a lot more yourself instead of relying on others for help.
Ideal work from home office setup
You may think that setting up the home office is a straight forward thing. Just push the table against a wall or window, get a chair, hook up a computer and you are done. But if you really want to be productive and effective, you need to put a lot more thought into your work from home setup.
The location of your work space in your home is critical to your work. You need a space that’s relatively quiet and has enough space for a comfortable setup. A room that has enough space and a door to close off the noise can be used for home office.
Setup your desk where you can plug your computer and have access to internet. Test your wifi signal to make sure it’s strong enough for video calls. If not, install a booster or get a LAN cable from the router to the desk.
Many people prefer to set up their desk against a window because it gives a nice view. But the movement outside the window can be distracting for many. If you set your desk against a wall, your voice may reflect off the wall and create an echo during conference calls. An easy way to stop that is to put a foam sheet against the wall.
Use a chair that has adjustable height, good back support and adjustable arm rests. It’s important to keep your feet flat on the ground and your hands rested on the arm chair or table to avoid injuries. Your office furniture is designed for work, so it has all these features. When setting up home office, you will need to take care that table height is just right and chair is adjusted for your feet and arms.
Ideally, you should use a laptop, not a desktop. A laptop gives you the flexibility to work from another room or desk in should the need arise. A laptop has a built-in camera, so it’s less messy for video calls.
While your computer may have an in-built microphone and speaker, I recommend you use an external mic and speaker. If you can, buy a Bluetooth mic and speaker combo. The built-in mic and speakers are not good enough for calls.
Your computer screen should be level with your eyes. If you have to look up or down on the screen, you will hurt your neck in a few months. If you are using a laptop, consider buying a tilt stand. You can adjust the height of the stand to ensure you look straight at the screen. You may have to use an external mouse and keyboard if you use a laptop stand.
it goes without saying that you need a fast, at least 16 MBPS dedicated, internet connection. Ideally, you should have a 50 MBPS connection. In addition to that, you also need a backup connection just in case your primary connection goes down. You can’t work from home if you don’t have access to the internet. So you need a backup connection also.
The backup connection must be from a different telecom company than the one that gives you the primary connection. It could be cable, wireless internet or something else. Whatever it’s, it must be fast enough to support video calling.
You will obviously need access to all software and tools you need to do your work. If you are using a company issued computer, it will probably have all the software you need. If you use a SaaS product, then you should have no issues.
If you need to access company’s server for storage, then you may need secure access to the company’s network. Your IT team should be able to help you with remote access to company servers and data.
In addition to regular tools and software, you will also need the following for communicating with your team, managing your time and work:
A video conferencing software like Zoom or Skype. I prefer Zoom because of better quality and ease of use. You don’t need to connect with anyone before joining a call with them. There is no latency, even in the free plan. You can also use an image as your custom background during Zoom calls. It’s really nice if you work from home because you don’t need to worry about the mess behind you.
A task management tool like Trello or Asana to organize your work if your office does not use a project or task management tool. When you work from home, you need to be extra careful about your output. A task tracking tool is just the thing to get your work organized and stay on top of everything.
A time tracking software like HiveDesk can help you keep track of time you spend at work. Even if your company does not require you to keep time, you will immensely benefit from using one. You can see how much time you are working and how you are spending that time. It will help you become more organized and make better use of your time.
Staying productive and effective while working from home
One advantage of working from home is that no one can walk up to you and ask for help, start a chat or otherwise disturb you. You have the flexibility to set your working hours. But it’s also the most difficult part to master.
When you go to office, there is a morning ritual you go through that mentally prepares you for the work. But the home environment keeps you from getting into the grove, at least initially. So instead of creating a new work schedule, I recommend you follow your usual routine and get ready as if you are going to office. This will make sure you start on time and puts you in work mode.
During the first few weeks, avoid working in pajamas even though you may look at it as the best work from home reward. When you put on your office wear, in your mind, you are getting ready to work. It’s harder to get into that mode in pajamas. Once you have settled into your new routine, you can try working in pajamas.
When you work in office, by design, you will get up from your seat and take a short break. These breaks are important because they take you away from the screen and get you moving. These breaks prevent back, neck and hand injuries that happen from continuously working on a computer.
When you work at home, you have to remember to take these breaks. You can set an alarm in your phone to remind you to take the break. Set the alarms at one-hour intervals. Some people suggest more frequent breaks, but I find anything less than an hour to be too disruptive. I tend to lose concentration and flow when I take more frequent breaks.
During the break, get up from the desk and walk around. Look out the window to give rest to your eyes. Stretch your back and legs to relax them. It’s important to do these things if you want to avoid injuries and stay productive.
Since no one is going to disturb you during the day, you can block off time for different tasks and work on them with more focus. For example, if you are a content writer, set up separate blocks of time for research, writing and editing. This creates better focus and helps you to finish work faster and better.
TV and internet are big distractions when working from home. If you invest in stocks, you will be tempted to watch market coverage and interviews on business channels. If you are interested in politics, you may be tempted to check your favorite TV station or news site.
When you work in office, you still have the same urge, but the environment prevents you from overdoing it. You know that your website usage is being tracked. Your manager can come to your desk anytime and you don’t want to be caught reading or watching news.
But when you work from home, no one is watching you or can see what you are doing. So you need a way to manage this urge, especially when you just start working from home. I strongly recommend installing tools that block you from opening certain sites.
You can block your favorite websites through browser security settings also you will not be able to access these sites at all. A better alternative is to use a tool like StayFocusd that allows you to set time limits for each website. When you cross that time limit, the site is blocked. It’s an excellent tool to help you develop right habits when working from home.
When you work from home, you need a setup that helps you stay productive and effective. This includes not just the physical infrastructure like computer, internet and software but also softer aspects such as having the right mindset and processes.