Follow these tips to take your home office to the next level.
Working from home wasn't rare before the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has since become the norm for many, even if only a few days per week. In the early stages of lockdown, we were all getting used to working from home, or WFH, but with the expectation that we would very soon return to the office and life as we knew it. Many of us created workstations in a corner or maybe made do with casual home offices that had been sitting barely used for years prior.
Since then, many people have reconfigured their homes or WFH setups to accommodate the new, often full-time demands placed on the home office. Here's how you can make your home office an ideal space for the long term:
A home office must be ready for videoconferencing.
Upgrade antiquated technology at home.
Your workspace should not be as dark as a cave.
Separate your workspace from your non-workspace.
A Home Office Must Be Ready for Videoconferencing
When WFH became commonplace in 2020, videoconferencing on Zoom and other programs was new and exciting, but it also came with gaffes or shocking moments not meant to be broadcast. It seemed novel that employees might curate video backgrounds for meetings to convey a sense of professionalism. Today, though, this has become one of the first things considered when designing a home office.
"Before COVID, Zoom meetings were far less prevalent," says Amanda Hirsh, the owner and founder of West End Knits, a luxury custom knitting business. She and her husband are designing home office setups in their new house in Aspen, Colorado. Before lockdown, Hirsh and her husband had a small home office off their bedroom, but the new demands created by WFH shined a light on that office's shortcomings.
"A two-person office seems like a great idea in theory, but it doesn't work in reality when we are on calls or in video conferences throughout the day," Hirsh says. "Now you need to consider videoconferencing and whether another person can pass by the office without being seen in the video frame. In our old house, I might be unable to leave the office if my husband was on a video call."
To solve this problem, they are figuring out how to create two different office spaces in their house.
Here are some background staging ideas:
Consider picking a plain wall. Pick a spot in your home for videoconferencing and think about the background behind you. A plain wall behind you might be ideal, with solid paint, brick or even a simple wallpaper, to convey a neutral message.
Declutter the space behind you. If you have shelving behind your desk, declutter and organize those shelves. Remove beat-up soft-cover books, dead plants or cheap collectibles, and replace them with elegant coffee table books, fresh flowers, a tidy plant and simple but attractive objects. If the shelves are sagging, can you tighten them? You don't want your colleagues to worry that the shelves will collapse in the middle of the call.
Keep cushions neat. If you're beaming in from a bedroom or living room, make sure the cushions and blankets are straight and look plush. If you must have a bed in the background, make sure the bed is nicely made.
Try out the background. Take a screenshot and apply a critical eye to edit out anything distracting or off-putting, or run a test video call with a friend whose opinion you trust and who will tell you that the edgy contemporary art behind you looks like porn or a crime scene.
Stage your background with video chats in mind. If you have video chats with clients who are tightening their belts, keep the background simple and not ostentatious. If your clients entrust you with fresh ideas, the visual message you're sending about your home needs to convey your modern taste. Ultimately, if your home in the background looks messy and disorganized, it may convey that you don't have a handle on the work you are being paid to do.
Raise your camera to eye level. It's more flattering to view someone at eye level versus looking up at their neck and nostrils. Prop your computer up on some coffee table books if your desk is too low.
Update Antiquated Technology at Home
Technology upgrades and improved comfort at home have also become commonplace to sustain long hours working from home.
Reena Patton is an entertainment professional in Los Angeles, and her WFH setup has evolved over the last two years. "When lockdown first began, working from home was a nice change of pace," she says. "But I thought we'd be back at the office after just a few weeks. I created a basic, sunny setup by the window in my kitchen without anticipating that all those hours in a kitchen chair would become uncomfortable. As working from home became the norm, I gave in and brought home a more ergonomic chair."
Patton adds that over time she also bought a ring light and headset, learned to blur her Zoom background, and continued to upgrade her videoconferencing technology so that it would be as reliable as possible to support the demands of the job.
Tommy Wiles, a marketing executive in San Francisco, has also upgraded his work-from-home setup with a new monitor, webcam and chair, adding that his work-from-home setup is now a permanent fixture in his house.
"I'm not just working at the dining room table. Your (home) office is where you spend 40-plus hours per week, so your setup is as important as the sheets and mattress you sleep on every night," Wiles says.
Digital signature programs like DocuSign are in use more than ever before. As businesses continue to progress at a swift pace, being able to send or receive documents needing signature electronically is critical. Many people use printers and scanners at home, but electronic signatures are faster, especially as our businesses continue to progress toward being paperless. You want to function as seamlessly from home as you would from your office.
Your Workspace Should Not Be As Dark As a Cave
Many people looking for a new home prioritize natural light, and in the northern hemisphere, southern exposure is the brightest. When setting up your home for WFH success, ensure your workspace is well lit. A bright office "makes it easier and more motivating to work from home," Hirsh says.
Whenever possible, setting up a home office or workspace with ample natural light is essential to help get through a long workday at home. For example, Wiles set up his workstation near the largest windows in the house, noting that "natural light keeps me energized and elevates my mood." He adds: "When my team sees me on videoconference in such a sunny workspace, I think they all raise their game a little as well; it telegraphs that we aren't slacking off, sitting in a dark room watching TV all day when we should be working."
Not only is good lighting important to keep you motivated, it's also helpful for videoconferencing. Your workspace should appear conducive to getting work done, not telling ghost stories by the campfire. Good lighting, including the light from a ring light, can enhance how you look on camera. The lighting should be flattering because bad lighting can be distracting if it makes you look strange on camera to your boss, colleagues or potential customers.
Separate Your Workspace From Your Non-Workspace
In the era of WFH, the classic commute might be a thing of the past, but it's still important to separate the place you live from the place you work.
When corporate strategist Marc Schechter and his husband had to work from home at the start of the lockdown, they quickly felt cramped in their one-bedroom apartment in New York City.
"Once we were both telecommuting, our comfort in working from home became the top priority," Schechter says. "Our apartment just seemed to shrink." They decided to move to a spacious house in Connecticut where they could each have their own home offices, and Schechter took a new job that was fully remote.
"At first, I just used my laptop anywhere in the house during work hours, but now I work almost exclusively from my home office," Schechter says.
To make the most of business hours, Schechter fully stocked his workspace with office supplies and new equipment, on top of an organizational system that wouldn't be as easy to maintain if he worked from the living room sofa or a dining table. Furthermore, he spends the workday at his desk and tries not to go into his home office when he's not working.
Of course, having a dedicated home office is ideal as WFH seems here to stay, but if you don't have enough space or separate rooms, pick a corner or nook to set up your workspace. Choosing an area with minimal distractions is best; if possible, don't set up your workspace in your bedroom. Where you sleep and "turn off" should not be where you work.
While many employers are working hard to get their employees back into the office, it appears to be a tough road, given the pushback on commuting versus WFH. For those who are permanently working from home, the home office must function as professionally and efficiently as the company office.
With so many of our homes having been turned into de facto offices even post-lockdown, there is no reason we shouldn't invest in the ideal setup. And now that we have two years of experience with WFH, we can and should set ourselves up for success. Plenty of natural light (and a ring light), superfast Wi-Fi, and the most comfortable ergonomic chair may make all the difference.
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