A recent PwC study confirms what a lot of us already knew. We like working from home, and we want to keep doing it. Hopes and Fears 2021 found that 90% of Australians want to keep working from home in some capacity, with most preferring a hybrid schedule (a mix of at-home and in-office days).
Now that we’re looking to the long term, an ironing board isn’t going to cut it as a desk. It’s time to get serious about creating a work from home space.
1. Choose the right space
If you’re lucky enough to have a spare room or study in your house, the choice of where to work is an easy one. For others, you might have to get creative.
Ideally, you’ll be able to find somewhere with a door you can close when you’re on a call. It should have plenty of natural light, which elevates the mood and helps with productivity. Good air flow is also important, so try and find somewhere with a window you can open.
If space is tight, consider building a desk into an alcove or the corner of a room — preferably not the preferred hang out zone for your kids and their friends! You could also consider converting a carport or garage, or even turn the garden shed into a stand-alone home office. Bonus: garden views!
2. Keep it ergonomic
Your home office should be set up to minimise back, neck and eye strain. How you do that will depend on the equipment and set up that you need. Consider whether that’s multiple monitors, physical paper files, a stylus or mouse, a desktop, laptop or tablet.
Focus on the task that you do for most of the time. An academic might need to read textbooks and journals and will want a reading lamp and a comfortable chair. A graphic designer, who spends a lot of time with a mouse or stylus, would benefit from a wrist rest to avoid RSI.
No matter what you do, your neck, shoulders and back should be in a vertical line. If you’re hunching forward because you’re working on a low table or desk, you’ll cause strain and possible injury. Where a higher desk isn’t possible, you can raise your monitor to a comfortable eye level with books or a laptop riser.
Your hands and wrists should be in a neutral position with hand, wrist and forearm in a straight line flush with your workspace. If your wrist hinges, it can cause strain. Adjust the height of your table or chair, and/or move your keyboard to a comfortable distance.
It’s not critical that you sit up straight, but it is critical that you have lower back support. For many people, that’s more easily achieved by leaning back slightly, as if you’re driving. If a fancy adjustable office chair is beyond the budget, you can buy chair cushions designed for lumbar support or even use a folded towel.
3. Build in boundaries
Working from home successfully isn’t just about the physical space. There are also things you can do to make the experience healthier and more pleasant. One of the attractions of working from home is the ability to be more flexible. If you need to take a 15 minute break to pick the kids up from school or hang out some laundry, you can do so without booking leave. The flip side is that work can start to bleed into your home life as well.
To combat this, find ways to keep the two things separate.
Try ‘commuting’ to work. This might be as simple as walking around the block before ‘arriving at the office’ or hopping on your bicycle for a half hour ride. It will build in a boundary between home and work, not to mention force you to get out of your pyjamas. And even if your ‘commute’ is only a 5 minute walk, the fresh air and exercise can really boost your mood.
Wherever you’ve decided to set up your working space, try to keep it distinct from your leisure space. That means that if it’s a home office, don’t also use it to watch movies or play computer games. If it’s a nook in the bedroom, consider adding a screen so you can’t see your laptop while you’re drifting off to sleep. Your work space is for work.
4. Make it personal
One of the primary joys of working from home? Nobody can tell you what to do with your workspace. Your office might have strict clean-desk rules, but you can have as many ornaments as you like at home.
Lean into it! Maybe you could consider a swath of vibrant wallpaper behind your desk to delineate the space and improve your mood. Buy a lush throw blanket for chilly days, or a striking plant for decoration. If you’ve got a room to yourself, invest in some speakers for the perfect ambient mood.
There’ll never be a better opportunity to create the workspace of your dreams.