If you can work from home, chances are that you are already doing it. In the fight against COVID-19, most Australian workplaces have shifted to work-from-home arrangements for those who can do so. We’ve seen a run on monitors, keyboards, desks and office chairs, even Bunnings has been inundated as people build their own set ups!
But what do you really need for a home office? The answer depends on what you do, and what sort of space you have to do it in. For people working out of a studio apartment, a home office might be a cosy corner. For those lucky enough to have a spare room they can commandeer, there’s more potential to spread out.
Find the right work spot
Your work space should be quiet, peaceful and away from family traffic. If you have a guest bedroom, separate dining room or second living space, consider converting it temporarily into an office.
Small spaces mean you have to get creative. Is there a corner of your home that gets less foot traffic than others? That might be a corner of the living room, your bedroom or even part of the kitchen bench.
Draw out the plan
To see how much space you’ll need, work out what the surface needs to hold. Some people can work on just a laptop. Others need multiple monitors and other equipment, reference books or other equipment. Draw it out on graph paper and move it around your floor plan to find the right space. You may need to commandeer a bookshelf or install shelving to keep equipment off your work surface.
Keep work and home life separate
Try to keep your working spot just for work, and the rest of the home just for family life. If you can shut a door, that’s ideal. Otherwise, consider using a folding screen or other visual cue.
This does two things. It signals to your family or housemates that you’re at work and unavailable. It also means that at the end of the work day, your work is ‘locked away’ and you can relax without your job bleeding into your leisure time. This is especially important if you’re using your bedroom, which should be a place of relaxation and respite.
It’s also useful for all those Zoom or Teams meetings you’re now on. Nobody needs to see a sink full of dishes behind you!
If you absolutely can’t find a dedicated space, for example, if you need to use the dining table, consider investing in a box or set of drawers that can hold all of your work equipment overnight. At the end of your work day, clear away as much as you can to signal to yourself that it’s time to relax.
One huge advantage of a home office is the ability to decorate it your way. Your boss might frown on your collection of sloth memorabilia or polka-dot stationery, but now’s your chance! Investing in some personal touches can make a huge difference to your mood as you work from home.
Store office supplies in decorative boxes, hang your favourite artwork and express yourself with colour. If space allows, a desktop plant is a great mood booster and good for your health.
Good light is a must
The lighting in your home office space is important. Good natural light is ideal but try not to sit with your back to a window. The glare from the sun will reflect in your monitor and make it difficult to see. If the area you’re working in is dim, invest in a good lamp or two. Set them over your reading area and slightly behind you to avoid reflective issues.
Develop an ergonomic set up
We might all be working from home for several months yet, so get comfortable! A supportive chair is a must. Choose one with proper back and arm support for the type of work you do, and which is adjustable to your height. A small footstool can help with posture.
Convertible stand/sit desks are great for alleviating back pain but very pricey. If your budget can’t swing it, compromise with a slide-out keyboard holder that means you can set your keyboard at the right height for you.
Manage the electronics
When you’re picking your work-from-home space, make sure you have easy access to power sockets. It’s easy to overlook how many connections you need until you try and work from home, but factor in how many of the following you’ll use, there may even be more:
• Phone/tablet charger
• External hard drive
If you have to resort to power boards, include a power surge protector. And no matter what you use, make sure your set up doesn’t leave cords trailing across the house. A cord cover kit or wall hooks are both great ways to keep them off the floor and tidied away.
And one last thing: make sure you keep the receipts for anything you’ve needed to buy for your home office. If your employer doesn’t reimburse you, in almost all cases, it can be claimed against your taxable income at 30 June.
None of us know when or if the world will go back to normal. Working from home is likely to be part of our lives for a long time to come. Spend some time creating a home office set up that really works for you and enjoy working in your own beloved home.