From Home to Office in Record Time
In March 2020, out of concern about the coronavirus pandemic, many U.S. workers relocated from office buildings, campuses, and other locations to home offices—or more likely, to living room sofas, dining room tables, kitchen counters, and corner nooks in bedrooms. According to Gallup Panel data, nearly seven in 10 employees are still working remotely all or part of the time.
You may have hit the ground running to set up your home office months ago by securing the basics—a computer, a desk or table, a chair, WiFi or direct Internet connection, ability to access work applications, and sufficient lighting to work on your computer and to participate in live online videoconferences. If you are faced with continuing to work out of your home office for an indefinite period of time, taking time now to do an inventory of your home office environment may help you be more productive, comfortable, and focused.
Be More Productive
Make a realistic schedule so you can complete your top priorities during your peak times of productivity. Try to adhere to your regular work schedule by starting and ending your work day about the same time you would if you were physically at work, take your lunch and snack breaks at the same time each day, and consistently schedule and attend online meetings with your colleagues.
If you’ve experienced intermittent slowdowns or weak or spotty WiFi coverage in certain parts of your home, this could be a good time to upgrade. A new router could be especially helpful to handle the increased demands that come with multiple users in one household. Consumer Reports lets you know “How to Get a Stronger WiFi Signal” and offers tips for WiFi security.
If you are employed by a company with IT staff, consult with them to review your computer, printer, and WiFi setup as well as antivirus and anti-malware software to reach your maximum productivity.
You may have used videoconferencing apps to meet with clients and coworkers as well as family and friends before you started working at home during the pandemic. But, you may not have thought a lot about options, backgrounds, and presentation tips that can enhance your online participation that are provided in a Consumer Reports list of free videoconferencing apps.
If you are still part of a work team, let your colleagues know the best way to connect with you (for example, cell phone, email, text message, FaceTime, or videoconference) and the best times to reach you.
Update your team frequently about the progress of shared work, project deadlines, and other important tasks. Consider using free document creation apps like Google Docs or Microsoft’s Office.com and project management software to keep everyone up-to-date.
Take breaks throughout the day to increase your productivity and improve your circulation. Get up and walk to a different room in the house, get a glass of water, or do a few stretches. Set a reminder on your phone or, if you have a fitness watch, set up alerts to encourage you to move more.
Be More Comfortable
A chair that offers adequate back support with adjustable heights to allow you to change the positioning of your legs during the day and a footstool that can help prevent leg fatigue is the ideal choice. But, in lieu of investing in new furniture, make sure your task chair allows your feet to rest on the floor while your pelvis and lower back fit snugly against the back of the chair. If your chair isn’t adjustable, sitting on a cushion can aid you in being comfortable. Your task chair should support you while avoiding undue pressure on your spine. An ill-fitting chair that encourages you to slouch can result in an aching back and other health repercussions.
In evaluating your chair in relation to your desk or table, you want your arms to be bent around 90 degrees or up to 115 degrees when you place them on your keyboard, with your wrists in a neutral position and not resting on the keyboard. Relax your shoulders, with your elbows near your sides or on the armrests.
You may want to consider using a standing desk either all or part of your workday. Ergonomics experts approve of this option because it encourages users to change positions frequently from sitting to standing throughout the day. Consumer Reports provides a guide, “How to Choose a Standing Desk” to help you find options and price points to meet your home office needs.
Ensure that your workspace has enough electrical outlets to accommodate your computer, printer, and phone chargers to keep your workflow uninterrupted and fully charged.
Pay attention to the availability of natural light sources when setting up your home office and supplement them with artificial light if needed. You’ll feel the benefits of keeping your workspace bright and airy. Since you’re spending the majority of the day sitting or standing at your desk or table, having access to natural light can have an impact on your overall work performance, mood, and wellness. Harvard Business Review reported on a connection between natural light and employee well-being.
Instead of holding your cell phone between your shoulder and ear which may cause neck, back, and shoulder pain if you type while you talk on the phone, use earphones, earbuds, or a headset, or put your phone on speaker mode.
By using an ergonomic keyboard, you can place your wrists and hands in a healthier, more natural position than conventional keyboards to minimize discomfort and injuries like tendonitis. PC Magazine reviewed “The Best Ergonomic Keyboards for 2020” to use to avoid repetitive stress injuries.
Arrange your keyboard so it is centered to your body and if you use a mouse make sure it is within a natural reach to reduce muscle load and prevent strain.
When positioning your computer screen, place it at eye level so you are looking slightly down toward the center of the screen to prevent neck strain, dry eyes, headaches, and blurred vision. Give your eyes regular breaks from the monitor and force yourself to blink frequently when staring at the screen for extended periods of time. Don’t sit too close to the screen—your eyes should be an arm’s length away from the computer. Monitor arms can be used to align your screen but you also can use boxes or books to position your monitor.
View a YouTube video on office ergonomics for additional tips on setting up a comfortable at-home workstation.
Be More Focused
A quality pair of headphones is a simple way to help you focus on your tasks by reducing the noise you hear around you. Consumer Reports reviewed “Best Noise-Canceling Headphones of 2020” that can help you choose a pair that’s right for you. Search YouTube.com for “music for office work” and listen to background music conducive to working calmly in a distracting environment.
If possible, find a dedicated space with a door where you can work free from family activities and unnecessary distractions when you need to focus on deadlines, communication with clients or colleagues, and videoconferences. If you don’t have an option for a space with a door, try to set up an area off-limits to others for a few hours a day or use a foldable screen to indicate your need to minimize interruptions.
Establish a consistent schedule by starting and ending your day at the same time every workday to help you reinforce the separation between ‘work’ and ‘home.’ Establishing a routine also will help you manage your time so you are not working overtime or getting distracted with housekeeping chores during worktime.
Keep your shared calendar updated to ensure that others have accurate information about your availability.
In becoming more productive, comfortable, and focused, while you use part of your home for business, you may be able to deduct some of the expenses incurred when you file your income taxes. The IRS website says the home office deduction is available for both homeowners and renters and applies to all types of homes. Generally, deductions for a home office are based on the percentage of your home devoted to business use. So, if you use a whole room or part of a room for conducting your business, you need to figure out the percentage of your home devoted to your business activities.
At InsureYouKnow.org, you can keep track of your home office expenses, including how you use a percentage of your home to accommodate your business, that you’ll need in 2021 when you file your 2020 income taxes.