Working from home is an increasingly popular option for American workers. In fact, it’s become a negotiation point that many consider the most important job perk. In order to truly be effective at your job, however, you need a work-from-home space that actually works for you.
Here are some tips to help you set up a home office, increase your productivity and avoid some common mistakes.
1. Have a Dedicated Space
It’s not realistic to think you can set up shop in a different spot each day, logging in from the bed, the sofa or the dining room table. Sure, you can move around during your day, but you need a dedicated place to keep files, receipts, charging or docking stations and a monitor, as well as a quiet area for call-in meetings.
If you have a guest bedroom with space for a desk, it can be an ideal choice for a home office. If your apartment has a large walk-in closet, you might consider converting a smaller closet to office space, adding a good light, a desktop and a power strip and extension cord. (IKEA sells lightweight desktops that are inexpensive to ship.)
Whatever space you choose, make it easy to access. You’ll get irritated if you’re having to constantly convert a space that’s often used for other purposes.
2. Limit Your Distractions
You might think you can glance at TV news or market indexes now and then, and that may be true. But once the sound is turned up, or – far worse – you switch channels to a favorite like ESPN, DIY or Bravo, you’re sunk. You’re not likely to be able to focus with that much temptation in the room. Ask yourself: Would you do this in front of your boss or coworkers?
Pings from electronic devices can also be a distraction. They’ll tempt you to check your voicemail, texts, Facebook messages, or Instagram account, a sure way to lose focus. Try to separate your personal and social communication platforms from your work computer. Set up alarms or a schedule for stretching your legs and checking your devices, and stay focused in between short breaks.
A window with a busy view might give your mind more to process than it needs. That goes triple for a space filled with personal business like unpaid bills, grocery shopping lists or things you need to file. If at all possible, keep your work space separate from your personal office.
Limiting distractions means asking yourself, 'Would I watch or listen to this at the office?'
3. Prioritize Ergonomics
No matter where you work, you can only do it if you’re not in physical pain. If you can, invest in an ergonomic keyboard. They’re designed to protect your wrists and hands, something a chiropractor, massage therapist or orthopedic surgeon would all agree is important.
Just as important: your desk height. Don’t use too-high a work surface or you’ll be holding your shoulders up all day. A small desk with a keyboard tray can be a dynamite investment in your productivity and wellness. Many big-box stores and online retailers offer these accessories. A desk that raises up is also a great investment. Standing for a good portion of your day can help keep you healthier, aid your circulation and may even prevent weight gain.
Don’t scrimp on your seating, either: Invest in an ergonomic chair. This will pay dividends in the long run, since comfort equals productivity. And get a good light if you do a fair amount of reading or document proofing. There’s no substitute for light.
4. Don’t Forget the Non-Negotiables
When setting up your space, keep these important necessities in mind:
- Make sure you don’t have a bright window at your back for a computer job. Very few shades can compensate for a window’s glare on your screen. At the same time, natural light can do wonders for productivity (not to mention mood and overall health), so position your work space to get the benefits of a window without the drawbacks.
- Determine where your nearest power outlets are and whether you can plug in as many devices as you need, where you need them.
- Check to make sure your location has great mobile signal strength (or plan on putting in a land line). Make sure you have a strong Wi-Fi connection and that it’s fast enough for your professional requirements.
- Spend a few workday hours at home to make sure your neighbors don’t have super-noisy habits (or dogs) of which you’re not aware.
5. Find a Balance: Convenience vs. Lifestyle
If you have roommates or a romantic partner, don’t leave them out of the conversation. If they’re not happy while you’re working, or with where you work, this will affect your focus, and thus, your productivity. How often is your roomie home during working hours? Will conference calls or the need for quiet necessitate a change in their lifestyle?
Will an office in the bedroom put a crimp in your love life? Will file folders or training manuals feel like clutter? Will a computer desk eliminate the option of in-home workouts? Are someone’s habits going to change when it comes to watching TV, listening to music or having friends drop by?
Working remotely can have lots of advantages (gas savings, more free time, less demands in the wardrobe department and more flexibility). Just make sure your home office positions you for success, by following these tips when setting up your new work space.
Tell Us What You Think
Telecommuters, we want to hear from you: what’s the best thing you’ve done to make your home office a productive space? Give us your tips in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.