Tips to Make a Home Office Work


Many people are scrambling to work from home, and it's been throwing everyone into a lot of confusion and chaos. How do I get onto my work servers? How can we have meetings? My chair isn't comfortable! My kids/dogs/screaming goats won't let me work.

In the past, for many of us, working from home — #WFH, as the cool kids are calling it — may have just meant spending a day or two working from your dining room table or couch, trying to get work done comfortably. But now that we're in this for the long haul, many people are looking at long-term solutions, such as finally turning that extra bedroom into a home office or even dedicating a corner of the family room into a workspace.

Here are a few things you need to make a home office work, from office furniture to a few productivity tips.

It all starts with the desk. You need something that's just the right height, it's comfortable, and is big enough to give you the space you need without being too big for your space. Your average desk is going to be roughly 30 inches high, give or take an inch on either side. It needs to be deep enough to hold your laptop and monitor and any additional computer accessories and writing space. Check out the Ava Marble & Iron Writing Table if you want to feel like you work in a French cafe, or the Lauren 71" Desk if you need a little storage. If space is at a premium, you could always use a small table, like the Cordell Office Desk, which is only 41" wide.

Next, and possibly more importantly, is your desk chair. You're going to spend 8, 10, 12 hours per day in it, so you need something that's going to support you without hurting your back or making your legs fall asleep. You can always make do with any kind of desk, but a cheap office chair may cause you some problems, so find one that fits you, supports you, and won't leave you feeling stiff and painful when you stand up. You might like the Omega High Back Office Chair, although the headrest and lumbar support on the Executive Office Chair make it look very comfortable for a post-lunch nap.

And if you have a lot of manuals, books, or other knick-knacks you have to collect, be sure to check out our shelves, pedestals, and filing cabinets in our office storage collection. (Personally, I'd like that Ivy Bookcase from the Irondale Collection in my home office.)

Of course, being productive means that, once you have a comfortable place to sit and work, you have the technological means and resource capabilities to do so. To help you reach that end, here are 13 office productivity tips to help you stay productive while you #WFH for the next few weeks.

Schedule your work time

You may be tempted to keep working way past your schedule, or to return to your desk at 9 pm, but resist that urge. You'll burn yourself out if you work 60 – 80 hours per week, and you'll lose that work-life balance you tried so hard to create. Besides, cutting back on meetings (#5) may help you be more productive anyway, so you don't need to spend extra hours. And to make sure you keep your schedule, get a planner and block out your work times, then stick to it as best as you can.

Get showered and dressed

Treat each day like a regular work day. Get showered and dressed, but keep it casual. Don't just switch from night-time pajamas to daytime pajamas. You may end up hopping on a conference call (with video) and you don't want to show up on camera like you just got out of bed.

Take breaks

Take 15 minute breaks every couple of hours. Get up, move around, get a cup of coffee, take your dog for a walk. Go for a walk up and down your street. Even if you're in a shelter-in-place area, you can still go outside and get some exercise, so be sure to get outside once in a while.

Find a dedicated workspace

We talked earlier about setting up a desk, chair, and storage space for your home office, but even if you don't have that space, find a space that you can wholly commit to being your workspace, even if it's something as minimal as sitting on a stool at your kitchen island. But if you've got a room, or a corner of a room, that you can turn into your full-time workspace, set it up. You're going to be there for a few weeks, so you need to be comfortable.

Figure out a virtual meeting platform

Some people use Zoom, some people use Skype, Here at Parker Gwen, most of our meetings have been happening on Google Hangouts. Pick a platform, familiarize yourself with it, and get comfortable using it. If you're joining a meeting with a new platform, don't wait until 1 minute before it starts to start the setup. Allow yourself at least 15 minutes.

Get a Virtual Private Network (VPN)

A VPN works much like a "tunnel" between your computer at home and your work server, providing a secure connection that is extremely difficult to crack. Rather than transferring unsecured information back and forth, you're communicating securely and directly with your server and keeping your proprietary information safe. Try a VPN like VPN Unlimited, or any of the others available, to lock down your web traffic.

Try to go paperless

Rather than printing out all your reports at home, burning through your own printer cartridges, convert every printable document to PDF and store them in the cloud. For one thing, you don't need to clutter up your own house with paperwork, for another, unless you're getting paid for your printer cartridges, there's no reason to use up your own ink. You can convert word processing documents, spreadsheets, and even web pages to PDF. (It should be an option in your print dialog box, for Apple or Windows.) Then save them for when you go back to the office, and print them out then. Otherwise, you may find you don't need all those printouts in the first place.

Replace your meetings with emails

One of the things that will change after the Shutdown ends is that we'll realize how many meetings could have been handled with emails in the first place. But you can help society reach that point by canceling all but your most important meetings. You'll get so much more done and be so much more productive, you may find yourself with a few free hours at the end of the day.

Back up everything to two different destinations

You may normally have backup services for your office computer, but now that you're at home, you probably don't. So set up a backup source with an external hard drive, plus a cloud-based solution. Check out some of these options for free, paid, and business cloud storage options.

Create an automated email responder

Even if you're able to answer all your messages in a timely fashion, create an out-of-office/automatic email responder to reply to everyone who emails you. Let them know you're working from home and that you'll respond to them when you can. This can help cover you if there's a problem at home, but it also helps manage the expectation of you answering right away just because it's in your inbox.

Create some work playlists

If you normally can't listen to music at your office, now is the time to get your work-groove on! Find a music platform you enjoy — Spotify, iTunes Music, YouTube Music, or even just your local radio station — and listen to some tunes on your computer, headphones, or even your home stereo as you go about your day.

Manage your emotions

This is a stressful time for everyone. We're all afraid, we're all anxious, we're all worrying about our families and friends. That's perfectly understandable. So if you're stressing out because of everything going on, learn to recognize when you're getting angry, scared, or sad and then find a way to vent those feelings safely. It may be taking the dog for a walk for an hour, catching a short nap in the middle of the day, or doing some yoga or other exercise. Don't take it out on your colleagues or come uncorked at the UPS driver or grocery cashier, because they're feeling the same feelings as you are. Everyone is scared, everyone is angry, and we're all struggling to keep everything under control. You can help manage your own stress level just by practicing emotional self-care. To that end. . .

Stop checking the news!

Now that you're at home, the temptation will no doubt be to have the TV on a news channel so you can keep up with what's going on in the world. Don't do that! Unless you're directly involved in the coronavirus response, you don't need to know what's happening every minute of the day. That will only stress you out and make you more anxious. If you need to know what's going on, read a couple stories after 5:00 so you can see the highlights of what happened through the day. Otherwise, you're going to make yourself nuts and then you won't be any good to anyone.

If you're starting to work from home for the first time, you're going to need a little guidance on finding the furniture and electronics for your new home office. If you need some help with this, please contact us at support@parkergwen.com or visit our website for more information.

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