Many people have started working from home due to COVID-19. If your transition to remote work was sudden or unexpected, you probably didn’t have the time or resources to whip up the ultimate home office space. It’s OK to improvise at first, such as working at a crammed kitchen table or using a wobbly folding table in the corner of your bedroom.
However, if your job has transformed into a long-term remote position, we definitely recommend investing in a proper home office setup.
A separate workspace can help reduce distractions — such as being able to close the door on your house’s chaos when engaging in important video conferencing calls. Furthermore, your home office can potentially be used as a tax deduction (check with your accountant if you’re unsure).
And lastly, being able to have your work-life “disappear” at the end of the day will help maintain the delicate work-life balance, which is key when everyone’s stuck at home 24/7.
Here are 10 easy steps to help set up a home office. Keep in mind, the ultimate goal is to make your workspace comfortable, inspiring, and productive. How you get there is up to you.
1. Find the perfect location
If you have an empty spare room, you’re all set! Start transforming that space into your exquisite home office.
However, if you’re renting a tiny room in a house full of rowdy roommates or sharing your space with loud children, it might feel downright impossible to design a proper workspace. But really, it’s not! With an extra dose of creativity, you can carve out a special space that’s all yours.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Room dividers: Standing dividers are an excellent way to separate your home life from your work environment, especially if your office is in a corner of your bedroom.
- Hanging curtains: Alternatively, hang up curtains to enclose your workspace.
- Guest room: If your guest room is currently vacant, consider transforming part of it into an office space.
- Create a mobile office: If none of the above options work, find a way to contain all your work materials in one place, such as a large briefcase or a portable box. That way you can pack everything away at the end of the day.
If your entire family is currently stuck at home and there’s only space for one office, consider taking shifts with your partner. That way you can lock yourself away during highly focused tasks or important video calls, later working amid the kids during low-brainer tasks.
2. Focus on functionality and productivity
When you're brainstorming office setup ideas, make sure to consider the temperature of the room (just say no to attic or basement workspaces). Remember, you need to actually function in the room, and that means being comfortable.
Next, remove all external distractions, such as personal books, games, your mending pile, even that towering box of tax documents (shove it into the closet for now).
The main objective is to keep your office space dedicated to work. You want to optimize your ability to successfully complete tasks and manage real-time communications with your colleagues and clients. And realistically, swimming in a pile of clutter will hinder that.
3. Invest in a proper desk
It’s time to get serious. Working hunched over a TV tray on the couch isn’t beneficial for anyone, especially for the long-term.
You don’t have to spend a fortune on a fancy desk. But you do want something that’s practical, sturdy, and conducive to good posture. Bonus if it has drawers for essential supplies such as pens, notepads, a stapler, and paper clips.
4. Treat yourself to a comfortable chair
When it comes down to it, you spend about the same amount of time in your office chair as you do in your bed every night! You wouldn’t dream of sleeping on a cheap, subpar mattress, would you? Sleep is important. And so is work.
Go ahead and spoil yourself with a dreamlike office chair, something that swivels, raises to different heights, has adequate padding, and proper lumbar support. Again, you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg here, but don’t settle on a bare-bones, basic design.
5. Upgrade your tech setup
If you’re still working from a basic laptop, it’s time to step it up.
The ideal desk setup can include an external monitor, a mouse, and a keyboard. You can connect your laptop to the external monitor, allowing a wider screen for improved visibility. Make sure to raise the monitor so your eyes meet the middle of the screen (use a computer stand if needed).
Remember, staring directly into your computer’s camera is the best way to engage with participants during remote meetings, so, if needed, get an extra camera for your external monitor.
To be ergonomically correct, ensure your arms rest at a right angle on the table or desk (see image below). Keep the keyboard well within reach. Lastly, a mouse with a wrist-supporting pad will prevent extra tension as you navigate between tasks.
And most importantly, make sure you’re close enough to your Wi-Fi router for optimal connection. With everything being virtual these days, losing connectivity can feel like a complete apocalypse.
6. Think about lighting
Nobody wants to slave away in a dark cave all day. We say go bright or go home! Oh wait, you’re already home.
OK, in all seriousness, you want a well-lit atmosphere that helps reduce eyestrain and headaches.
Setting up your desk near a window is ideal, especially since the natural light will greatly improve the quality of your Zoom calls. Plus, the view will help break up the monotony of the workday.
Alternatively, you can use desk lamps or floor lamps to illuminate your space.
7. Enhance the sound quality
For those who live alone in a quiet neighborhood, we envy you.
But for the rest of us, parents juggling childcare and work, or those negotiating precious counter space with work-from-home partners, we’re not going to lie — finding a true quiet zone is like searching for the Holy Grail.
When designing your work-from-home office setup, consider all the regular noises that permeate your daily life. Then, choose the spot that will be the quietest, moving spaces throughout the day if necessary.
For example, I have a dedicated home office setup in our guest room. But I retreat to my bedroom for important video calls since it’s the furthest indoor space from our living room, where my fierce, feral children play all day.
Make sure you’re using the most up-to-date video conferencing software. With Zoom, you can change the “suppress background noise” from Auto to High under the Audio Settings (see image below). This extra feature makes a big difference when working in a noisy environment.
If it’s completely impossible to escape your house’s noise, consider investing in noise-blocking headphones. They literally make me forget I have children. (Don’t worry — someone else is watching them while I work)
8. Get organized
One of the biggest hurdles with productivity is disorganization. All that clutter seems to gain a life of its own when you’re working from home.
The good news is that having limited space should prevent you from storing too much stuff in your home office space. The bad news is that without others around, or a dedicated office cleaner, it’s easy to let the clutter, dust, and leftover snacks get out of hand.
Invest in folders, filing cabinets, shelves, or whatever’s needed to keep the chaos under control. If you need ideas, search online for home office setup ideas and see what others are doing.
When you sit down for the day, you want to be able to focus exclusively on the work tasks at hand. For this very reason, avoid piling personal items on your home office desk.
Lastly, set aside time every day to do a quick cleanup, such as clearing away snack wrappers or coffee mugs, emptying the trash can, refilling office supplies, and so on.
9. Pay attention to privacy and security
Depending on your job, you may need to address confidentiality features when setting up your home office. Make sure to go over the remote work policy with your boss or supervisor.
Here are some questions to consider:
- Can I use my personal devices for work tasks?
- Do I need to set up two-factor authentication or auto-locking features?
- How do I use a virtual private network (VPN) to connect to unsecured Wi-Fi networks?
Most importantly, you’ll want to find a secure place to store sensitive materials. Consider investing in a locking filing cabinet or a safety box, especially if you have investigative, curious toddlers underfoot.
10. Make it fun and inspiring
Now we come to the exciting part — decorating your office space! All work and no play is no fun, right?
If you have a dedicated room, consider repainting the walls to something upbeat and cheery. There’s no reason you should work in a drab, soul-destroying space. Go ahead and add paintings, plants, or family photos — anything you’d do normally do with a traditional workspace.
But it’s important to not go overboard. The goal is to design a space that’s inviting and pleasant, but with a highlight on productivity. If in doubt, go for a Zen approach — often the best home office setups are simple and minimalistic.
Lastly, if space allows it, put up a whiteboard dedicated specifically to goals. If you’ve just started a freelancing business, you can list your dream jobs here. If you’re striving to reach new heights within your current job, write down ideas on how to push yourself along. You can even include a reward column for when you hit major milestones.
Your home office should be cozy and practical
One of the benefits of working from home is being able to maintain a certain level of comfort and warmth throughout the day. Sure, you can wear your pajamas and favorite fuzzy slippers (just make sure to change for those video calls) and take multiple snack breaks when needed.
However, it can be tempting to let professionalism slide, and suddenly transform into a couch potato. And let’s face it, couch potatoes are never productive.
Maintaining a well-defined, organized workspace decked out with proper technology will ultimately keep you right on track. Take it a step further and set yourself proper work hours, including a “clock out” time.
In the end, you want to mimic as much of a normal workday as possible, closing the door on your job when it’s time to embrace your personal time.