After months of not seeing anyone at all, other than my kids and my husband, we created a short-term quarantine pod with some good friends. With one other family (who we knew had been hard-core quarantining in the same way we had) we rented a house together in Palm Springs for the month of July. We drove so we didn’t have to get on a plane. We didn’t leave the house. Our kids got to see their friends, in the flesh. Instead of reading 4 books (my average per month during SIP), I actually chatted, cooked and watched TV with my friends. But also, I worked the whole month. It wasn’t a vacation, per se. And in doing so, I had to create a workspace that would, well, work. In the short term. (It wasn’t pretty; I was working in a walk-in closet. Thank god for virtual backgrounds!)
At this point, we have no idea when we’ll be back in the office, when our kids will be back at in-person school and when we’ll be able to see what’s on the other side. At first, we thought we’d just be inside for a few weeks. Then weeks became months. And I don’t know about you but I’ve stopped putting even an imaginary timeline around the current pandemic because I know from experience that low expectations are the key to happiness.
It’s time to readjust the time horizon to indefinite. And that feels more than a little scary. The bandaids we put in place in March, when we thought we’d be “back to normal” soonish (how quaint!) are fraying at the edges or falling off altogether. It’s time to think about sustainability in this new whatever-this-is.
But that’s a big topic, so let’s just take one aspect of it: your at-home workspace.
- Your back is aching from that dining room chair you’ve been sitting on for months or your butt is perpetually numb because you’ve been sitting on the floor.
- Your wrists hurt because a kitchen table is not the same height as a desk.
- Your ears are longing for quiet.
- Everyone you live with is getting on each others nerves, and in each other’s way.
So let’s do what we can to change that. Let’s think about how to set up an indefinite-term workspace at home that actually works.
After months of experimentation, and 4 people in my house who all need their own workspace, here’s what I’ve learned about how to create an effective long term work space at home, even when you don’t have a home office:
This is going to be different for everyone, but an ergonomic, comfortable chair is key for long term productivity. In my house, my husband and I got used Aeron chairs. (I know, we’re fancy! But they are used!) One of my kids prefers a giant bean bag and the other has decided he’s a fan of a dining room chair with a pillow on it. Different strokes. But everyone is comfortable.
DESK AT THE RIGHT HEIGHT
Ergonomics matter more than you think. There are a few ways to make sure your “desk” is at the right height:
- Adjust your chair
- Get a cheap, adjustable height laptop desk. (We have 2 of these, and they were about $30 a pop on Amazon. )
- Get desk risers
Having an extra monitor can key key for productivity. Sometimes the laptop screen is just. so. small.
If getting an extra monitor is not in the budget, consider asking if you can go into your office (when no one is there, of course) and take a monitor home with you.
If that’s not an option, consider repurposing your TV as an extra monitor (that’s what my husband has been doing for months, and we used this strategy in the house in Palm Springs too).
MOUSE AND KEYBOARD
Laptops are great for portability. But trackpads are kind of annoying. A full size keyboard and mouse will be more comfortable, increasing productivity in the long run. Personally, I’m partial to the click-i-ness of a mechanical keyboard; I’m pretty sure it helps me type faster.
NOISE CANCELLING HEADPHONES
A good pair of noise-cancelling headphones will help you focus. Even if you are listening to nothing at all. They help me drown out the low level din of my kids playing video games, and my husband’s Zoom calls.
While Zoom has been a central tool for my business for years, I’m new to the virtual background game. While it would be nice if we all had perfect real-life backgrounds behind us, sometimes we just want to hide the mess (or the closet, in my case!). Recently I created a virtual background that looks so real most people who see it complement me on how pristine my house is. Ha!
Here’s what I did to make a realistic background that doesn’t have that fuzzy edge between you and the background:
- Find a high-res photo of a living room or office you think looks nice on Unsplash or Pexels.
- Go to Canva and click “create a design” and select “Zoom Virtual Background”.
- This will ensure that the background is the right size, pixel-wise.
- Drag your selected photo onto your design in Canva, download the file and then upload to Zoom!
- If you want to use the one I created, just email me and I’ll send it to you. We can be background buddies!
A VISUAL SCHEDULE
One thing that has been totally key to reducing friction in our house is a visual schedule. Every Sunday, I take a look at my work calendar and my husband’s as well as my kids’ school calendars and I fill in a simple spreadsheet with times on the left and names/dates on the top. I change the color to red in the cells where each member of our family has meetings or classes. It’s not a crazy color coded schedule; it’s just a clear indicator of when each person will be in a meeting or class and is therefore not to be disturbed (yes, kids included).
This schedule gets printed and posted. Where should it be posted? On your home office door if you have one! On the back of your laptop! At the entry way to whatever room each person is working in! Make it visible!
PRO-TIPS IF YOU’RE ON A BUDGET (AND AREN’T WE ALL?):
- Check if you can go back to your office (when no one is there, of course, and bring home your office creature comforts (the extra monitors, your ergonomic chair, your keyboard and mouse, etc..)
- Many companies are offering a small budget to improve your work from home space. Check with HR at your company to see if this benefit exists for you.