How to set up a work-from-home ‘office’ for the long term
During the pandemic, and likely afterward, many people will work outside the office. Here’s what you need to do so your home workspace will support your work — and won’t wreck your body — over the long term.
Working from home is hardly a new phenomenon, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made it an unplanned requirement for many office and knowledge workers. Even as the coronavirus crisis eventually recedes, many employers will have discovered that they don’t need large office buildings, and many employees will have discovered that they don’t need to be in the office every day or spend hours commuting.
But many people have set up makeshift home offices for the pandemic that won’t work well for the long term. In addition to having the right equipment, the physical setup — the ergonomics of the workspace — is critical, especially around avoiding repetitive strain injuries that a bad setup can cause. I suffered such RSI issues 20 years ago and narrowly avoided a relapse a year ago, so I know what it takes to get back to and stay in a workable status.
The ideal home office setup
A long-term home office should ideally be a separate space in your home that is properly outfitted for work. Do as much of the following as you can to create an effective, safe workspace for the long term.
The ideal home office space is abundant in natural light, separate from your normal living space, comfortable, spacious, and tastefully decorated. If such a space exists in your home, then congratulations, you have the perfect home office space.
A dedicated space
Think about which aspects are most important to you, and where in your home you could find them. Spare bedrooms and garages can be repurposed into home offices if you’re lucky enough to have them. The latter may offer lighting and heating challenges, but a radiator and a “daylight” bulb can make it workable.
Ideally, you would use a small room that can hold a desk and computer equipment and whose door can be shut for the essential need to separate work life from home life.
Most people don’t have spare space, but many people can convert a guest room into a dual-purpose space: an office most of the time and a guest room when people visit. An enclosed balcony, a large laundry room, or even a multifunctional living room or can also do the double-duty trick.
If you can’t get a dedicated space you can separate from the rest of your life, try to find a niche space you can use that is out of the rest of the household’s way — and they out of yours — as much as possible.
Invest in office furniture
A key part of your home office setup is making sure that you invest in the necessary equipment. Your space needs a desk or table that is at work height. The industry standard is 75cm or 29 inches from the floor to the top of the work surface. Tall people do better with a higher height, and short people do better with a lower height.
You know your work surface is at the correct height if, when you sit up straight, your forearms are parallel to the ground and your wrist is not bent up or down when you type or mouse. The top surface of your wrist should essentially be on the same plane as the top of your forearm, with your fingers dangling slightly down to the keyboard. Bending the wrists for prolonged periods is an easy way to cause injury.
Schönn has a range of bespoke, affordable desks that can interchangeably be used as dining tables. Customise your desk according to height, size and colour.
Get the desk set up right
A good desk setup will also help prevent unnecessary discomfort and help you to work at home effectively. A laptop docking station is an affordable way to convert a smaller run-around laptop into an ergonomic everyday workstation. This will allow you to customise your desk setup to your liking. You can attach larger and multiple monitors to lessen eyestrain and work more efficiently.
If your work involves a lot of typing, then a proper ergonomic keyboard may be a worthwhile investment. Working for long stretches at a laptop can be bad for your wrists and hands. Wrist support could also be a useful addition to your desk setup.
If you need to take or make a lot of calls, you could get a comfortable headset. Though with most modern phones and computers equipped with decent microphones and speakers, this is perhaps somewhat less necessary. That is, unless you need to share a workspace with someone (who also shares a home with you).
If you’re going to be speaking to clients using video call apps, make sure your camera is up to the job. Good webcams are not hard to find if your laptop’s offering is lower spec.
With home working becoming more common, it may be that your workplace is willing to contribute to home office equipment. Certainly, you’ll be of more use to them at your well-setup desk, then in bed suffering from a bad back.
Home office design
When thinking about how to set up a home office, remember that you’re going to spend eight hours a day there. Home office design is key to ensuring you have a pleasant place to work.
Perhaps repainting an entire room to a more inspiring colour is a stretch – unless your home office becomes a long-term fixture. More realistically, you could put up some pictures, get some house plants, and arrange a few small desk decorations.
As well as home office design, think about a few little things that could improve your day-to-day life. A coffee machine or a mini-fridge for drinks, perhaps. Or if you like to listen to music, a small speaker or good headphones.