How to set up your home workspace

Emma McGowan 15 Sep 2020

Designing an optimized home working space benefits remote workers and online learners alike

We’re six months into the Covid-19 pandemic, and whether you’re still adjusting to working from home or you’re trying to figure out how to accommodate kids going back to school, September is a great time to reassess your home workspace. Is it working for you — or against you? Because there’s nothing like a subpar work environment to sap productivity and energy.

As a full time remote worker for my entire adult life, I’ve gotten really good at the home office thing. I’ve even created home offices in multiple apartments and climates, because I was traveling around the world for half a decade. All that to say: I know my way around a great home office.

So let’s take a look at everything you need to set up a comfortable — and secure — home workspace.

Create a designated workspace

You know the best advice for sleep hygiene is to not do anything but sleep in your bed? The same goes for work-from-home hygiene. You’ll do your best work when you stick to a designated workspace, not the couch.

If you’re lucky enough to have a spare room or a guest room that you can transform into an office, great! That’s ideal and makes the “designated workspace” part of the equation much, much easier. 

If you don’t have a spare room, you can still carve out a spot in your existing space. Take a look at your current setup and see if there’s space for a small desk. Maybe you have some underutilized hall space, a garage that you’ve been “meaning to clean out” for two years or a plant that could give up its prime window spot for a while. Get creative! You might be surprised by what you can do with a nook or cranny.

Another option is taking over a kitchen or dining room table. Because this “workspace” is obviously one with other duties, you can set up your gear in the morning and take it down at night. It also helps to have a designated drawer or cupboard to put your stuff, so it doesn’t end up living permanently on your table in a cluttered mess. Plus, taking down your equipment at the end of the day transforms the space back into a “dining” or “kitchen” area instead of a work area. It’s a subtle psychological trick you’re playing on yourself, but it works. 

Get your home network working at its best

When you’re setting up your home workspace, be sure to keep in mind where your router is. The space between your device and your router (and the walls between!) can dramatically affect your connection speed. No one wants to deal with dropped Zoom calls and web pages taking hours to load, so either choose an area close to your router or move it to a better location. Seriously. This one move will save you hours of frustration.

You should also consider setting up a mesh network, which is a series of little Wi-Fi nodes that work together to create a strong Wi-Fi signal through your house. It’s a pretty easy way to boost your Wi-Fi signal, no matter where in the house it is that you’re working or where your router is located.

And I know it’s boring, but change your network password! Many of us are sending and receiving more confidential information from home than ever before and a weak password can put everything you’re doing at risk of theft.

Start using a VPN

Because your home workspace is virtual as well as physical, you should consider getting a virtual private network (VPN). Lots of employers provide their own VPN for employees, but if yours doesn’t you can get one of your own.

VPNs create an encrypted virtual “tunnel” so that no one can see what you’re sending or receiving. That includes cybercriminals, the government, your internet service provider (ISP) — anyone. 

But while there are free options out there, you get what you pay for with VPNs. “Free” ones sometimes “charge” by collecting your data and selling it themselves, so make sure to do your research before clicking that download button.

Invest in your own comfort

My number one favorite piece of gear is my laptop stand. It folds up to the size of a pair of kitchen tongs, making it easy to carry around and easy to store. It has also kept me from developing a hunchback over the many years I’ve spent staring at a computer screen, because the raised height of the laptop forces me to sit as straight as my mother always yelled at me to.

There are plenty of laptop stand brands available, so do a little research and find the one that works best for you. But definitely get one — your back will thank you.

Along the same lines, a comfortable chair is a must-have when you’re working from home. You’re going to spend a lot of hours in it, so it’s worth spending some money on something that’s not going to kill your back. Check with your human resources department, if you have one, as many are offering work-from-home gear to make your life a little more comfortable during this weird time. 

Finally, noise-cancelling earphones are a must-have for anyone who works from home. Whether it’s your kids playing in the yard or a repair person banging around in the kitchen, you’re going to want to block out noise at some point. Trust me. I personally love Bose noise cancelling headphones, but do a little product research to see what you think will work best for you.

Setting up a “workspace” for your kids

If you have kids and they’ve switched to distance learning, you’ll also want to make sure that they have their own “workspace”. Many of the suggestions I already laid out for your workspace can also apply to your kids.

Pick a designated space, even if it’s one that transforms from day to night. Have a set of tools that your kid needs to “work” from home (computer or tablet, writing utensils, paper, etc.) and take them out at the beginning of the day. Return them to their designated drawer or cabinet at the end of the school day, so your child knows that it’s time to transition to “home” stuff. (And so you can get your table back.) 

You should also be sure to minimize other distractions, like the TV or even a view of the kitchen as you make lunch, so that your kid can focus. Along the same lines, it doesn’t hurt to give them something to do with their hands. Fidget spinners that don’t make noise just might save your sanity this fall.

Further reading:
Is your family ready for distance learning?
Back to (home) school: Preparing for continued distance learning

Ultimately, setting up a great home workspace is about creating an environment with as little friction as possible, in both your virtual and physical space. After all, no one can say just how long we’re going to be here. So you might as well get it right.

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