Despite having been around since the 70s working from home, telecommute, e-commute, or whatever term is used didn’t gain popularity until the mid 90s. As technology advanced workers took advantage of this non-traditional work day/week. Soon it was praised for things like saving energy and reducing fossil fuel consumption. Enticing to businesses because with part of their work force at home they could operate in smaller spaces, reducing overhead costs. For workers that needed a scenery change – coffee shops where the mecca, and lets not forget those kitschy co-op spaces. Of course not every profession could make use of the flexibility. Before I fell into software development I was an analytical chemist, definitely not something I could do from home.
With the appearance of Covid-19 the work from home initiative has excelled. Some are appreciative of the opportunity while others struggle with the change. Imagine trying to attend a zoom call and instead of a quiet cubical there was a herd of enthusiastic children conducting a science experiment. Or while you’re discussing last months figures your dog makes unwavering eye contact then shats on the new rug (I’m looking at you Slater).
Regardless of the reason or situation there are ways to build a work from home space that will thrive. Using my 5+ years of work from home experience I have curated a list of what has helped me to succeed in creating a useful and purposeful work space.
1. A Door
Okay so it doesn’t literally need to be a space that can be closed off from the rest of the house (although it doesn’t hurt) but it does need to be a sanctified specific ‘this is where the work happens’ space. Early in the pandemic my husband was working from home too, he took the office and I was at dinning room table; total distraction to be looking at last nights dishes in the kitchen. My recommendation – select a space where the distraction of home life and work won’t inter mangle. No that’s not a typo, mangle.
2. Workstation that works
So this sounds like a no brainer and I could probably write a 20 page post on the subject but just a few pointers. My recommendation – Figure out what the minimum processing power is for the software that will be utilized, then use that as a baseline for requirements. See what falls into the budget and go from there. One time I narrowed my choices down to two laptops comparable in respect to price point, performance, and reliability. The deciding factor – which keyboard felt the best to me. Other things that can help build a better workstation – a second monitor, a mouse that feels comfortable and possibly an external keyboard. Myself I have never opted for the later.
I’ve tried to go completely paperless and it just doesn’t always work. Even if the meeting notes and support tickets get added after the call it’s always nice to have a written (okay short hand scribbled) account. I prefer a flat bound composition notebook (think high school chemistry class), skip the rings that get tangled, smooshed and take up extra space. By writing the date and client name on the top of the page I can easy to flip through the history of a project. My recommendation – a non fussy college lined notebook, my favorite brand is Pretty Simple Composition notebooks, made in the USA.
4. Sticky Tabs
As I mentioned above going completely paperless didn’t really work for me. So I needed other fussy bits of paper to track and organize the paper. I’ve tried all kinds of tabs, paper clip tabs, sticky plastic tabs, and some adorable magnetic tabs. My recommendation – these tabs that look like paint swatches. The soothing colors are organized on these little cards so they don’t end up scattered all over my desk.
I probably spend about 15% of my time in meetings, those little nubbies that come with phones are okay but I wasn’t always able to clearly hear or be heard. My recommendation – this head set. The sound is always clear, and the squishy ear cups block out lots of the ambient room noise (like the dog howling for snacks). The mic picks up everything being said (like the dog howling for snacks) so I might not be ‘heard’ but I know they can hear me! The price is reasonable and they come in all kinds of colors. For travel there is even a selection of hard case in coordinating colors. My favorite feature; they stay charged for what seems like forever. Definitely one of many things that makes my work space flexible and still fun.
This one is kinda boring but it makes me happy. I’m short so my legs seem to always be dangling. Sometimes I flipped a box upside down, or stacked reference books under the desk. My recommendation – a foot stool made for under the desk, I like this one with the bumps since I enjoy being barefoot. Also creates a feeling of being grounded instead of flailing about in space.
7. Desk Organization
By not being completely paperless I do have some ‘clutter’ that needs corralled. I have found this brand to be comparable to the fancy stuff but at a third of the price. It’s heavy enough to not flip over when I’m rummaging, and comes in multiple styles to suit all needs. My recommendation – the pen cup, I have several and they are a perfect fit for those tab stickies, a collection of pens, calculator, and I even use them in my makeup drawer for brushes, liners – whatever. At $3 each, they are easy.
Sometimes I wonder if this is why I really refused to go completely paperless. I adore pens and markers, all the colors all the sizes I want them. Time to fill up that pen cup! My recommendation – these fine line pens are the greatest. Just look at all those vibrant colors for under $10. My to do lists never looked so pretty.
9. Self Care Items
Last but honestly most important, I keep a few small selfcare items at my desk. I don’t think there is some hard fast rule about what is a selfcare item, anything that just brings me back when feeling anxious or creates joy; cube toys, small candle, lip gloss, or cup of tea in a favorite mug. My recommendation (to myself) – I keep a little tube of hand lotion for using only at my desk. Simple but specific.
Well there it is, 9 things I use to make my work space work for me and a brief history lesson about working from home. I hope you found some part of all this useful.
Notes and Resources
I was not asked to endorse any products, any credit can be found by following the links as indicated.
Additional resources and interesting reads
– “The History of Remote Work: How It Came to Be and What It Is Today“, by Aakash Gupta found on Sorry I was on Mute.
– “Remote Work“, by various, found on Wiki.
– “No, remote work isn’t a “new” perk – it’s been around for about 1.4 million years“, by Lydia Dishman, found on Fast Company.