In 2015 I was part of a large layoff at an engineering firm and found myself without a job. Luckily another job offer presented itself but it came with a lot of unknowns; namely working from home and being an independent contractor. I didn’t know many other Project Managers in the same situation so I had to figure out how to function as a productive business owner in order to keep my client happy and just function period. It was nerve-wracking to say the least but exciting to learn. The first thing on the agenda was to set up my office. It took a while to put it together and I had a couple eye-opening experiences but now working from home is comfortable and normal.
Thinking about what it takes to put together a home office hasn’t been necessary until recently when my husband had to start working from home full time because of the COVID-19 pandemic. My husband has an awesome setup but a lot of his co-workers do not; way more than I would have thought and that really surprised me. But I had to step back and think about what kind of set up I had when I first started working from home and I too didn’t have what I needed to be comfortable and successful. I started with a small laptop sitting at the kitchen table; now I have my own space and feel so much better about being able to get work done.
Which leads me to this post; in this strange time we are facing I began to think about what I could share or do to help out. I am not a medical professional nor a part of the essential workforce so I can’t help that way. But sharing my home office set up with you so you can get more comfortable and feel “normal” working from home is something I can do.
These essentials assume you have a laptop or your employer sent you home with one. If you are like me and starting from scratch, get yourself the computer you need. Shopping for a computer is very personal and way beyond my scope so at the moment I can just refer you to good ol’ Google to research what you need. If I come across a good guide I will update this post and share.
The first struggle I had working from home was that I was not comfortable but I couldn’t understand why. I had a laptop, VPN, and a table to work from, what more could I need? I worked for weeks from the kitchen table on a small screen ending each day with a headache feeling like I didn’t get anything done. And the weirdest thing is that after a couple weeks my pinky and ring fingers started going numb. Once my hands started going numb I realized that my work space was not set up to be sitting there for long periods of time, week after week, staring at a screen, typing away. Laptops are for temporary situations and traveling not for 40 – 50 or 60+ hour work weeks; at least not for me.
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The first thing I did was buy a large monitor, one that if I split the screen I felt like I had two. I could see again! Squinting at a small laptop screen is no bueno for your eyes. You probably don’t realize you are doing it until you have a headache or walk away and have to give your eyes time to adjust.
Second thing I did was purchase a keyboard, one that would support my wrists and take some pressure off the nerves to my hands. It worked for a while but my hands were still numb and my back was getting tight. I was still sitting at the kitchen table at this point. The chairs that come with a kitchen table are not made for sitting in for 8 – 10 or 12 hour shifts.
This leads me to the third item essential for working from home, a chair. Save yourself the time (and money) and get a real office chair. The cute desk chairs that I see on Pinterest making the office space look so cozy and light are not for me. They are not real working-on-my-butt-for-long-periods-of-time desk chairs. I struggled with this. I wanted a cute chair so bad, I bought one and sat in it for a month and it just didn’t work. I broke down and got myself a gaming chair. I’m not a gamer but I had stolen my husband’s chair to try it out and it did the job. I could adjust the height and sit at the kitchen table alleviating the numbness in my hands and tightness in my back. Who knew that all those ergonomic webinars you had to watch in the office would creep into to your home life!
Here is a link to the chair I have been using: Maxnomic Dominator
DEDICATED OFFICE SPACE AND DESK
This set up should tie you over for the time being. But I will share another struggle I hadn’t foreseen; I could not peel myself away from work. I would find myself walking by the table checking my email, then responding, then researching, and then it was two hours later and 11:00 pm. I would be so frustrated for not taking a break. I would go to bed and guess what? When I woke up in the morning I would walk by the table check my email (just really quick), respond, research, and five hours later I hadn’t even brushed my teeth. The whole day would go by and I would be in my pajamas wondering where the day went.
That’s when I started scoping the house for some space I could dedicate for my home office. Find any space you can, a small nook, an awkward corner, any space you can dedicate for your set up. We have a formal living room that was not being used for really anything and it has a wall partitioning it off from the heart of the home. I love that idea of not being able to see my desk from anywhere in the home; I can walk away from my office space and not be tempted to check “one more email”. If you can find a space like this great, use it! If not, try to find a space that is not tempting you to jump on every time you walk by.
When you find yourself that space it is time for a desk. Any desk will do but I love my stand up desk. When I sit for too long my legs start to cramp; yes, yes, we should be getting up to stretch and move around another point for the office webinars. But seriously, if you can swing it get a stand up/sit down desk or a standing desk converter.
Here is a link to the sit/stand desk I have been using: Reclaimed Wood Standing Desk
Here is a link to an alternative standing desk option: Compact Standing Desk Converter
The last couple of things you may like to get in order to be comfortable working from home are a standing mat, footstool, lamp/light source, printer/scanner, filing cabinet and shredder. And of course make sure you have all the necessary connections to hook up your work station and to your company’s network.
Here’s a recap of the essentials:
- Work Surface- Keep away from coffee tables or setting your laptop on your lap. You need a solid surface that allows you to sit up right.
- Monitor- Make sure your eyes are comfortable.
- Keyboard- Make sure your arms are comfortable.
- Office Chair- Make sure your butt, back and arms are comfortable.
- Low Traffic Area- Separate work and life; keep that balance by allowing yourself to walk away and not be enticed to “check one more email”.
- Desk- If you don’t have a solid surface to work on in your desired area.
It is a mind-blowing experience when you first start working from home and I hope in sharing this information you have a reference point for essentials.
Now you should be all comfy cozy in your work space; next will be re-learning how to communicate with your team. Walking over to someone’s desk, bumping into them in the halls, having lunch with a teammate, asking the team to huddle in a conference room are no longer options for communicating. It is a whole new dynamic of communication and if you are interested I can share my experience and how our team kept up our productivity.
Continue reading: Working from Home: Communication
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