If you’re one of the many former office workers for whom working from home has transitioned from temporary experiment to permanent assignment—at least for the foreseeable future—the end of summer probably has you thinking about ways to minimize the pain points you experienced adjusting to the “new normal” in spring and summer. If you’re planning some improvements to your WFH experience, focus on these three steps to get the most benefit from your efforts.
Step One: Improve Your Office Environment
If you’ve been making do with a dining room chair or the couch for months, it’s time for new furniture. Sitting in an uncomfortable position for hours on end has serious, long-lasting consequences for your postural health, so if you can only buy one or two items in this article, make them a chair, a desk, or both. For a home office in urgent need of an ergonomic makeover, start with these items.
- A convertible sit/stand desk: Even if you’re comfortable while seated, doctors now know that sitting for long periods is bad for your cardiovascular health and fitness. You can keep the option of sitting with a motorized convertible desk. Many options are comparable in price to a quality traditional desk.
- A well-designed chair: It’s almost impossible to find a true ergonomic chair in brand-new condition for under $1,000, but that doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to stiff seating options from an office supply store. Refurbished versions of cult-classic chairs like the Leap V2 from Steelcase are half the price and offer all the comfort of the brand-new versions. Reputable refurbished furniture outlets will offer warranties comparable to the manufacturer’s, so you can buy with confidence.
- Good lighting: Working in a dim space lit mostly by your monitor is hard on your vision, especially when you’re struggling with computer-induced dry eyes. Improving the illumination levels in your office will help reduce eye strain, but you should always make time to take breaks for the sake of your optical health.
Step Two: Upgrade Your Technology
With screens, apps, and notifications now dominating both work and play, it might feel unnecessary or counterproductive to invest in them further. But there’s no getting around the ubiquity of tech for the foreseeable future, so it’s worth your time to think about changes that will improve your relationship with your digital tools.
The best investments in this category are high-quality upgrades to the essentials for working from home. One of your first tech purchases should be a bigger monitor, even if you’ll use it as a laptop peripheral. Larger screens reduce eye strain and make you more productive by giving you enough space to have multiple windows open at the same time. For those who spend most of their work hours typing, it’s time to jump into the world of mechanical keyboards, which provide a superior experience for both programming and writing applications.
Step Three: Work on Your Self-Care
Even if you worked remotely before COVID-19, or you were used to taking work home, there’s a difference between choosing to work from home and working from home because of safety risks. This is doubly true for parents who are also tasked with supporting their children’s remote learning efforts while holding down a full-time job. Work can make you feel valuable, competent, and in control—but you’ll lose those benefits if you don’t set some boundaries around your work time.
It’s a peculiar paradox that the more hours you spend at work, the less work you seem to accomplish; since you experience mental fatigue and become more vulnerable to distractions as the day goes on, the quality of your work declines, and you have to spend more time working for the same results. Instead of getting trapped in this spiral, develop a schedule that works for you and stick with it. If you’ve never planned your own workday before, try these tips:
- Think about when you’re most productive and schedule mentally intensive work for those hours, and relegate busywork, email catchup, and miscellany to lower-energy parts of the day.
- If you have children, plan ahead for ways to integrate their schedules with yours, and gently communicate to them that they should avoid interrupting you while you work.
- Use your scheduling freedom to work more breaks into your day so you can make time for screen-free activities, especially walking or other forms of exercise, which will support your physical and mental wellbeing.
Once you’ve decided what tasks to tackle when, you need to decide when to “leave” work for the day. Log off at a set hour and end your day at a time that works for you and your employer. Schedule the rest of the day for downtime, family time, and household maintenance. Reserving time for non-work tasks can actually make you more productive; when you give your brain a break from what you’re working on, you’ll be able to come back to it the next day refreshed. Your boss will be much more impressed by consistent, high-quality work than another 3 A.M. email!
Even if you’re dreaming of the day your office reopens for business, there are plenty of things you can do to make the remote work experience a more positive one. Take advantage of the new flexibility you’ll have to set your schedule, design your office, and do your work, and try to appreciate the positives, like commuting less, enjoying more time with your family, and spending less money on lunches out and office attire. You may even find there are days when you enjoy the remote work lifestyle, as long as you remember to take care of yourself when the day is done.