If the old saying is that your home is your castle, today it’s that plus your office. And it stands to be like that for months to come, if not years. Employers and employees alike are talking about a new paradigm where remote work has a dominant everyday role. The home office that has often been an afterthought, tucked into a cluttered nook or a dingy basement, may increasingly be as central as a bedroom or a kitchen given the number of hours it will be in use. As this trend seems here to stay, it’s time to really think about your home office as your full-time office and outfit it accordingly for both individual effort and the remote meetings in which you’ll participate.
Because home offices often just sort of come into being instead of arising from intentional decisions, they will have all the necessary equipment, but not at the quality one would want for a full-time workspace. For example, typing up reports and sitting through online meetings is tedious enough without having to do so in an unforgiving chair dragged in from the dining room or unfolded from a closet. If you’ll be sitting there for much of the next year, a better chair is probably a good prescription (or perhaps just borrowing the one from your vacant office). Further, to feel ready to do business, it makes sense to have a first-rate tech setup. A small screen may be fine when you can perch a computer on an office table and type notes into it while watching and interacting with someone in front of you. However, when the screen has to play the dual roles of workspace and the faces of your fellow meeting participants, it calls for something bigger. If you’re in a videoconference where you’re reviewing documents, doing your own presentation, looking at other participants and inevitably watching yourself, a 14-inch screen just isn’t enough real estate to fully or easily participate.
Also, there are few home office frustrations more aggravating than a colleague with a bad connection. Whenever someone’s stream freezes or stutters or that person drops off completely, it means a draining break in attention and momentum for the whole group. Again, this may be a natural result of putting a home office in an undesirable corner, which often correlates with bad WiFi reception. Rather than struggle with connectivity yourself while dragging the entire meeting down with you, plan how to overcome this. It might be that the beautiful picture window in the living room would be a great spot for a desk, especially because it’s closer to your router. If you don’t move where you’re sitting, at least consider getting an Ethernet cable to hardwire your connection or buying any number of devices to boost your WiFi.
Commandeering that prime window spot potentially makes your work and your meetings better in other ways. On one hand, the lighting will be better so your colleagues can actually see you. (If not a window, investing in a decent light that illuminates you from the front will make life easier on your colleagues.) On a related note, you’ll probably be a more pleasant participant if you’ve got a view outside versus spending all day staring at a wall. This might not have mattered so much when people were occasionally working from home and spending an imperfect day in an imperfect space; doing that all day, every day, is another matter.
The downside to moving into a more prime space in one’s home is that it might be less secluded. Some people are quite good at working on their own in the midst of chaos, but it’s still hard to have a meeting in the middle of a loud, high-traffic area. It may not be possible to totally eliminate distractions, but one can still move towards that goal. It does not necessarily need to be a heavy door between you and the rest of the home; simply putting up a bookshelf or a curtain reduces visual distraction and sends a signal to the rest of the home that work is happening and, thus, do not disturb.
There is perhaps a mistaken impression that home offices need to look pristine. It’s probably best to err on that side as opposed to the alternative, but everyone knows that you’re holding this remote meeting in your home; no one should be scandalized by it looking like where you live.
For many homebound employees, a lot of these changes have already been implemented. But if you’re still waiting to fix up your work area, remember that it’s not for an hour here or there, but for what could be the entire work day, for years to come.