So, what do you need for the best home office?
A dedicated space
You don’t have to have a separate room to set up a long-term home office, but it needs to be a spot specific to aid your productivity, and ideally should have a door you can close for online meetings.
A corner in the guestroom, an enclosed porch, or even a garden shed - out of the way of the rest of the household and its distractions can be made into a comfy work cave.
The right work surface
Your home office will need a desk or table at work height. The industry standard is about 74 cm from the floor to the top of the work surface, but this is for writing on paper. You should adjust the height to be comfortable for your height, keeping in mind that keyboard and mouse work is comfortably done a bit lower.
You will know your work surface is at the correct height if your forearms are parallel to the ground when you sit upright. Your wrists shouldn’t bend up or down when you type or use your mouse.
A good chair
Here’s where you’re likely to spend some money in your home office. Ideally, you should get an adjustable professional chair - tested in person.
A good chair should be height-adjustable, provide lumbar support for the lower back, has adjustable seat pan tilt and armrest height, and has wheels.
Proper monitor height
If possible, use two monitors in your home office - it will change your life! Ensure the monitor(s) you use has a high resolution crisp and clear display to avoid eyestrain.
You probably already have a work computer, likely a laptop, so the second screen’s specs should meet or exceed what your current screen delivers.
Line up the monitor so that if you look straight ahead when sitting upright your eyes are at a height of about 25% below the top of the screen. You might need to get a riser for the monitor and that will give you some space to keep other tools at hand but out of sight, like sticky notes.
Don’t forget about lighting
Don’t underestimate the effects of bad lighting on your productivity. Bad lighting can cause eye fatigue and drowsiness. Overhead lighting, like a ceiling lamp directly above your desk, is usually best for a home office environment.
Indirect lighting, whether from a window or desk lamp can cause glare on your monitor. If you feel you do need a lamp, don’t place it right next to your monitor or in your direct field of vision.
Also ensure your monitor’s brightness is just a little brighter than your ambient lighting to avoid eyestrain. The benchmark for ambient lighting is sufficient to read paper documents without additional light.
The power of colour
The right colour in your home office can stimulate your mind for increased productivity. To feel calm and creative, choose green. You don’t need to paint the whole space green - an accent wall you can focus on when you feel distracted or blocked is enough. And if even that is more than you think you can do, accessorise with green - plants, paintings, cushions, rugs, chairs, light covers, and curtains.
Improve air quality
Corporate offices often feel stuffy because the windows can’t be opened. Now, in your own space, your own home office, you are in control of your air quality.
Start with plants, opening the windows, and making use of a ceiling fan to improve circulation. You can also get a room diffuser or scented candle if you find that a specific scent helps to centre your thoughts - remember to never leave burning candles unattended.
With so many internet service providers available in most urban and suburban areas, this should be something you can achieve without too much effort. An Ethernet cable can provide a more reliable connection for bandwidth-intensive work such as video meetings and sharing screens, however, it is much easier to set up a Wi-Fi network at home, just make sure you have unlimited or unshaped internet and a high-speed router. With power outages now a common occurrence getting an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) for your internet will ensure your internet connection doesn’t get interrupted during a power outage.
A few things go without saying: a keyboard and mouse (if you’re not working on your laptop), headphones with a built-in microphone for video calls are vital to keep out noise from the rest of the home and to mute their noise when you need to concentrate.
A multifunctional printer/copier/scanner is not essential for everyone. Try to not give up your desk real estate for peripheral devices. Rather get a set of drawers that you can place your printer on and keep other essential bits - flash drives, stationery, batteries, etc. close at hand.
If you’re not using a laptop, you might want to consider a surge protector or uninterruptible power supply (UPS). This will keep you going in the event of a power outage - something South Africans are familiar with - and will also protect your devices from surge damage. A UPS will also be useful for cases where your laptop battery doesn’t last the length of the power outage.
Don’t forget to backup your computer frequently. There are several cloud services available for this purpose, but an external hard drive might be a good option to consider. They are affordable and can hold several terabytes worth of information. Some require an external power source but they are all very portable.
For the sake of your sanity, there are little things that seem obvious but will make a huge difference in their absence.
- Wire ties or organisers.
- Refreshment - a little water cooler, kettle, fridge, coffee press, etc.
- A height-adjustable footrest.
- Music, earphones
- Sitting all day is bad for your health. Set a timer and get up every 30 minutes to walk around, outside if possible, and do a few stretches.
- Keep a “do not disturb” sign on hand to clearly signal to family members when you need extra quiet for calls.
- The right mindset is important. Get up, get dressed, switch off the TV, and get to your desk the same time you would at the office.
- Set boundaries. Turn off your computer after 17:00 and don’t respond to any work emails or notifications. This is extremely important to ensure you get the necessary downtime to limit the possibility of burnout.