Working remotely can be a challenge for employees with busy families. Noise, interruptions, and other distractions can derail a daily schedule, especially when there are no managers around. Complex or confusing tasks can be more difficult where there isn’t someone right next to you to ask for help.
Physical equipment like desks and computers provide the foundation for working remotely but eliminating distractions and maintaining focus requires a lot more. Noise reduction and proper lighting also help reduce the urge to take breaks. Use this checklist to make sure your work environment is ready for remote tasks.
Office chairs should be well-padded with armrests and backrests. Chairs should be high enough off the ground that your feet rest flat on the floor. Adjustable office chairs are designed to provide adequate support, so use those in the office instead of dining room or kitchen chairs.
If you want to work in the living room occasionally, a chair with good leg and back support are still essential. Recliners or beds can be comfortable but may cause neck strain if used for too long.
Adequate Desk Space
Desks come in a variety of shapes and sizes but try to buy more desk space than you think you need. Desks less than 36” wide feel cramped and have little room for documents, monitors, and other essentials. A keyboard tray is helpful for external keyboard use and frees up valuable surface space.
Choose a desk that has drawers and cubbies for storage. While plastic sets of drawers and other desktop organizers can be helpful, they can get in the way. Drawers are perfect for storing documents and writing supplies out of sight, yet within reach. If you’re working remotely from a co-working space, choose a space that has functional desks instead of rows of tables.
Printer and Scanner
Even if your work is entirely digital, a printer provides a chance to take a break from staring at a screen. Print long documents and curl up in an armchair to read them without straining your eyes. If you aren’t printing very often, get a supply of long-lasting printer ink to avoid having ink dry up between uses.
Scanners also come in handy, especially if you ever need to send important personal paperwork. To cut down on the amount of equipment you need, get an HP inkjet printer that has built-in scanning and copying capabilities.
Laptop and desktop users can benefit from having an extra screen for displaying data or video conferences. Having an extra monitor reduces the amount of time employees spend switching tabs or windows, increasing productivity significantly.
Laptop users, in particular, need a monitor that can be raised to reduce eye strain. The U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration says that the top of a computer screen should be at or just below eye level to reduce neck and back strain.
External Mouse, Keyboard, and Webcam
An external mouse is typically easier to use than a trackpad. It can be used in a more natural position for the arms and wrists, which reduces long-term strain. Get a wireless mouse to reduce the number of cables on your desk.
Laptop users may find an external keyboard helpful. To reduce eye strain, laptop users can put their laptop on a stand that raises it to eye level, and then use an external keyboard to continue typing comfortably.
An external webcam and microphone are vital for video conferencing. Although most laptops now include webcams, they can be challenging to adjust, and their video quality isn’t as good. External microphones can also reduce background noise, including typing. Microphones with on/off buttons are more efficient to quickly mute a noise or a cough than clicking around on your video conferencing app.
If you live alone, your work environment may be quiet most of the time. However, construction and other noise sources eventually creep in, and it’s best to have a way to deal with them.
Fans and white noise machines can work great for reducing low noise levels. Outside noise can be muffled with noise-reducing curtains. Shared co-working spaces or coffee shops may require noise-canceling headphones.
Keep in mind that music can be distracting, especially if it has lyrics. If you need to listen to music while working, consider sticking to instrumentals like classical or jazz or music from other cultures if you don’t understand what is being sung.
Natural lighting makes your work environment easy on the eyes. Working near a window is best, but you may have to position yourself carefully or get a matte screen cover to reduce glare and eye strain.
Get a sunlight-imitating floor lamp for working in the evenings or on cloudy days. Although most laptop screens are bright enough to illuminate keyboards, working on a computer in dark rooms can cause eye strain or cause you to mistake a comma for a period. If you must work in a room with insufficient lighting, turn your screen brightness down to match the room’s level.
Even with natural lighting, take a 15-minute break every two hours to give your eyes a rest. Also, try 20-20-20 breaks: Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break to focus your eyes on something 20 feet away.
Many companies use instant messaging and video call software to keep everyone in touch while working remotely. If you’re expected to use specific software, install it, and adjust its settings before you need to use it.
If you’re a contractor or freelancer working remotely for multiple clients, look for the right combination of applications that allow you to communicate with clients. Some clients may expect video calls, while others want cloud sharing for important documents.
Download browser plugins that enable you to block social media and other distractions during working hours. You can get similar software for your phone, or simply keep your phone on the other side of the room while working.
Buckle-Down and Get to Work
Working remotely presents a unique set of challenges. It requires focus and organization, but it can be rewarding for self-starters who want to free themselves from a daily commute.
Invest in high-quality furniture and electronics for your workspace so you can stay comfortable and keep everything within easy reach. Pay attention to the details like lighting and software. With some discipline and practice, you’ll be able to achieve your career goals without setting foot in an office.
Guest Post: About the Author
Tania Longeau serves as the Head of Services for InkJet Superstore. Tania oversees a team of Operations and Customer Service Reps from the Los Angeles headquarters. Before joining InkJet Superstore, Tania was a team leader and supervisor working for one of the biggest mortgage and real estate companies in the country. She is a happily married mother of one who enjoys spending time with her family and reading in her leisure hours.