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5 simple & budget-friendly ways to work from home like a pro

Over the past month, companies around the world have implemented mandatory work-from-home policies to help fight back against the growing coronavirus pandemic. For professionals, this has led to an entirely new challenge: Working from home, full time.

Before COVID-19, just 5.2% of people worked from home full time, according to U.S. Census data. Now, Gartner reports that 88% of all organizations are mandating that their employees do so.

For many, this is a radically new experience as households share finite resources from physical space to Wi-Fi bandwidth. And being productive in this new work-from-home world can, frankly, be a challenge.

To find out how some simple tips and budget-friendly tricks to improve our work-from-home setups, we sat down with Andrew Kao, Hana’s Vice President of Product & Experience Design.

1. Carve out a dedicated workspace

It sounds simple, but a basic truism is where we work determines how we work.

When you’re working from home, it becomes all the more important to find a place you can dedicate completely to work — and try your best to separate that space from your living quarters.

“There’s nothing wrong with working on the couch,” Kao says. “But ultimately, working in spaces where you live can often lead to an uncomfortable mixing of your work life and personal life.”

Studies show that people who are able to physically separate their workspace from their living space tend to be more productive while working and more able to “mentally ‘switch off’ from work,” according to Psychology Today.

This is hardly surprising. If you’re working on a couch where you typically watch TV, you’ll likely find yourself staring at the remote once or twice (and you might also find yourself checking work emails when watching TV in the evening).

“The key is to give yourself space to work effectively,” Kao says. “This doesn’t need to be a large space — but you need to have some dedicated space you can retreat to for heads-down work.”

1. The Ideal Setup

A private home office is your ideal workspace, especially if you have a door you can close to minimize noise and distractions

2. The Next-Best Thing

Look for a place you can segment off from your living quarters and ‘leave’ when you’re not working

3. The Fallback

If you have a smaller living space like a studio apartment, think about adding a desk that is just for working — or dedicating one seat for work.

Pro Tip

If you’re sharing a home with others, try to find a place where you have privacy and quiet while you work. Studies show working in a quiet space (perhaps unsurprisingly) significantly improves productivity. If you don’t have a private and quiet place and you have the budget, consider investing in a pair of noise-canceling headphones.  

2. A good chair and desk are key

Where people talk about what office tools you need to succeed, they often leave out the most important thing: a great workstation. Your desk is, after all, where you’re doing the majority of your work.

“You definitely want to think about what kind of work surface you have,” Kao says. “Maybe it’s a desk, maybe it’s a table — or maybe it’s your kitchen table.”

A dedicated desk is optimal. But whatever surface you use, Kao says, it’s important to think about the height of your desk. A standard desk is about 30 inches tall. But this is better suited to someone who’s over six feet tall. That’s where a good chair comes in.

“You’ll notice with higher quality task chairs, you’re not so much paying for better materials,” Kao says. “You’re paying for better adjustability so you can raise or lower the height of your chair and change the position to match your posture.”

He continues: “If you don’t have access to a desk and you have the budget, it’s wise to invest in a task chair for the time being so you can roll it up to the kitchen table and adjust the chair accordingly. The height of a kitchen table and a desk can vary from two-three inches. If you’re buying a task chair, you can better balance it against that difference.”

1. The Ideal Setup

You have a spacious desk and an adjustable task chair — or are able to invest in one or both of these — that you can adjust to fit your exact preferred posture.

2. The Next-Best Thing

You already have — or are able to invest in — a good task chair that you can adjust to the height of a table or workspace. If you buy a task chair, make sure to pick one you can easily adjust. 

3. The Fallback

If you don’t have a good task chair, try and find a comfortable chair in your apartment or house — and don’t be afraid to add a throw cushion to make sure you’re comfortable.

Pro Tip

If you’re buying a task chair, focus on how adjustable it is and consider one made out of mesh, which helps with temperature and comfort.

3. You can never have too much natural light

In survey after survey, natural light ranks high among the workplace perks people value most — and for good reason, too.

“Natural light keeps us grounded in what time of day it is,” Kao says. “If you’re stuck in a dark space all day, it’s really easy to lose track of the time.”

Studies have found that people working in dark spaces are more likely to feel gloomy and tired, according to the Harvard Business Review.

“But maybe more importantly, natural light is great for your eye health,” Kao says. “It’s important to remember computer screens emit light and, in doing so, create a lot of contrast.”

And if there’s not enough background light to balance that out, your eye is constantly straining when you look away from your computer screen.

In an ideal scenario, your home office has a large window with plenty of natural light. If you don’t have a window in your workspace, consider moving out to a place in your house or apartment that has one just for a little bit to refresh yourself from time to time.

1. The Ideal Setup

Set up your workspace near a window to maximize your exposure to natural light throughout the course of your workday. 

2. The Next-Best Thing

If you can’t work near a window, make sure you get up once in a while to either spend time in a place with natural light — or go outside. 

3. The Fallback

If your home lacks natural light entirely and you’re unable to go outside regularly, consider using lamps and overhead lighting to improve the background lighting of your home and workspace.

Pro Tip

Locking your eyes on one point for prolonged periods of time can hurt your eye health. Make a point to get up once in a while to give your eyes a break. That can be as simple as standing up during a call and looking out a window.

4. Don’t forget ergonomics

While ergonomics is often talked about in the office setting, it’s something that takes on a new meaning when you’re working from home. For many, working from home means hunching over a laptop.

“You might not have a great chair or dedicated desk,” Kao says. “And when you work on a laptop, you’ll almost inevitably start hunching over your laptop. That’s fine for maybe a few hours. But at a certain point, that position becomes unnatural and uncomfortable.”

Luckily, there are a few simple fixes.

“Personally, I made the decision to invest in simple things like a good chair, a monitor and a monitor arm,” Kao says. “Monitors and monitor arms are fairly inexpensive these days and make a huge difference. Even something as simple as a laptop stand can improve your setup.” Some companies may even agree to pay for items like these.   

Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Computer monitor
    When you can plug your computer into a monitor, that lifts your eyes — and your posture — a few inches, which is a greater start to fixing your posture.
    Cost: $70-$200

  2. Laptop stand
    If you don’t have a computer monitor, a laptop stand is another great way to raise your eye level (which helps you avoid hunching over your work). 
    Cost: $0-$30

  3. Monitor arm
    If you have a monitor arm, you can easily lift your screen to eye level, which helps you work in a much more neutral position that’s more comfortable.
    Cost: $40-$150

  4. Keyboard
    An external computer keyboard helps enforces better ergonomic behavior by pulling you away from a laptop screen and offering better support for your wrists.
    Cost: $15-$30

  5. Computer mouse
    With a laptop, you’re almost always resting your wrists on the laptop — especially when you’re using a trackpad. A mouse helps you avoid this (and is often easier to use).
    Cost: $6-$20

  6. Throw cushion
    While a good task chair is highly recommended (see above), a cheaper alternative is to use a throw cushion to help improve the comfort of whatever chair you’re using at home.
    Cost: $10-$20

Pro Tip

A lot of research has been done about how important it to change your position throughout the day. Whether it’s moving to the kitchen table for a few minutes to answer emails or taking a call on the couch, try and move around during your workday when you can.

5. Bring some plants into your space

If adding plants to your house and workspace feels a bit excessive, think again. Research shows plants can improve your productivity, your mental health and your focus.

And for those who may have trouble going outside, plants are a simple way to bring the outside into your home.

“We spend a lot of time at Hana thinking about plants and biophilia,” Kao says. “It’s something that helps psychologically and keeps us grounded. Studies have also found we’re more productive and happier when we have some greenery around us.”

If you already have plants in your home, consider bringing a few into your personal workspace. And if you don’t, they’re a relatively cheap addition (Amazon offers a number of low-maintenance plants for under $25).

Pro Tip

If you don’t have a green thumb, look for easy-to-care-for plants like succulents, ferns and cacti, which require minimal watering and attention. These are also fairly cheap to purchase. (And if you have the opposite of a green thumb, fake plants are an option, too.) 

Take this with you

Between sharing our new workspaces with others and adjusting to seeing yourself on camera during video conferencing meetings, working from home, full-time, can be an adjustment. 

“I often ask people two simple questions,” Kao says. “’How do you work most effectively?’ and ‘What are the kinds of things you’re doing throughout the day?’ The answers give you a starting point for thinking about structuring your home workspace.”

But whatever your home workspace looks like, remember to create boundaries between where you work and where you live.

“Be mindful to create divisions between your workspace and your living space,” Kao says. “That being said, it’s not bad to take advantage of the places you have to work. Variety is really important. And if you like working on the couch, by all means go for it.”

Looking for a better place to work? Explore the workspaces and amenities 1,000+ office workers value most in our white paper, Forget Foosball: People Want a Better Place to Work, Not Play.

Apr 13 2020

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