Setting up your home office: what is truly important in times of Covid-19

Home Office Setup in Times of Corona
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Everybody is used to working from home once in a while. But this time we have to prepare ourselves for several months in our home office in order to protect our fellow human beings from the corona virus. Psychologically and economically, this entails opportunities and risks for you and your company. How do I set up my home office properly? What tools are helpful? In this article, you will learn what is truly important, so that you can attain an optimal home office system and eventually benefit from it.

Not as productive in the home office?

I have been working from my home office for three years. And I’ll admit: the first few weeks I managed to do almost nothing. This is also the main concern of many employers.

But why is that? In a normal office situation, the average employee is only truly productive three hours out of eight. According to a study conducted by the Stanford University, home workers have less sick days, are happier and are up to 13 percent more productive when working.

When our team found out, we recognised a potential win-win situation: saving on office rent and becoming more efficient at the same time. And so, we decided and got started on a home office structure. Two months later my productivity had reached an all-time low.

What happened? I was actually well-prepared for home office and was able to optimally set things up. Nevertheless, I kept missing all of my deadlines without exception and felt burned out. From the very beginning.

Setting up your home office with the right furniture and suitable tools
Working on the sofa at home? Bad idea…

Here’s how you set up your home office with a small amount of space

First and foremost, you will want to create conditions in your home similar to the ones in the office. The good news: even if one has a small home, one can create a home office.

1. What are the best furniture solutions for your home office?

No surprise here: a desk is the most important. Working on the couch or in bed is fun, but only for a few days. But this quickly blurs the line between relaxation and work. It doesn’t need to be an entire study, however, it needs a fixed place that gives off the following vibe every day: this is where people work.

Here’s a secret tip: consider a standing table.

Standing more is not only healthy for your back, it also burns calories. Since the commute to work is eliminated anyway and we have extra little movement due to the initial restrictions, this is the best possible investment. Ikea and Yaasa even offer automatically liftable solutions.

Not enough room or money for a desk? Get a standing desk!

If a desk is not an option for you, you will probably have to move to the kitchen table. Whether you opt for a high desk or a high table extension, the advantages of high tables can be added at low cost. Advantage: if you sit less, you do not need to buy yourself an expensive ergonomic office chair.

Tip: when in doubt, choose a standing solution over an expensive office chair

2. How do I set up my PC when in home office?

In a best-case scenario, one uses two monitors or a laptop with mouse and keyboard plus screen. On the one hand, it is about the right angle of vision, so that the eyes and neck are protected. On the other hand, using two screens can make you up to 44% more productive for many tasks – unless you use the second screen for distraction.

Don’t have a lot of money at your disposal? HP monitors are reasonably priced.

Anyone who performs classic office tasks and has to keep an eye on costs when setting up a home office, can’t go wrong with a 27 inch HP monitor. Of course, designers, developers, or even brokers need a better setup.

Don’t have permanent space for monitors? Put your laptop on a shoebox.

Of course it makes no sense to heave a monitor to the kitchen table every day. With the shoe box solution plus mouse and keyboard you can still provide yourself with a pleasant viewing angle. This positive influence on your sitting posture is very important.

Don’t have a quiet environment? Try soundproof headphones.

Many of us have children, partners, flat mates or loud neighbours. It would be naive of us to hope that suddenly our surroundings would be calmer when we want to work. Noise cancelling headphones are a known concept. For those who are unable to work with music, we recommend the use of sound-proof headphones as used by construction workers. Not only are they cheaper, they are also much more effective.

Here’s a tip: monitors are important for productivity and posture – noise cancelling headphones guarantee peace and quiet

3. Three important tools for setting up your home office – and what you need to keep in mind

1. Slack for swift communication

A chat is much more relaxed and faster than an e-mail. Important: Slack can become time-consuming if you get distracted by every new message. When writing messages, you should also always ask yourself whether you need immediate feedback or whether you can also communicate asynchronously using a task management tool, such as awork.

Important: deactivate notifications during concentration phases

2. Task management tools for task-related communication:

The great thing about tools like awork is the connection of to-dos and deadlines with the respective communication and attached files to these tasks. So not only do they replace many mails and chats, they also have a tremendous organisational purpose for the team and the individual. However, it is important to consider which topics are to be discussed live via chat or video conference – and which are preferably talked about via task management tools.

Important: task management tools for all topics that do not require feedback within minutes

The great thing about tools like awork is the combination of to-do’s and communication, as well as attached files, for these tasks.

Try awork for free

3. Zoom for video calls

Zoom replaces personal conversations, phone calls, but also team meetings. When things get more complicated, screen sharing is a great way to create understanding and save time compared to chats or task management threads. You should also always ask yourself whether it is better to communicate asynchronously with the respective colleague. Alternative: ask via Slack, whether now is a good time.

Important: set status for reachability and check if you really need live feedback

What truly matters? New habits.

I knew all of this beforehand. Well then, why did I still have so much trouble with home office? Because knowing isn’t everything and self-discipline is an illusion.

In truth, habits control our behaviour. The office is a different environment where different habits prevail. Perhaps it’s the working atmosphere, the physical separation from family and roommates, or the fact that your boss might catch you procrastinating.

Fortunately, habits are well-researched. You get rid of bad habits like procrastination by making it as hard as possible for them. Conversely, good habits, such as being focused on work in an environment full of distractions, must be made as easy as possible.

That is why the key home office questions are:

  1. Fixed working hours: during what time periods do I have the possibility of working in a focused manner (and when might I be on stand-by only, i.e., only available when my colleagues need me for a short time)?
  2. Distraction: how do I ensure that I can actually work during my concentration phases?

How to work in home office in times of Covid-19

The conversion to home office has been quite the challenge during this Corona crisis. Everyone is at home right now, stressed out. There’s also news coming in regularly. The patent remedy for focused work at the home office, which also helped me, does however remain the same:

1. For a few days keep tabs on when you can actually work.

We’re not talking about sporadic emails; we’re talking about those longer work phases of two to three hours each, including short breaks. Depending on the type and your living situation, the time of day will differ substantially. Getting to know and respecting these new times is crucial.

Note: to find your best working hours, you can use timeBro for free. It records all your work on the computer for you (top secretly) and visualizes your day as a timeline with times. This way, you uncover your most productive hours and your time wasters. No payment details are necessary for the 14-day trial. So it does not convert itself to a subscription.

Expose time eaters with timeBro: it records all your work on the computer for you (top secretly) and visualizes your day as a timeline with working times.

2. Once you know your periods, protect yourself from distractions.

Make agreements with flatmates and colleagues. It also means putting on those headphones. It means putting your phone on silent during this period, it means blocking email-, Slack- or even browser-notifications. And it means temporarily blocking messaging and social media websites (not only during these hard times).

Note: the most efficient tool for setting up this fixed hours scenario is Freedom, as it works across various devices and blocks websites, as well as desktop apps. If you’re looking for free alternatives, you should take a look at Stay Focused for Chrome and LeechBlock for Firefox.

Those who take these two steps will not only continue to succeed at their tasks at the home office. They are guaranteed to complete their tasks in less time than in the workplace. And this productivity would be a nice takeaway from the time spent working from home, when we eventually return to the office.

If we even want to go back at all.

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About our guest author

Our guest author, Niclas Preisner, 31, worked as a young creative in several agencies and founded the startup timeBro three years ago. In recent years, he has introduced work time tracking in hundreds of companies.

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