Staying Productive During A Pandemic: Your 2020 / 2021 Guide To Building A Home Office

Staying Productive Your 2020 2021 Home Office Guide

The Working From Home Life

No matter how much time you spend in the office, there always seems to be an overspill of work that you have to bring home with you. You’d sit at the dining table, on the couch, or even in bed, and try to get as much work completed before you were back in the office the next day.

2020 has amplified the meaning of working from home tenfold. The majority of your working time is no longer spent in the office, but rather at home. It’s times like these that we really notice how lacking our home office setup is, but you’re not alone in the struggle of trying to adapt to working from home.

Are there pets or children running around, begging for your attention? Is there nowhere quiet enough to take a Zoom meeting properly? These are just some of the issues that the majority of us are dealing with now that we’re expected to work from home.

Back in March when COVID-19 was declared as a pandemic and we were all told to work from home, we thought that we wouldn’t be out of the office for long enough to bother with a home working setup. Eight months later, it might be a good idea to create a real WFH office space.

Today we’re going to be looking at how to build the ideal home office setup. No one knows when the world will get back to normal, so we’re tired of making excuses for our lousy setup – and we bet that you are too. So, let’s pull the plug and create the ideal home office for you to feel your most productive.

How 2020 Became the Year of Home Working

Homeworking has been around for centuries, but there has never been a surge of people working from home quite like that of 2020. With expert advice telling the population that everyone who can work from home should, more people than ever are swapping their suits for slacks.

COVID-19 was first reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) in December 2019, first originating in Wuhan, China. As the virus spread throughout the country, we didn’t think much of it and there was little media coverage. Over 70 million Americans were also put on lockdown in March to try to reduce the strain on hospitals and supermarkets.

Stay-at-home orders rolled out around the world in mid-March, and they haven’t been let up since. Working from home reduces the contact that you have with other people, preventing you from contracting or spreading the disease. Studies have supported the theory that around 50% of people with COVID-19 don’t have any symptoms at all.

This means that you might feel fine while spreading the virus. Another study suggested that people with COVID-19 might be the most contagious before they feel any symptoms. So, working from home became a sensible and safe thing to do and 2020 became the year of home working.

Working From Home: What Do The Experts Say?

A few people have been skeptical about working from home when it comes to keeping productivity and morale high. However, many people didn’t realize that before the pandemic was declared over 5 million Americans were working from home for at least half the time.

Some key facts from the experts are as follows:

  • The number of remote workers has grown 173% over 15 years.
  • Almost 50% of employees found that working from home has made them more productive.
  • One in four people are more likely to feel happier and more productive while working from home.
  • Over half of the people who have started working from home in 2020 have found it to be more enjoyable than working in the office.
  • 80% of telecommuters experience less stress that is related to work.

This number has grown 173% since 2005, and it’s thought that it will continue to increase for the foreseeable future. A study in May 2020 of a Californian-based company found that there was a 47% increase in worker productivity by only changing one thing – the location of their office.

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday were the most productive days and CRM activity was increased by 176%. Telephone calls and emails were also increased by 230% and 57% respectively.

A statistic that we found particularly uplifting was that ‘people who work from home are 24% more likely to be happy and productive.’ While previous years have shown working from home to be demoralizing and unproductive, 2020 has turned this completely around.

Another study found that 56% of workers who haven’t traditionally worked from home before found that they felt more productive than they did in the office. With all of this positive feedback being reported on, it’s said that we can expect working remotely to be the new normal.

Not only does working from home improve productivity and happiness in workers, but it also reduces the costs of office spaces and supplies. Both businesses and employees are benefiting from working from home, so it might be here to stay. What better time to set up your own home office?

Setting Up Your Home Office

Pick out a dedicated space

Some people are lucky enough to have a spare room that is the ideal size for a home office.

If you’re one of these people, you might not need to debate where you’re going to place your setup.

However, if you’re not as fortunate and have limited free space, you might need to get creative with your workspace.

Good spaces for a home office Bad spaces for a home office
A spare bedroom Your bedroom
A closet Dining room table
The landing or hallway Living space

Many people have set up their desk in their bedroom or dining room, but these rooms have the potential to distract you from working. Moreover, it’s been shown that working where you sleep can cause an adverse effect on your rest and decrease your productivity.

Instead, look for other spaces to work such as in the closet or on the landing in the hallway. We know that these places don’t sound very luxurious and spacious, but they’re better than working in rooms that are known to be distracting.

You can remove the clothes pole and door of your closest and find a desk that will fit into the cubby. This allows you an enclosed space for you to work without reducing your productivity. Alternatively, you could convert an unused room into your home office.

Many people have a guest room that isn’t being used much, so it could be transformed into a home office while it’s not being used. Guests aren’t supposed to be staying within different households in 2020 anyway, so we’re sure that the bed won’t be missed.

Finding the perfect desk

After you’ve found the ideal space for your home office, you’ll need to do some measuring before you find the ideal desk.

gain, you might already have your own desk that you’re happy with, so you can skip onto the next step.

However, if you need a new desk there are some things you need to think about before you buy the first one you see.

There are two different types of desks that you can choose from, which we’ll look at below.

Traditional Desk

Traditional desks are most commonly used and they’re widely available. They come in a variety of designs, but the premise is the same. These desks are used with an office chair and they have ample space for stationery, a computer, and various files.

Pros of a traditional desk Cons of a traditional desk
More spacious for supplies and electronics Can leave you with an aching back and limbs
There are more designs to choose from on the market Can promote poor posture
Cheaper alternatives to standing desks

Standing Desk

A standing desk is popular among people who spend eight or more hours sitting at a desk. These desks allow you to split your time between sitting and standing so that you don’t develop poor posture or backache.

Prods of a standing desk Cons of a standing desk
Prevents a sedentary lifestyle Can become uncomfortable quickly
You can keep active as you work Compatible chairs are not as easy to find
You won’t leave work with a backache

Choosing the right chair

Your office chair is as, if not more, important than the desk you opt for. You need to remain comfortable throughout the day to ensure that you’re not straining your body unnecessarily.

The chair needs to be the correct height for the desk and provide enough support for your back, arms, and legs.

If you’re using a traditional desk, the chair will be slightly different than if you opted for a standing desk. As it’s very unlikely that you’ll be able to stand for eight hours straight, you can purchase a chair specifically for standing desks.

One of the main issues with low-quality office chairs is the backache that comes along with using one. Find an ergonomic chair to avoid a backache and don’t forget to follow our advice down below.

How to prevent backache from sitting at a desk:

  • Back: Your back should be flush against the backrest from your bottom to neck. There should be an indent or cushion to ensure that there is a curve in your spine. You should avoid slumping throughout your entire working day.
  • Elbows: Sit as close to your desk as possible so that your upper arms are in line with your spine. Place your hands on the desk. If your elbows are not at a 90-degree angle you need to adjust the height of your chair.
  • Thighs: You should be able to fit two fingers underneath your thighs at the edge of the chair. If you cannot fit two fingers easily, you should prop your feet up with a footrest.
  • Calves: There should be a fist worth of space between the back of your calf and the edge of the chair. If you cannot do this, you need to adjust the backrest until you can.
  • Eyes: Your eyes should be level with your computer screen. Close your eyes and look straightforward. Open your eyes and see where your monitor is in comparison to your straight gaze and adjust your chair accordingly. 

Get the right monitor setup

Depending on the work that you’re carrying out you will need a monitor setup that aids the tasks that you’re responsible for. A good way to do this is to mimic the setup that you were using in your office. A basic setup will include a monitor or laptop, keyboard, and a mouse.

This is the most basic setup that you could opt for. Many professionals prefer to work with two or even three monitors, so you can alter your setup according to what you find most helpful.

It’s very simple to connect two or more monitors together, and you can even throw a laptop screen in the mix as well. Both Mac and Windows allow you to use multiple screens at once to help productivity.

If you don’t want to pay the additional cost of purchasing another monitor, you can actually connect your laptop or computer with your television so that you can spread your work out over both your computer screen and the television screen. This is a cheaper alternative to buying two monitors.

Work out the lighting

Working in poor lighting can cause an adverse effect on your productivity, so it’s important that you don’t forget to fix your lighting when working from home. Natural lighting has been shown to be the most effective type of lighting to boost your work performance, but artificial light is better than no lighting at all.

Poor lighting can cause eye strain, headaches, and nausea. Obviously, these are all unwanted effects of working from home. To avoid this, you should position your desk in the best place possible.

Good examples of lighting for your home office are:

  • Natural lighting wherever you can.
  • Neutral LED bulbs rather than cheap lighting.
  • Desk lamps close enough to illuminate your work after sundown.

If you have an entire room that you’re dedicating to your home office, you might have a window. Place your desk facing out of the window to ensure that your desk gets the most natural light possible.

Doing this will prevent you from having to use artificial lighting during the day. If you’ve been known to work throughout the night, you’ll need a lamp next to or on top of your desk so that the light is positioned directly towards the middle of your desk.

If you don’t have a window and will need to use artificial lighting, make sure that the bulbs you use are not too fluorescent or too warm-toned. These could both cause headaches and eye strain. You should use neutral LED bulbs that offer a subtle cool or warm light.

Ensure you have a high-quality internet connection

Continual buffering will reduce your productivity and lower your mood throughout the working day.

Slow internet speeds are beyond frustrating and it will severely affect your experience while working from home.

If you find that your internet connection is too poor in your home office, you can either opt for a booster or find a new connection.

Boosters work well when the WIFI hub is too far away from your desk. They allow the internet connection to spread further through the house so that the speed in your office is boosted and less irritating as you work.

However, if more than one person is working from home in your house you might need to find a better internet provider.

2020 has seen people of all ages working from home, whether it be children and teenagers completing schoolwork or adult professionals working remotely.

If your internet connection cannot keep up with all of the people in your household working from home, you will need to shop around. We suggest that you opt for the best internet speed that you can afford to give you the best chance of not wanting to throw your monitor out of the window every working day.

Staying Connected: Setting Up Your Home Network

A home network works just like one that you’d have had at the office. It allows you to use multiple devices while connecting them to the internet as well as each other. When working from home, all of your devices must run smoothly to avoid frustration and a lack of productivity.

Choosing a wired or wireless connection

Now we have to talk about the wiring. We know that networking can be quite confusing to people who don’t know about the inner workings of computer networks, but we’re here to talk you through it. Most houses have two main options for connecting data around their house – wired ethernet or WIFI.

Wired ethernet

The standard gigabit ethernet cable today is either 1000Base-T or 802.3ab. You’ll need Cat 5e wiring around the home to use one of these cables. This can be expensive to do as you might need to get your house rewired, but ethernet cables are worth the added cost for many people.

Wired ethernet cables are effective, reliable, and fast-moving. Overall, if you wanted to move data around your house without the risk or less than perfect connections, wired ethernet cables are very beneficial.

WIFI

WIFI is a marvelous invention, but it’s not a good idea to rely on it solely for your house networking. While not having to wire your entire house sounds inexpensive and therefore more appealing than an ethernet cable, it is not always the most secure option.

WIFI can falter halfway through your workday and prevent you from continuing your work. You could lose data, important files, and much more. Additionally, sending large amounts of data at once takes much longer to do while using WIFI compared to an ethernet cable.

However, WIFI can be used for smaller projects. It’s a good idea to use WIFI alongside ethernet cables so that you can use the wired connection for the largest tasks and the wireless connection for everything else.

Gathering the components for your home network

Most people use a mixture of wireless and wired connections to ensure that they’re always covered in case something was to go wrong. Smartphones and tablets don’t have the ability to be connected to ethernet cables so WIFI is required in most households.

Other than the internet connections, you’ll need a few more components to set up your home network. These are as follows:

  • A router (wired or wireless) – connects your network to the internet.
  • Ethernet hub or switch – connects the network to ethernet supported devices such as computers and laptops.
  • Wireless access point – connects WIFI-capable devices to the network such as phones.
  • Cat 5 or Cat 6 cable with RJ45 connectors.

Connecting your home network

Now that you’ve gathered all of your supplies, you need to connect them together to create your network. Below we’re going to be talking about a simple home network, but you could add more components to yours if you needed to.

The router, whether it’s wired or wireless, connects to your computer tower and printer using ethernet Cat 5 or 6 cables. Meanwhile, your phone and laptop are connected to the internet using WIFI capabilities. You are using both wired and wireless connections to run your home network.

If you wanted to add a telephone connection to your home network, you would need a telephone cable with RJ10 connectors and broadband filters. Connect the telephone cable to the internet router to add the telephone to your network. Use the broadband filters to prevent the telephone from interfering with the internet.

Expanding your home network

If the above network is not large enough for your needs, you can extend it to suit your home office better. You can either do this by using a booster to ensure that your WIFI reaches further throughout your house or by adding more wireless access points around the home.

If you need to extend your wired network, you can purchase ethernet cable extenders to run them through different rooms in your house. These would allow you to use ethernet cables in any room of the house so that you don’t have to rely on a strong WIFI connection.

Online Tools To Use

Productivity tools: Connecting with your team

Once you’ve set up your home networking system, you’ll need to be able to connect with your team. Rather than all being in one office for five days a week, you’re spread out in the comfort of your own homes. If you work in a place that relies heavily on teamwork, you could really feel the effects of working remotely.

The following tools are considered essential by veteran work-from-homers:

  • Zoom: Zoom is an excellent tool that allows you to call as many of your coworkers as you want to and any given time. You can work alongside each other and forget about the fact that you’re working away from the office. Zoom can improve productivity, mental health, and allows employees to stay in the loop.
  • Slack: Slack is a popular workplace communication app that allows employees to send each other messages and files instantly. Think of iMessage but with countless tools suitable for the workplace.

To keep productivity high, you might want to connect with your team on a day-to-day basis. Zoom is one of the leading video conferencing software apps. It has been bringing over 200 million meeting participants together daily in 2020, which is an incredible jump from the 10 million in December 2019.

Zoom is a great application for businesses of all sizes to keep their employees engaged and in the loop with everything going on. With four payment plans including a free option, you can host unlimited team meetings with an unlimited number of employees.

Another productivity tool is Slack, which is a messaging app for professionals. You can make private channels between two people, or you can add several colleagues to a team channel. Alternatively, you can make company-wide channels to notify every employee of the information that they need to know.

Slack is owned by a company that now is valued at over $20 billion. Is it any wonder when over 12 million daily users are on Slack every day? Slack listens to its users and delivers what they want and need. There are plans including options for an enterprise grid.

Slack and Zoom are great examples of productivity tools that will help keep you and your team working to the best of your ability. There are numerous testimonies displaying how these platforms have boosted productivity while everyone adjusted to working from home.

Online collaborative working tools

Working from home isn’t just about communicating with your team. There is also actual work to think about!

Luckily, the days of having to send work via emails and wait for a slow response is behind us. Instead, you can work together online to create a piece of work more efficiently and to a higher standard.

The two most common collaborative working from home tools are:

  • Google Drive: Google Drive is an online platform that you can use both individually and as a team. Your work is saved onto a cloud-like storage device and you can view and edit your work from any of your electronic devices. 
  • Microsoft Office

Google Drive is perhaps the most commonly used online tool for professionals because of the collaboration aspect of it. With 2 billion monthly active users, Google Drive is the ultimate tool to work collaboratively while being away from the office.

You can create a Google Doc, Sheet, or Slide and share it with as many people as you want to. All you need is their email address, and they can access your work. Google Drive also allows you to create folders in which you can share work as well.

Again, if you work within a team environment and are struggling to work from home effectively without being around your team, you can use this tool to your advantage. Create a Google Drive folder and collaborate on different projects at the same time.

Microsoft also has a version of this called Microsoft Office Online. Take advantage of Documents, Excel, and PowerPoint without having to pay the price to download them to your computer. In April 2020, there were 258 million monthly users. The most common users were businesses and 43% were based in the United States.

Both Google Drive and Microsoft Office Online are free software that your entire team can use easily. They are excellent for collaborating with each other and you can clearly see what every other team member has done.

Email and online fax

Emails are very popular among office workers and they have become even more popular during 2020. They’re effective for reaching out to clients and fellow employees formally. Using a messaging platform such as Slack might be more convenient and quicker, but emails are considered more professional.

You might be thinking: “Why are you talking about faxing in 2020? Isn’t that a dead platform?” However, faxing is actually more relevant than you might think, particularly if you work in the law, medical, or financial industry. Fax machines have become a rarity to find, a fact that doesn’t bother you until you desperately need one.

While your office might have a fax machine, it’s unlikely that you’ll have one at home. With 2020 calling for us all to stay at home, many people are left without a fax machine to use. However, online faxing is now a tool that we can use from home. Faxing documents online protect you from hackers, unreliable machines, and high prices.

Tips For a Productive Home Office

Plan for visitors and meetings

You may be staying within one room for eight hours each day, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll be the only person in there.

If you have more than one person living in your house that’s working from home, make sure that you have room for them to visit.

This could be children, loved ones, pets. Don’t keep them out throughout your entire workday – you deserve a quick break! Science says that you should take regular breaks to keep your productivity levels up.

So, make sure that you have a space for visitors – whether it be a cat tree, a dog bed, or a couch for humans. Allow yourself a quick break to talk to your loved ones before getting back to work. Your focus will thank you for it!

Allow space for writing

When creating a home office, many people forget to allow enough space for their tasks.

It’s easy to clutter your workspace up to the point where you cannot move your arms left or right.

However, a messy workspace is sure to lower your productivity.

Make sure that you have enough space on your desk to write in notebooks, make amendments on your first drafts, and move your arms freely over your desk.

A clear workspace makes for a clear mind!

Make your workspace more inviting

If your desk is more inviting, you’ll want to spend more time there.

Work will seem like less of a chore and more entertaining.

Make sure that you have some personal belongings around your desk that can keep your mood high, even during a seemingly endless workday.

A checklist to make your workspace more inviting: 

  • Plants, fake or alive.
  • Artwork that offers pops of color.
  • Comfortable chairs.
  • Puzzles and games for breaks.
  • Warming decorations.

Plants have been known to improve productivity, as greenery can raise spirits and make you feel proud. If you can keep a plant alive, you can certainly get through the day! Plants also expel oxygen into the air which can clear your mind and keep you feeling awake.

Working in a nice-looking workspace will certainly help you to keep your focus on your work, so take the time to spruce it up and add some decoration. Experiment with color and artwork, but make sure that you have a neutral-colored wall for professional Zoom meetings.

Ensure privacy

Although it’s nice to have guests in the office every now and then, having a cat walking across your keyboard ten times an hour can be detrimental to your productivity.

Similarly, children running in and out of your office begging for your attention can hinder focus as well.

So, when you’re not ready for guests in your home office you should ensure that you have enough privacy.

You can either do this by using a door hanger that says ‘Come In’ on one side and ‘Stay Out’ on the other.

Alternatively, you could install a lock so that you have the option to keep visitors out or allow them access.

Establish boundaries between work and personal life

It is estimated that 56% of workers in the USA have a job that can be completed from home. With so many people having the potential to swap the office for their homes, it is vital that you establish clear boundaries.

If you don’t have the space to enclose your home office in a separate room, you might need to set some boundaries between your personal and work life.

The nice thing about working in an office is that once you leave the building, you can often forget about work until the next day.

You can return home and enjoy your family and hobbies without worrying about the tasks you have to complete next time you’re at work. However, working from home eliminates this benefit.

So, if you don’t have a dedicated room for your office, make sure that you only work in one spot.

Below are some important tips to follow when you want to create boundaries between your home and work life.

  • Find one space to work and stick to it. Don’t choose to work in one room one day and another the next.
  • If you can, close your working space off for the rest of the night. This will allow you to forget about work so that you can enjoy your free time.
  • Invest in some noise cancelling headphones if you’re going to be working in a noisy environment.
  • Talk to your family and ask them not to disturb you while you’re working. You can communicate with them during your breaks and after you’ve finished your working day.

Following our advice on how to create boundaries between your home and working life is sure to make working from home much easier. You shouldn’t have to be worrying about work throughout the entire day, but you should be able to focus solely on work during work hours.

How To Get Your Working From Home Grind On

Now you’re ready to go and build the home office of your dreams. At the beginning of the year, we were all relaxed about working from home and didn’t realize the implications of working from home for a prolonged period of time.

COVID-19 doesn’t look as though it’s going anywhere anytime soon, so we need to adapt our homes to allow for productive working. Find a space that is going to offer you enough privacy to get your daily work tasks done. Pick out a nice desk and chair, and make your setup inviting.

Setting up your own home network is a crucial part of working from home. WIFI is an excellent invention, but it can be unreliable at the worst of times. To avoid your operations from coming to a complete halt when the WIFI is down, using a mixture of wired and wireless connections is considered best.

Make sure that your network is suitable for your line of work. You’ll need to use the correct data transferring methods to ensure that you’re not waiting around for your internet to catch up for too long. You can use tools such as Zoom and Slack to keep connected within your team.

Google Docs and Online Faxing are some examples of other tools that you can use when working from home. You won’t realize how beneficial they are until you’ve put them to use, so what are you waiting for?

While your office needs to be functional and include everything you need to complete your work, you should also spend some time furnishing your workspace so that you feel happy and productive throughout the working day.

We hope that you’ve found our guide to your 2020 / 2021 home office. In these unsure times, it makes a big difference creating a permanent workspace to add some structure back into your life.