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How to set up a work-from-home 'office' for the long term

Jun. 12, 2020

Working from home is hardly a new phenomenon, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made it an unplanned requirement for many

office and knowledge workers. Even as the coronavirus crisis eventually recedes, many employers will have discovered that they

don't need large office buildings, and many employees will have discovered that they don’t need to be in the office every day

or spend hours commuting.


But many people have set up makeshift home offices for the pandemic that won’t work well for the long term. In addition to

having the right equipment, the physical setup — the ergonomics of the workspace — is critical, especially around avoiding

repetitive strain injuries that a bad setup can cause. I suffered such RSI issues 20 years ago and narrowly avoided a relapse a

year ago, so I know what it takes to get back to and stay in a workable status.


The ideal home office setup

A long-term home office should ideally be a separate space in your home that is properly outfitted for work. Do as much of the

following as you can to create an effective, safe workspace for the long term.





A dedicated space

Ideally, you would use a small room that can hold a desk and computer equipment and whose door can be shut for the

essential need to separate work life from home life.


Most people don’t have spare space, but many people can convert a guest room into a dual-purpose space: an office

most of the time and a guest room when people visit. (A Murphy bed is a great way to do that if your space and budget

allow.) An enclosed porch, a large laundry room (or, for Europeans, drying room), or even a garden shed can also do the

double-duty trick.


If you can't get a dedicated space you can separate from the rest of your life, try to find a niche space you can use that

is out of the rest of the household’s way — and they out of yours — as much as possible.



A good chair

There are a lot of bad chairs out there that can injure you over prolonged computer use. Dining chairs and deck chairs,

for example, rarely are at the right height, and they don't always encourage the needed upright posture.


If you can afford it, get an adjustable professional office chair like an Aeron, where you can set a precise fit for your body

and workspace. But those typically go for $600 and up; there are also much cheaper office chairs — figure between $150

and $250 — that will do the job. You’ll need to test them out in person if at all possible, since you can’t tell fit from

a picture on a website.



Good lighting

It's very easy to underestimate the effects of your work environment on your ability to work. Lighting is often an area people

don't think about. Ideally, you have sufficient indirect light to illuminate your workspace, so you can easily read papers and see

physical objects. Overhead lighting is usually best, such as from a ceiling lamp.



Good internet service


Most urban and suburban areas have at least one high-speed provider for internet service; 50Mbps is the minimum speed to

shoot for, and the more people using the internet at the same time, the more you want to get a higher-speed service.


The bandwidth within your home matters too. The best connections are wired Ethernet ones, so if possible, connect your computer

to your router via an Ethernet cable; that's especially important if you do video or other bandwidth-intensive work. Wi-Fi is fine

for basic office work, so if you can't wire your computer to your router, use Wi-Fi.



Other equipment

You'll need a keyboard and a mouse or touchpad, of course: If you're using an external monitor, your laptop is likely folded shut

or off to the side in a position that would be awkward to reach to for using the built-in keyboard and trackpad. Any keyboard and

mouse or touchpad/trackpad are fine as long as they are responsive to the touch and not the wrong size for your hands or the wrong

height for your posture. Wireless ones save you cable mess but require recharging or battery replacement.


And if you work in a shared space, you should invest in a headset so you can join online conference calls with less noise leaking into

your home, where other people are working, sleeping, taking classes, and so on. The competing noises make it harder to work.







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