How to make Working From Home work

We received an email from our General Manager late in the afternoon on March 12, but I’d known it was coming for about a week: we would be working from home beginning immediately and extending through at least April 6. We were told that we had a few days to wrap up work on campus, pack up whatever we needed for a few weeks, then leave. I remember thinking to myself that I should plan for being away for six weeks “just in case”.

It will be 19 weeks tomorrow since I left campus with my monitor (thank goodness my manager convinced me to take it!), my keyboard and mouse, my computer glasses, and a few small items (pen, paper, stickie notes) that I jammed in my work backpack; I was so unprepared and ill-equipped to work from home for a year or more.

  • I was used to a sit/stand desk and serious ergonomic chair at work. At home, I had a fixed desk with a cheap office chair from Ikea
    • Note that I’m much luckier than some of my colleagues who don’t even have a dedicated desk space and are working from the dining room table, back patio, or even a card table in the garage!
  • My husband - bless his heart! - had been working from home four days a week for several years; his employer put everyone in the office on indefinite work from home a couple of weeks before mine. He already had his desk, computer, chair, etc, set up in the corner of our “office” and was used to working quite happily there by himself. My arrival, complete with 27” monitor, many long, loud video meetings throughout my work day, and my heavy use of Wi-Fi was not something either of us had planned for
  • Our office had, over the years, become a bit of a dumping ground for books, binders, paperwork and anything else that “we might need” but didn’t have anywhere else to store. It was seriously dusty, cluttered, and not inspiring.
    • Happily, we started using Zoom for meetings a few weeks after I started working from home - Zoom supports the use of virtual backgrounds so that I no longer had to worry about the senior leaders on my meetings seeing the teetering piles of paper on the bookcase behind me, or my husband walking through the room while I was on camera!
For a few months, I just plodded along without doing much to make the situation better: I added a faux plant and reed diffuser with energizing essential oils to the top of the filing cabinet next to my desk and attempted to swipe a duster over the teeming bookshelf once or twice before giving up in frustration. By mid-June, my back was bothering me so much that it started to affect my running, and my allergies were in full bloom, so I knew I needed to do something.

The company has been really supportive and organized about all of the Work From Home logistics for a very large, global organization, and has an entire website dedicated to mental health, financial, child care, elder care, and home office setup, so I decided to consult the “Work From Home” guide to see what options I had in terms of ergonomic support. It turns out that we can have virtual/video consultations with the ergonomist, with the ability to order office furniture afterwards, if needed. In essence, I’d suffered for months when I could have used an ergonomics consultation back in March or April.

...maybe one day

So, what’s different now about my workday space and routine?
  • I received a referral to purchase a desk riser, which sits on top of my existing desk and raises up to allow me to stand or lowers back down when I want to sit.
    • I try to stand for most of the day and only sit when I’m eating
    • I also participate in at least one of the twice daily, 15 minute stretch sessions that our Fitness Center staff provide via Zoom every weekday. It’s amazing how little I move during the work day now unless I schedule it!
  • I purchased a few plants for our office. Plants not only add visual interest but all of the varieties that I chose also clean the air. Bonus: the arrival of the plants forced me to deal with the junk on the top few shelves of the bookcase, so there are fewer items on the shelves and they’ve been damp dusted for the first time in years
    • I actually tossed out quite a few things that I’d just been hanging onto for years for no good reason, which I definitely need to do more of throughout the house!
  • After talking with my husband (and paying our income tax bill), we decided to buy an Air purifier for the office. Not only will it help with the pollen, dust, and other allergens, but it has HEPA and carbon filtration as well, so that when, not if, our area has smoke from fires, we will still have clean air to breathe.
    • We also purchased a larger version for our bedroom, which I’m really looking forward to because I wake up every morning with a stuffy nose and watery eyes.
Future ideas that I have include having a small bunch of flowers delivered once or twice a month that I can place on the (now clean) bookshelf to brighten and provide a nice (and natural) scent to the space, purchasing an adjustable desk chair (not high on the priority list), and continuing to declutter more things from the office so that it’s easier to keep it dusted and clean.

If you are working from home now, how is it going? Have you figured out ways to stay comfortable and be productive outside of the corporate bubble? Any suggestions for home office improvements that I haven’t thought about?


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