What are the standards in a normal ‘away from home’ office? You’ll have more or less fixed working hours or standard contact hours with a flexible component as a time frame, you’ll usually have a workplace that remains the same, you’ll have colleagues to collaborate with, there will be a workflow that you fit into, etc. Besides these work-related items you’ll have some infrastructure at your disposal: usually some kind of catering – an office kitchen with a selection of drinks and food either for free or at cost, maybe some form of entertainment, a common area where you can have a coffee or lunch break, sometimes a crèche for the kids, bathrooms, smoking area, you get the idea.
Now look at your home office and you’ll find that, on the work front, things might look quite similar, especially if you are working from home as an employee. If you are self-employed, a lot of these things still apply: simply replace ‘colleagues’ with ‘customers/suppliers’ and you are halfway there. From a practical point of view, the only thing different is the geographical distance, which might have been a reality for corporate offices as well, with long distance phone calls or video conferences, email or message exchanges, and online workshare or job logging systems. So not much new on this front.
Where things are distinctly different, however, is the local work area and the social interaction with others, and that can be a little challenging. Looking at the local work area, assuming you have properly arrived at your desk or workplace after going through your morning rituals (see previous blog), you’ll be all alone in a space for a while now. It’s important to make this space inviting, bright, practical and professional, in order to keep you on track and not diverge from the sense of work you have spent time to create during the morning ritual.
It is a good idea to keep the interaction with the home to a minimum, so it might be useful to have a couple of things ready: make sure you have a stash of drinks and (healthy) snacks at hand in this space. It might be a good idea to have a small kitchen in this space: just a sink, a kettle (and/or a coffee maker if you are so inclined), washing liquid and towels for the stuff in this space to keep it self-contained and to give you a chance to change tack for 5 minutes and do the dishes (a perfect evening ritual to close the day, by the way).
Unlike a proper office space, I would recommend some kind of radio or sound system, as long as it doesn’t distract from work, but creates a mood that helps you get on with your work. Another non-work related nicety would be a comfortable place to sit down and relax during your breaks from work. Anything to keep you from being tempted to return ‘home’ during the day, unless it’s unavoidable, really.
The main attraction: your desk!
When it comes to your desk, make sure it’s as suitable for work as possible: you’ll need a proper desk to work on, storage options, filing drawers, decent lighting and a good quality desk chair to get started. Make sure your desk is the proper height and placed so you enjoy sitting at it! That means to face a window, or at the very least not facing a wall. If you find the only way to place your desk is against a wall, invest in a large pane of mirror and place it on the wall: this will create the impression of space in front of you and will reflect more light light onto your working area as well. If you worry about seeing yourself all the time, don’t: after a couple of days you’ll barely notice the mirror, but you’ll continue to notice the sense of space and light. Part of a proper desk is its proper height and ergonomic chair to boot. Read up on proper heights and chairs before you choose one!
Since you want to keep your desk surface free of clutter, it is imperative to have an area away from your desk to keep reference materials, but they should really be at arm’s length and accessible without getting up – think swivel chair by 90° and reach out for those things. A secondary surface area or a dedicated shelf for these things is always a good idea.
As for storage options, a set of flexible shelves is always a good idea to keep your archives and files in order. It pays to separate working files (active projects) from archives (things you only need to refer to rarely, or never), and shelving units tend to do a good job for that. Usually, shelves are better for working files, while filing cabinets with doors are better for archives – you don’t really have to see them all the time!
Coming back to the main piece of furniture: your desk. It stands to reason to keep it as devoid of clutter as possible: having a ‘reference shelf or surface’, a filing shelf and an archive cabinet ready will help you keep your working surface clear. The only things you really should keep there are your computer, a set of filing trays, some note books, writing tools and whichever tools you need to do your work: a calculator, an agenda, … as long as you have to refer to them to do your work, not to plan your work (that’s a completely different issue).
You’ll find that keeping a clean desk and having things in easy reach will increase your efficiency, as will having a quiet area to relax in the same space. Making sure you don’t have to leave the space for breaks will allow you to stay with the workflow and avoid interference of ‘home’ life with your work hours. The most important thing here is to keep work and home separate as much as possible, as it will not only make you more efficient in your work, but it will keep you from ‘taking your work home with you’. Separation works both ways, and you’ll be all the more happy about stepping out of your work zone and fully focus on your home life once you return home.
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My current mission: help my clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.