Life Hacks, Productivity
How to Create the Ultimate Work-from-Home Setup
February 04, 2021
Before last year, working from home was already catching on, as many people questioned the need for a physical workspace in the era of (mostly) online office work.
We count ourselves among the voices that advocated for a freer work experience, posting a few articles on this blog about the upsides of digital nomadism, including one on work from home tips for nomads. Earn a living and see the world? It was no longer just the privilege of jet-setting financiers and movie stars – anyone could do it.
That was the past, though. Now, as the world prepares to mark the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, many don’t have a say in the matter. They have to work from home for the foreseeable future.
As many people are finding out, there are positives and negatives to working from home – just as there are in offices. At its worst, working from home can feel like the other way around: like you’re living at work. There’s no division between work and leisure, and all the perks of an office – the socializing, optimized workspaces and free coffee – are absent.
At its best, however, working from home is an opportunity to craft the work environment you’ve always wanted. There's no commute to eat away at your mornings and evening; you can self-pace your work without worrying about someone breathing over your shoulder, and – importantly – you can wear whatever comfortable, quality merino wool clothing you want throughout the workday. As long as you proactively create an ideal workspace for yourself, working from home can be far better than the alternative.
If you're settling into the idea of working from home for the foreseeable future, here's how to create the ultimate at-home setup. In this post, we'll cover everything from setting up an ideal office and picking out the perfect clothes to mitigating stress through mindfulness and even picking the right coffee subscription.
Crafting the Perfect At-Home Office
Like we mentioned above, view working from home as an opportunity to create a workspace in your own vision. You get to create this space from the ground up, choosing everything from the location to the décor and supplies. When you’re finished crafting your at-home workspace, it should be a personal expression of who you are – what you like, what makes you comfortable and how you do your best work.
Ultimately, the specifics of your office will be up to you. But in this section, we’ll offer some general tips for setting the scene.
Pick a Secluded Spot
In the past couple of decades, office spaces have dabbled with the idea of "open concept" designs, breaking down the cubicle walls and packing people side-by-side in plain sight. That may work in a quiet office, where everyone around you is focused on work, but it’s not so great at home.
At home, you don't have the pressure of other people's presence to motivate you, so it's easier to get distracted. This is doubly true if you live with other people (and triply true if you have kids.) To start building out your ideal at-home office, choose a secluded spot. If you don't have access to seclusion, you can mimic it with noise-cancelling headphones and a wall-facing desk.
The Importance of Natural Light
A few years ago, a popular study from Cornell found that access to natural light leads to better overall productivity, worker satisfaction, health and wellbeing. That research was then highlighted in the Harvard Business Review and joined a chorus of other, similar research on the topic. That’s part of the reason why many modern offices you see, especially in forward-thinking industries like tech, tend to feature large, floor-to-ceiling windows.
You probably don’t have access to floor-to-ceiling windows, and that’s alright. If possible, pick a spot that receives natural light. And if natural light isn’t an option in your home, consider investing in a UV light and Vitamin D supplements.
Keep It Decluttered
"Mess is stress" is more than just a cute adage. It's a real psychological phenomenon backed by neuroscientific research. Essentially, clutter attacks the brain in two different ways. In an immediate sense, clutter makes your brain work overtime to process excess stimuli, leaving you distracted and frustrated. Over time, clutter can also make you feel ashamed, helpless and avoidant of necessary tasks.
If you want to keep a clear head during your at-home workdays, keep a clear space. Surround yourself with only what you need, and keep occasionally-used items stowed out of sight in an organized system.
Optimize for Ergonomics
Think of it this way: Everything you touch should be optimized for ergonomic health. That includes your chair, keyboard, desk, and anything you might need to reach for during the day.
Because office work is mostly stationary, you end up having a lot of interaction with these items. It’s fine to sit on an uncomfortable chair at a restaurant for half an hour; doing so forty hours a week, however, can be detrimental to your health.
This Mayo Clinic article offers a handy outline for creating an ergonomic office, including how to position your computer and what kind of chair to choose.
Liberated from the confines of the office, you can (more or less) wear whatever you want at home. Go ahead and stow the stiff polyester work shirts in storage. With Unbound Merino’s wide-ranging premium merino wool collection, including casual and button-down apparel, you can dress up or down without ever feeling uncomfortable.
Comfortable Button-Downs Make Long Meetings a Breeze
For those days when you have video conference after video conference lined up, you want something that looks professional but feels casual.
Enter the Unbound Merino button-down shirt. It has the look and fit of a shirt twice as uncomfortable, but since it’s made from the same fine-fibred merino wool we use for all our products, it’s insanely comfortable.
The merino wool button-down also has your back when it’s your turn to give a big presentation; because it’s sweat-wicking and breathable, you’ll never get too hot under the collar. You may be nervous on the inside, but your shirt keeps you cool.
Choose a Base Layer You Want to Spend Time With
One of the perks of working from home is that, when the Zoom camera light isn’t on, you can wear whatever you want.
If you plan on wearing the same base layer at least eight hours a day, it should be comfy, airy and fresh. Merino wool makes for the perfect base layer because it’s all those things. It feels great. It breathes when you get too hot. It insulates when you get too cold. And it stays fresh for weeks, meaning that you can skip those frequent pandemic trips to the laundromat.
It also looks fantastic, if we may say so. If your office isn’t concerned with buttons and ties, you can easily spend each day in your merino wool t shirt and underwear – just make sure your camera only catches the top half!
Add a Splash of Colour to Your Outfit
Some people contend that the colour of your outfit can affect your mood. Colour psychology still has a way to go before it’s roundly embraced by the scientific community, but in the meantime, adding a few splashes of colour to your clothing can’t hurt.
More importantly, a few pops of colour can help you stand out on a video conferencing call. You don’t have to go overboard (no bright orange top-hat required,) but a carefully chosen jacket or sweatshirt overtop your Unbound Merino tee can make a big difference.
Productivity Hacks for Better Work (or Shorter Days)
Whether you are looking to increase your productivity as you work from home or simply do more in less time (effectively shortening your workdays,) try these simple productivity hacks. They may not all work for you, since everyone works differently, but implementing at least one of these tried-and-tested methods could make working from home easier.
Understand “Parkinson’s Law”
Writing for the Economist in 1955, a British naval historian named Cyril Northcote Parkinson made the following observation: "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." The concept, called Parkinson’s Law, caught on with management and public admin scholars.
In work-from-home terms, Parkinson's Law applies to the amount of time you set yourself to a task. If you allow eight hours for completing a task, you will probably use all of those eight hours (with some browsing social media interspersed.) If, however, you set a time allotment of three hours for that same task, chances are your brain will find a way to get it done in three.
Know Your Circadian Rhythm, Take Advantage of Your “Energy Peak”
Everyone peaks at different points in the day. Some feel like they need the entire morning just to wake up, while others are at their sharpest in the AM. Some see their energy flag by mid-afternoon, while others see their productivity skyrocket during those hours.
The difference, according to business experts, has to do with individual circadian rhythms. To find your ideal work schedule, take note of the times when you feel your sharpest, and construct your day around those peak hours.
See If “Batch Processing” Works for You
Like Parkinson’s Law and energy peaks, batch processing is a buzzy term the business world uses for a relatively straightforward process. In this case, it’s the idea that lumping together similar work allows you to get through it faster.
Instead of doing a writing task for an hour, then moving onto an administrative task, then back to writing, etc., batch together your work. Studies show that it takes your brain significant time to readjust to new tasks; lessening the amount you switch tasks can therefore make it easier to get more done in a day.
Get Help from an App
If none of the above work for you, consider taking an increasingly popular approach to things: outsource to an app.
What kind of productivity goals you want to set will ultimately determine what app you choose. There are note-taking apps, time management apps, social media-blockers, etc. To determine which one works best for you, check out this handy roundup from PC Mag of the best productivity apps in 2020.
If you aren't inclined to pay for an app, you can always craft one of your own using your phone's existing notes app and timer app.
General Tips for Surviving the At-Home Workday
Your home office is set up exactly the way you like it, you’ve got warm merino wool socks on, and you're riding Parkinson's Law all the way to an early clock-out time. All that’s left to do is enjoy yourself. While the tips above were focused mainly on keeping you productive and comfortable, these final two general tips are all about reclaiming some joy in your at-home workday.
Try a Coffee Subscription
At the office, there’s usually a pot of coffee nearby. For many, it’s an indispensable part of their workday – a pick-me-up, warm-me-up and dust-off-the-morning-cobwebs kind of drink.
At home, you run the constant risk of running out. To prevent that possibility from becoming a reality, look into local coffee subscriptions. These subscriptions support local small businesses with a steady and reliable income (of paramount importance in COVID times) and support you with a steady and reliable caffeine buzz. It’s a win-win.
Practice Mindfulness and Positive Self-Talk
Be good to yourself. If the voice in your head is a constant stream of criticism and doubt, eventually, you'll start to believe yourself. If you weren’t as productive today as you hoped or if you didn’t do your best work, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, be ready with some positive self-talk when you succeed. Motivating yourself through reward rather than fear won’t just help you feel better – it may also make you more productive.
And if you find it difficult to turn your brain off at the end of a workday, consider practicing mindfulness. You can do so by meditating, unrolling the yoga mat or just sitting with your breath for 15 minutes. To get started, check out books like Jay Shetty’s Think Like a Monk or Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Full Catastrophe Living, or follow along with a Mindfulness YouTube video.
Working at home has the potential to be fantastic. You just have to put in a little effort to make your office, wardrobe and workflow the best it can be. If you have any at-home work hacks we didn't cover above, let us know about them in the comments.