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How to Make Your Home Office Work for You

As working remotely becomes long-term, it might be time to rethink that temporary workspace you threw together in March

A brightly lit home office in a with a laptop on a desk in front of a window. There is a houseplant + a water bottle as well

Photo by Mikey Harris on Unsplash

To some, working remotely sounds like a dream-come-true. To others, it can be a nightmare—especially when combined with a global pandemic that doesn’t allow you to leave your house. Regardless of your feelings, working from home can pose challenges for almost everyone. After spending the last six months working remotely and dealing with plenty of trial and error, I’ve come up with a few ideas on how to make your home office a place where you want to be (or at least tolerate).


4 picture meme: What my family thinks I do (lazing) what commuters think I do (TV) What I think I do (Work) What I do (Sleep)

Relatable. | Image source digitalnomadsage.com

Make your workspace separate.

This is probably the most challenging task for the majority of us, but it’s the most important. Establishing a separate workspace can help put you in the right mindset for work while you’re in your home office. If you have roommates, a partner, or kids, try to keep your workspace in a quiet area of your home, one that’s free from distractions. If you live in a small space without a lot of square footage, consider adding a room divider or screen to put up when you’re working to help with privacy.

A cartoon of a mom sitting in a laundry room working and her four kids interrupting.

Raise your hand if you’ve had to do this at least once. 👋🏼 | Image source David Horsey, seattletimes.com

Prevent your workspace from pulling double-duty.

This can be difficult, especially if you live in an apartment and don’t have the luxury of a spare room. If you don’t have that option, try to set yourself up in an area that allows you to have adequate space for everything you need for work (a kitchen table works well).

A person is sitting on a toiled and slides the barn door open to reveal a desk.

Just be sure to put yourself on mute. | Image source giphy.com

Try to keep the area clear of non-work-related clutter such as bills, laundry, etc. Avoid working in your bedroom if you can—and definitely don’t work from your bed. It’s bad for your back, can decrease productivity, and, most importantly, it can disrupt your sleep cycle. According to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard,

““Keeping computers, TVs, and work materials out of the room will strengthen the mental association between your bedroom and sleep.””
Twelve Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep
Harvard Med

Don’t spend your free time at your office.

On the flip side, once you’re done with your workday, try to shut everything down and step away. Giving your home office its own dedicated space helps establish a better work-life balance, which can often feel harder to maintain when you work from home.

Meme of a man with a mask looking out a window

The novelty is wearing off (image source imgflip.com)

Your space should be functional.

Pre-pandemic, many of us didn’t have everything we needed to immediately create a home office. You might need to get a second monitor or mouse, or a set of headphones so your entire household doesn’t have to hear your fifth Zoom meeting of the day. Writeyboards.com makes peel-and-stick dry-erase boards that are safe to use on most walls, and help you turn any area into an instant workspace.

As part of our People First philosophy, Highland encouraged employees to expense what they needed in order to make their home workspaces operational. A Slack channel aptly named #wfh_wisdom was also created as a place where Highlanders could share tips and tricks on how they’ve made the best of working from home, as well as ask for recommendations on chairs, standing desks, etc.

A simple home office set up at a kitchen counter with a laptop and a monitor.

Andriana recently added a second monitor to her set-up. | Image used with permission.

A cluttered work area can be distracting and make it harder to be productive. Keep your cords wrangled using cable sleeves, or even just some binder clips. Or you can eliminate cords altogether, with wireless printers, keyboards, and mice. I also recommend getting a laptop stand; not only is this helpful for preventing your laptop from overheating but it also allows you to gain back some desk space. Add some organizers to keep small supplies tidy and in one place.

The author's work from home set up: a desk in a brightly lit corner with laptop + monitor, file folders, white board, + chair

It took me six months to perfect my space (please don’t judge the bag of Desk Candy).

Make your space a reflection of your personality.

Were you limited at your office to company-issued black plastic organizers and overhead fluorescent lighting? Take advantage of the newfound freedom and choose things that appeal to your style. Add a cozy desk lamp, a funky mousepad, or personal photos. Set the mood with some scented candles or aromatherapy diffusers—you no longer need to worry about that one coworker who has the nose of a bloodhound. Remember, you’re spending 40+ hours a week here, so make the most of it.

A brightly lit desk with a laptop and monitor, a lamp with metal birds, a photo of Beth & her husband, and a desk chair

Beth’s added some nice personal touches to her home office | Image used with permission

Make sure you’re comfortable.

It’s not just about promoting good vibes but also good posture. Make sure you choose furniture that is supportive and ergonomic. Don’t make the same mistake I did: I chose an office chair that was more cute than functional. Get something that provides good support for your back and neck. (Writing this post actually inspired me to purchase a more ergonomically-friendly chair for my home office—how meta.)

Dwight Schrute from NBC's The Office bounces on a medicine ball at his desk, moving his hips in a circle.

This would be so annoying if he were on a Zoom call | Image source Gyfcat.com

If you’re feeling really motivated, swap your chair out for a large medicine ball; these promote core strength which is great for your spine, just mind your balance!

Now that we aren’t leaving the house as much, we are moving less. It can often feel like all you’re doing is going from sitting at your desk all day to sitting on your couch all night. Consider adding a tabletop standing desk, and alternate your time between sitting and standing while working. It can improve blood flow and circulation, and increase your productivity by helping to combat that afternoon slump.

Add some green to your scene.

While houseplants have always been common staples in homes, there has definitely been an uptick in indoor plant popularity in the last few years, and for good reason. Plants bring an instant pop of color and life to any space. In fact, a 2012 study done at the University of Munich found that the color green can stimulate creativity. A lot of us are probably avoiding going places right now, and plants can help combat that feeling of cabin fever by bringing a little of the outdoors inside. Regular exposure to plants can also help reduce stress levels and improve your immune response.

A laptop on a desk surrounded by plants

Did you say “home office” or “tropical getaway”, am I right? (image source thespruce.com)

Some common houseplant varieties can even filter toxins from the air in your home! A study performed by NASA in 1989 that many houseplant enthusiasts now refer to found that certain species of indoor plants are able to take in household air pollutants like VOCs (volatile organic compounds) through their root systems and convert the toxins into new tissue. Some of these natural air purifiers include the spider plant, peace lily, varieties of palms, and pothos.

What's in our air? Formaldehyde, Benzene, Xylene, Ammonia and Trichloroetheylene

Some common VOCs found in our homes can be filtered out of the air by certain plant species. | Source lovethegarden.com

Don’t have an abundance of natural light in your space? Plenty of plants, like the ever-reliable golden pothos or hardy ZZ plant, can survive in lower-light conditions. You can also invest in grow lights; there are lots of sleek, unassuming designs that will blend nicely with the rest of your space.

Settle in.

Regardless of how you feel about working from home, it looks like a lot of us are in this for the long haul. With a little time, energy, and maybe a company credit card, you can turn that slapdash setup into your personal productivity sanctum in no time!

At the very least, stop using that barstool as an office chair.


How Highland is handling the pandemic

How do you collaborate when you can’t be in the same room? I keep getting distracted…what do I do about it? How do I stay connected with my team? Here’s more on how we’re caring for ourselves and one another during an anxious and uncertain time.

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