You’re reading an excerpt of The Holloway Guide to Remote Work, a book by Katie Wilde, Juan Pablo Buriticá, and over 50 other contributors. It is the most comprehensive resource on building, managing, and adapting to working with distributed teams. Purchase the book to support the author and the ad-free Holloway reading experience. You get instant digital access, 800 links and references, a library of tools for remote-friendly work, commentary and future updates, and a high-quality PDF download.
I have a firm belief in the impact of our workplace on our behavior. Large companies invest millions of dollars into strategically designing offices that will fuel productivity and innovation, yet we’re plopping ourselves on a couch and expecting the same results.Laurel Farrer, CEO, Distribute Consulting*
80% of remote workers complete their work from home.* Designing the perfect remote work office is a challenge, however. Spending some time correctly setting up your office will create the right environment for you to be as effective and efficient as possible. This includes:
Sticking to a routine
Putting clear boundaries in place
Working in comfort
Maintaining balance between work and family life
Communicating and collaborating well
Gathering your ideas and thoughts
cautionWhen you choose a coworking space based on proximity alone, or you cram a tiny desk into the corner of the dining room, you aren’t doing anything to benefit your personal or professional health. If you can, invest the proper time and money into designing a workplace that is safe, energizing, and sustainable.
importantIf you’ve never carved out space somewhere else to work, you may be surprised that it can be a bit of an investment. It’s worth talking to your company to see if they can provide assistance buying the furniture, hardware, or software you need, or offer a stipend, interest-free loan, or other financial incentives to help you set things up properly. Depending on where you work, the law may require that your employer provide you with tools that promote your health and safety.*
Have a Dedicated Space
If you work from your couch, your home is your work.Rodolphe Dutel, founder, Remotive*
Just over 30% of remote workers have space for a separate, dedicated office,* and that’s often the best option for optimizing how you work. People who don’t have a separate office tend to use their living room or bedroom. When you’re choosing where to work, you’ll need to think about:
Your floor plan and available space
How likely you are to be distracted during the day
Where you can locate a desk, computer, and the other office furniture and hardware you’ll need
How comfortable you can make your working environment
How professional the area will look if you’re on a video call
To help you decide, we recommend:
Talking to the people you live with about how you plan to be working
Trying out various spaces for your work if you don’t have a separate room
Discussing options with other remote workers on your team
Investing in quality work products to make your life easier
If you like to have other people around, it might be a good idea to rent a desk in a coworking space. Some employers might even cover these costs, and it can be a good way to create a routine and avoid distractions.
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Here’s some inspiration from how other people have set up their remote working spaces:
You’ll probably be spending seven or more hours a day working from home, so it’s important to invest in high-quality furniture that supports you as you work.
Comfortable desk. Whatever type of desk you have (or buy), you’ll have to make sure there’s enough surface area for your hardware, accessories, and any paperwork or other materials you might need. It’s much better to have a good desk and chair than to work from the dining room table. If you’re looking for a place to start, here are some ideas.
Adjustable chair. The type of chair you use is arguably even more important than your desk. It’s critical to choose a chair that offers full ergonomic capabilities, including comprehensive back support, chair- and arm-height variation, and other adjustments. Here’s a buyer’s guide to get you started.
Desk lamp. You can help avoid straining your eyes by getting a good desk lamp, possibly a soft-light type to avoid harsh glare. Choosing lamps with different bulb types might also help with seasonal affective disorder, and some types of lighting could let you get a better night’s sleep. If you are on a lot of video calls (especially for sales-related roles), you might also want to invest in a ring light (or similar product) that makes you more visible on video.
Other small changes can make a significant difference to your working environment:
Ergonomic wrist rests. Using these with your mouse mat or keyboard may reduce strain.
A filing cabinet. It’s helpful to organize your paperwork if you have a lot of it.
General storage containers. If you like things tidy, a collection of these keep accessories organized and safe from pets or children.
Home Office Hardware
The hardware you choose to work with can make a huge difference to your productivity. While your business may provide hardware to you, it’s also worth investigating upgrades as they can have a dramatic effect on the speed and efficiency of your work.
Fast computer. A fast, up-to-date laptop or desktop computer can shave a few seconds off of the hundreds of tasks you perform daily—and could save you a few hours every month. A better computer with more memory makes it easier to start up your software, keep multiple applications open, and switch between them in moments. If you are considering working remotely for a new company, you may wish to ask in the interview process whether they provide one for you or offer a stipend for you to purchase one yourself.
importantLaptop accessories. If you have a laptop, we strongly recommend an external monitor, keyboard, mouse, and laptop stand. If you’re working outside the home, something like the Roost Stand can also be a great option.
Large monitor. Get as big a monitor as you can afford and realistically fit on your desk. More screen real estate means you can have more windows open side-by-side. This makes it easier to gather information and work efficiently.
Quality keyboard. A good keyboard will make a subtle but helpful difference in terms of your speed and quality of work. Mechanical keyboards give you a more positive “response” to pressing keys, and moving from a laptop to an external keyboard gives you more space to work.
Reliable router and wifi. You will be completely dependent on your internet connection when working remotely. Getting a fast, reliable router for your internet and wifi means you’ll get better responsiveness and experience less downtime, and will be far less likely to have quality issues with video calls.
Comfortable headset and high-quality webcam. It’s likely you’ll be spending time on conference calls, so buying a good audio headset and microphone will make those meetings easier. It’s also worth checking the quality of your built-in webcam, and buying an external one if you think it’s needed.
Get an external monitor and a good set of earphones with a really good microphone. A lot of people don’t pay attention to audio quality on calls, but it’s critical in remote teams.Liam Martin, co-organizer, Running Remote*
Other, minor hardware upgrades can provide additional benefits:
External speakers. A decent pair makes for better background music while working.
Comfortable mouse. Some people prefer more ergonomic versions for more accurate screen navigation and less strain on your hand and wrist.
A decent printer. Should you need to print anything, quality makes a difference.*
Home Office Software
There are thousands of options in the software that remote employees—and the businesses that employ them—choose to use. We think it’s important to keep a few principles in mind when choosing the right software for you:
Employer restrictions. Before you start looking into software alternatives, it’s important to understand your employer’s policies and guidelines. They may insist you only use certain types of software, for privacy, security, quality, or other reasons. You’ll need to learn about any restrictions they have in place, and talk to your supervisor if you have any questions.
Individual needs. Because you’re a remote worker, you have slightly different needs than people who work in a traditional office. The right types of software can help you manage your tasks, stay in touch with colleagues, and maximize productivity.
Although some software will be specific to your particular business, there are more general areas where it’s important to find the right solution:
Communications platforms. These help you remain in close touch with your colleagues, supervisors, and team members (Slack, Microsoft Teams, Twist, et cetera).
Project management software. Allows you to stay on top of multiple projects and track all the tasks you’re managing or have been assigned to you. (Asana, Basecamp, Microsoft Project, and others)
Backup software. You’ll need something that copies your local data to the cloud or possibly to an external harddrive. You’ll want to check your employer’s policies about data management and privacy before selecting.
Time tracking. There are plenty of options to help you maintain your schedule and understand how you’re spending your working day (Toggl, Harvest, Clockfy, and more).
To-do lists. Pick your favorite tool that helps you maintain focus and ensure nothing gets missed. (Todoist, Trello, Tick tick, et cetera)
Your devices. Some software works better on specific types of devices. Although mobile phones and tablets are becoming increasingly popular for working on the go, you’ll often get better productivity by working from a desktop or laptop. You can try out software across multiple types of devices and learn how easy it is to use.
Try before you buy. Choose any type of software—communications, project management, to-do lists, email, document creation, accounting, time tracking—and you’ll find dozens or hundreds of options for each one. So many options can be overwhelming, so we recommend talking to your other team members, reading reviews, and using trial versions of applications before you commit.
Integration and automation. The prevalence of cloud computing and “Software as a Service” have made it much easier to automate interactions between the software services you use. Services like Zapier and IFTTT make it easy to automatically transfer data between applications. For example, if you get an email assigning a task, an automation service could add it to your project management, calendar, to-do list, and time tracker apps. Zapier gives a great overview of how to use its services. Again, check with your employer to understand their software-use policies.
When you’re working from home, it’s easy for the lines between your personal and working life to become blurred. But it is important to maintain an appropriate level of professionalism in all of your interactions with your peers, supervisors, and others in your business.
Being Accountable and Responsive
While remote work rejects the notion of presence as a measure of your productivity, it’s conversely easy to become virtually invisible when you’re working from home. Being accountable means that you do what you say you will, so your team can depend on you and not need to check in outside planned standups or asynchronous mechanisms they have in place. You can ensure your team knows you’re on track by:
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