Book: No Office » Part 2 - What if there was no office? » Chapter 21 - Set up your home office | home.md

Chapter 21 - Set up your home office

How to create a work environment at home and maintain a healthy balance.

Setting up a home office is a process

In order to be able to get any meaningful work done remotely, you need to set up an office space at your home. This is not easy, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. To make this chapter as useful and as actionable for you as possible, I’ll be sharing best practices from various sources.

Not only will I share my own experience as someone who’s been working from home his entire career, but I’ll include lots of tips and tricks from my co-workers who, as you know, also work from their homes, and from all the other people who shared their home office stories with me on social media and via email.

But first, please keep in mind this common work-at-home statement:

Home offices change all the time. With age, with your marital status, with the number of kids in your household and with each home you move into.

That’s right. Your home office will be constantly changing. From the very moment I launched Nozbe in 2007, I’ve been documenting on my blog how my home office has evolved during the years1.

Home offices change as your life takes turns…

I might be an extreme example, as I’ve moved homes four times in the last 13 years. And within that time, my three daughters were born. These are huge changes. But thanks to these changes, I’ve had all types of home offices:

The bedroom office

The problem with setting up a home office in your own bedroom is that you’re telling your brain you’re going to work in the same place where you are supposed to relax and sleep. Many people who have bedroom offices complain that in the evening, as they want to fall asleep, the home office in their bedroom reminds them of work too much.

This kind of home office is especially easy to set up if you have a small apartment. During the day, hardly anyone visits the bedroom, so the rest of your family will leave you in peace, and this in turn lets you focus on your work. Many of my co-workers set up their first home offices in their bedrooms.

The corner office in a living room

This was my setup for a long time in the first two years of running Nozbe. Initially, it was just a desk in the corner of the living room, but later I bought a cabinet desk, which I could open up to work and close down after work2. This proved to be very useful, as it helped me keep my living room clutter-free from work.

At the time, we didn’t have kids and my wife was commuting every day to an office in a law firm. This meant that during the day the living room was empty and I could enjoy a larger space for work.

This all changed when our first daughter was born. She claimed the living room space, and I couldn’t focus on work anymore.

The kitchen office

Some apartments have a pretty big kitchen, and when you can’t set up a bedroom office or if the living room is just too small, the kitchen is the last resort. I don’t recommend it, as the temptation to check out what’s new in the fridge is too strong for me. I’d snack almost all the time.

Also, in many households, the kitchen is the heart of the home, so your family members will be visiting it a lot and thus not really helping you focus on work.

The dedicated office room

This is the holy grail of working from home, the ultimate luxury of a home office worker.

Working from home starts for real when you have a separate office room set up just for yourself.

This is why, when we could afford it, we moved to a three bedroom apartment. One bedroom for me and my wife, one for the kids and one for my very own home office.

The difference is like night and day.

Even if the dedicated room is small or has poor natural lighting, it doesn’t matter. The quality of working from your very own home office room is tremendous.

Again, if you have a dedicated room, you don’t really need much more! Just a simple desk, a chair and a lamp, and you’re in business.

A separate room works well in so many ways:

  • You have a clear boundary between your private life and your work life, as by entering this space you’re clearly signaling to your brain that you’re shifting to work mode.
  • You can close the door and even put a do not disturb sign when you’re on a call. You will no longer be disturbed.
  • You will have an opportunity to decorate this space as you’d like. You can paint the walls in any color and hang whatever you want on them. It’s your space, so it doesn’t need to play well with the rest of the house.

Home office tips – how to make working from home even better

Now that we’ve covered the possible locations of a home office, let’s talk about the equipment. I’ve compiled a list of tips and tricks I’ve learned from over the years, some of my own, as I personally have moved homes and set up many different home offices, and others from many fellow remote workers I’ve interviewed.3

After all, your home office is the room where it happens4, so check out how you can make it even better:

Get a comfortable chair

People spend lots of money on computers, smartphones and other gadgets, but when it comes to getting a chair, they seem to just go with the cheapest option from IKEA. Don’t be that person. Get a proper chair!

You need a chair where you can regulate your entire sitting position.

The armrest, the back, the support for your head. Everything. Your very own back will thank me later.

Yes, a fairly good office chair costs around $500 then, but it’s still a fraction of the cost of your computer and it’ll serve you for the years to come. Most of all, it will keep you healthy without any back or neck problems. This is a piece of equipment you’ll be using for at least 8 hours every single day. Get a great one.

While I don’t want to promote any particular model, and very often it all comes down to personal taste anyway, I appreciate several things in my office chair:

  • A breathable seat and back – preferably made out of mesh. It’s very comfortable and doesn’t make you sweat, especially in the summer days.
  • Fully adjustable arms – to be able to type really comfortably, you should be able to adjust the arms in height, depth and angle.
  • Adjustable lumbar support – your body is unique, and you want to make sure your back is well-adjusted when you’re sitting for 8 hours straight.

Just do your research and get a great chair.

Get an additional screen

I’ve always had additional screens in my home office. I’m typing these words on the iPad Pro, but right behind it, I have an iMac 5K with several websites open. Additionally, I hooked up yet another screen (an old Thunderbolt Display) to it to have even more screen real estate.

Even when I’m out and about in a cafeteria only with my iPad, I still put my phone on a stand as my additional reference screen. It’s just so useful to have some extra screen space!

An additional reason for a second screen is the ergonomics. When you have two screens, you are not looking down at one monitor all the time, thus straining your neck.

Recently as we were reviewing our company policy in Nozbe on gadgets and office equipment, we realized that around 30% of our staff didn’t have a second screen. They thought they didn’t need it, so they never bought it. We changed our policy, decided on a monitor model and shipped it to everyone who didn’t have one.

A second screen should be obligatory for any home office worker. I recommend at least a 24” Full HD monitor. These days, screens like this don’t cost much – around $200. I recommend getting one with USB-C connection, so that you can use the monitor as a USB hub and also connect your laptop to it with just one cable for both charging and video transfer. If you’re not on a budget, a good 4K monitor is even better.

Get a stand-up desk

Even if you have a fancy office chair, you shouldn’t sit on it for 8 hours straight. The doctors agree that we as Homo sapiens weren’t built for being in the same position for that many hours. You should try changing positions and maybe do some work standing.

I know it sounds extreme, but it’s actually not that hard. When I started back in 2013, I first worked for only one hour a day in that position. I put an additional box on top of my desk and put my laptop on it and stood up. Later I kept increasing the time standing, and now I stand between four to six hours a day. In 2015, when I got serious about working standing, I bought an IKEA height-regulated desk and I keep rocking it5.

I love my stand-up desk. I feel more energized, and it seems more like I’m in action mode when standing. You should absolutely give it a try.

If you’re adventurous, you can even try a treadmill desk. This way, you can work while walking. I haven’t tried it myself yet, but I’m inclined to give it a shot, especially during some longer video meetings – it’d be really great to do them while walking!

To be able to really switch positions when you work, it’s also great to have a chill out space with a small sofa or armchair. This way, when you need to read something longer, you can just take your tablet or smartphone and sit comfortably in a more relaxing position.

Get good lighting for yourself and others

It’s proven that good lighting changes everything. First off, try to get as much natural light as possible. If your home office doesn’t have lots of it, make sure to add good artificial light. The latest LED light bulbs and light strips are no longer expensive and don’t consume a lot of energy. However, make sure you get good light bulbs – some people complain about cheap LED lights that flicker too much and cause them eye strain and headaches.

Make sure the light doesn’t blind you in any way. I love ambient lights that light up the walls and objects behind them but don’t shine straight in my face.

Nowadays with increasing video calls, it’s also important to make sure your face is properly lit up, otherwise your video will be dark to your colleagues. Very often, I increase my light when I’m on the video call and then decrease it again when I’m no longer visible to others.

Get a white board and brainstorm ideas

I love my whiteboard. Very often when I feel stuck with my thinking, I use it as a brain dump where I can freely draw and write down ideas and get a better perspective.6

This is another bonus of a dedicated office room. You might have a free wall where you can hang one of these.

What I usually do is freely draw on it and later take a photo of it with my smartphone to save in my note-taking app. This allows me to refer back to it later. Usually I set the camera to a document scan mode so that the photo is not too glossy and I can clearly read what I wrote.

Get some fresh air

When you’re taking a break from work, even for just a few minutes, make sure to open a window to let in some fresh air. Even in the winter time, it’s a good practice.

If you live in a big city and are concerned about air quality, get an air purifier. With increased air pollution, especially in large urban areas, there are lots of new devices on the market that can regularly clean the air in your home office and also humidify, if that’s what you need.

Additionally, a plant or two will always be a nice bonus to the ambiance of your workspace.

Further home office gear that I recommend

Here is a short list of additional gear I recommend getting for your home office:

  • A good headset – for all your video calls. I actually very often just use the same microphone I use for recording podcasts because my voice sounds really clear there. I use Bluetooth headphones and they’re good enough.
  • A document shredder – once you’ve scanned your documents, as I recommend in Chapter 19, you should destroy the documents in such a way that all the personal and sensitive information is no longer easily visible.
  • A laser printer – sometimes you might need to print out some documents for a reason, so I recommend a black-and-white laser printer. They’re no longer expensive and their ink doesn’t dry. So even if you’re not printing anything for days or weeks but suddenly need that one pager, the printer is ready for you. I have kids, and for them I bought a color laser printer. It’s not great for photos, but it’s very good for school-related stuff that very often needs to be printed in color.
  • Dedicated charger corner – for when you want to charge your smartphone or other devices. This way your cables are neatly organized and you know where to put stuff to charge. As many new devices support wireless charging, I have two charging pads on both sides of my desk.

Dress for success even though you’re at home

Another often cited advantage of working from home is not having to dress up all that much. No need to wear a suit, put on full make-up or shave perfectly. Just put on some sweatpants and you’re done, right?

It’s completely up to you, but just because you’re at home, you shouldn’t completely neglect yourself. I still like to be shaven and have on nice clean clothes. Instead of an ironed shirt, I usually wear a simple cotton polo-shirt. Instead of ironed trousers, I wear jeans or just straight comfortable cotton pants. But still, I dress for work. I call it very smart, very casual.

This way, I feel like I’m dressed up for work, and in case I have an online video meeting, I still look respectable. On the other hand, I choose comfortable clothes that I enjoy wearing. After all, it’s my home office and my dress code. So make sure to figure out yours.7

Decorate your home office the way you like

This is your space. You’ll be spending most of the hours of your day in this space, so make it yours. Decorate it with stuff you like. Just make it a nice place for you.

I like building LEGO sets, so I have a LEGO corner with my largest built sets. I have a place for the models of my favorite cars. I even have a small basketball hoop, as I like to shoot some ball every now and then when I’m thinking about a serious problem. I recently decorated one wall of my office with OSB boards, as I like the wooden look of these walls. It just makes my home office feel more cozy.

This is your space. This is your office. There is no uniform corporate policy. Make it the way you want.

Drink lots of water

My final tip is to always have lots of water to drink in your home office. Preferably away from your computer so that you don’t spill it. I usually put my water on a small separate table.

I love adding a dash of lemon to my water, and I drink lots of it – usually more than two liters a day. That’s why I really appreciate that I have a restroom very close to my home office.

The one thing: think about your home office.

Your home office shouldn’t be a random place in the house where you work. I recommend giving it a lot of thought and setting it up in a deliberate way. Think about your physical health as well as your sanity, especially taking into account the other members of your family who live with you. Make your home office your own favorite space where you enjoy spending time. This will make all the difference in the output of your work.

  1. Check out all our blog posts and see how my home office has changed in the last 13 years: NoOffice.Link/offices 

  2. Here’s a cabinet home office I had in my living room back in 2008: NoOffice.Link/cabinet 

  3. Check out the 2020 version of my home office Michael.team/office and the five minute video walkthrough: Michael.team/officevideo

  4. Another Hamilton musical reference. Sorry, I really couldn’t help myself. 

  5. The model is called Bekant. I’ve been using it for the last five years and it’s great. It’s a very basic desk, so if you’re looking for a fancier one, you should check out one of the companies that specialize in stand-up desks. NoOffice.Link/stand 

  6. Here’s a video on how and why I love using a whiteboard: NoOffice.Link/whiteboard 

  7. Now that working from home has become more mainstream, lots of fashion brands are catching up and are offering dedicated lines of clothing for home office workers with comfortable clothes that look pretty fancy on a video call. 

Next: Chapter 22 - Balance work and home

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