One of the most underrated aspects of work, at least before the quarantine, was the office space itself. Our modern offices have every amenity you can think of – complex coffee machines, high-quality desks and chairs, blazing fast internet, and cubicle walls to separate you from your nosey coworkers. Sadly, we won’t return to that anytime soon, and our homes aren’t quite the same (at least mine isn’t). Most of our remote work is now being done in sofas, dining rooms, and mattresses. Of course, they are comfortable enough, but are they capable of sustained use without becoming a health hazard for us?
A lot of us have been working from home for years, and we know the deal: having comfortable and useful amenities in our workplace can improve our quality of life and be beneficial to our productivity and health in the long run. Needless to say, having those amenities at home is no easy task. You need space, such as a dedicated office room or by repurposing a couple of square feet of your living room. You also need money to acquire gadgets and having them delivered to your house (we don’t condone going into stores right now).
Below, you will find a broad guide on furniture, accessories and gadgets designed to transition to a healthy home office experience. We won’t make specific product recommendations, so as with every guide on the internet, take everything you see here with a grain of salt and look around for options.
Are you working on your couch right now, or sitting in a dining chair, being interrupted by your family at lunch and dinner time? I’ve been there too many times (I still do). News flash: it’s not healthy. Couches are good for a break, but they aren’t places to do productive work. Plus, your back will give you a hard time in the long run.
Having a desk is positive in a lot of ways. It gives you a specific space to do work and be productive. In most cases, it has enough space for your laptop, a mouse and keyboard, a second screen, and most of your work equipment (unless you do design or architecture, in which case good luck trying to find space for everything). It looks way more professional, too.
Just set it in a quiet, well-lit place, and get to work. Next, you will need a place to sit, which leads to…
A comfy chair
This is the cornerstone of a healthy home office. In my first months as a freelancer, I used to work sitting on a –if you pardon my french– crappy dining chair. My back hated it so much I had to go to the doctor, and the upper and lower back pain it caused still haunts me.
If you take just one piece of advice from this article, I hope it’s this: get a good chair. Your entire body will thank you for it. If you’re able, don’t skimp on it and invest in an ergonomic chair – there are several options available on the market. If you’re not ready to make that investment or saving money for something else on this list, you can choose a cheaper option. Just follow this advice when shopping for a new one:
The backrest should cover your entire back. A perfect backrest even covers your head, and it’s totally adjustable. The most important adjustment is the lumbar support: it should follow the line of your spine to prevent sciatica, a painful and crippling condition. If your chair doesn’t have lumbar adjustments, there are back pillows that can supplement it.
It should have a height adjustment. A good office chair should let you rest your arms in 90º, parallel to the desk. It should also let you rest both feet comfortably on the ground. There are options with modifiable armrests, but for most chairs, a simple height adjustment is recommended.
The fabric should be breathable, without sacrificing comfort. There is a lot to be said about fabrics and materials, but in my personal experience, I tend to favor cheap faux leather over a mesh chair, especially for the bottom part. A mesh chair may be breathable, but no mesh can beat a good, old-fashioned cushion.
A second monitor
Our digital lives are based on multitasking, and the office is no stranger to this reality. Ten browser tabs, several other applications (i.e. Slack), a music player, and team comms open may be too much for a single screen. And of course, hunching over to a laptop screen may be disastrous for your neck. The solution? A second screen, even if you already had one (because you're using a desktop PC).
There are quite a few alternatives out there, so the only recommendation we can make is to choose a monitor that has a good pixel density (also known as PPI or pixels per inch) relative to the resolution it supports. A good PPI range is between 95 and 100-105 PPI. The more PPI a monitor has, the smaller and denser things will look on the screen, and vice versa.
Just remember to buy the right adaptor (or the right cable) to plug it to your computer, though.
A mouse and keyboard (if you use a laptop)
Because your hands need to be healthy, too. Several tendon and muscle afflictions can be avoided by using ergonomic peripherals, and even if they aren’t ergonomic, it surely is an improvement over a laptop keyboard and touchpad.
A mouse and keyboard also let you organize your workplace better – paired with a second screen and a laptop stand, you can have a comfortable and spacious setup, and lower the risk of tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and a bunch of other afflictions.
A power surge or outage is pretty bad news: your appliances may fail or short circuit, and you may lose a lot of work with a sudden loss of energy. An uninterrupted power supply (UPS) is a device that provides a couple more minutes of juice in case of a power disruption and may give you time to save your work or sustain an internet connection.
A common UPS uses batteries and acts as an intermediary between your house’s electrical outlets and your devices, protecting them in case of a surge and starting near-instantaneously in the case of a power outage. A word of advice, though: UPSs are not cheap, so plan accordingly.
If persistence is not your deal, just having a power strip with surge protection is a must-have.
A good audio experience
I want to delve a little deeper into three alternatives that I think are healthy and for the most part, convenient.
Our home office environment is not always lonely, and most times our meetings and calls will end up bothering your partner, roommate, or waking up your very loud sibling. It’s one of the downsides of making your home an office, which is by definition a public place.
The best way of –at least– removing your coworkers from that equation is buying a good, quality set of headphones. I personally prefer over-ear headphones because I also like to listen to music with nicer quality, but any pair will do, as long as you control the volume and try to avoid in-ear headphones.
If you prefer the classic conference experience on your home –and have an office room where you won’t bother everybody else– try a dedicated speaker. These gadgets have a set of microphones to catch multiple voices, and usually have good audio quality and are very loud.
Nothing beats having your coworkers on the same physical space. Social distancing won’t let us do that soon, though.
I’ve been wanting a pair of these for years. My concentration is feeble, and audible distractions are common in my household. Music distracts me too, so the only choice is absolute silence or the nearest possible experience. Earmuffs may help reduce the ambient noise to a far, muffled sound, and keep you focused.
The challenges of remote work aren’t always about performance and motivation, but about health and safety. Offices –and to some extend, management and HR– take care of your health by making the office space safe and comfortable, but the experience at work can’t always be replicated at home, at least without spending your hard, earned cash on furniture and supplies.
We hope you follow our advice to ensure you and your family stay healthy, in a world where remote work and telecommuting are more and more common.