Little touches, from cord wraps to houseplants, can make a big difference in improving your remote-work life. Our simple, inexpensive tips can help you get started.
If you were new to working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you may still be uncertain as to whether or how long your remote work situation will last. Even if you’re working in person some or most of the time now, are you sure that won’t change? It’s frustrating and confusing to not have hard answers, but it can also leave you wondering how much time, effort, and money you should invest in creating a nice workspace at home.
You can buy all sorts of things for a home office, from the quirky to the practical. But truly, you don’t have to spend a lot to get big improvements in your comfort and happiness. Making a few simple and inexpensive tweaks to your existing setup can improve it greatly.
These 10 suggestions for making a home office better don’t require much on your part at all. Most of them you can do immediately, and some are free. If you’re an employee of an organization that supports remote work, ask if there’s a budget for home office equipment so that you can get a few items reimbursed. Either way, these tips will make your home workstation better almost immediately.
1. Hook Up Your Headphones
A pair of headphones can cost anywhere from about $12 to hundreds or even thousands of dollars, depending on what you need and want, but they are a worthwhile item to own when working remotely. Even an inexpensive set of headphones with a built-in microphone (think $50 or less) is a good investment because it noticeably improves how you sound to others on video calls.
If you’re willing to spend a little more money, noise-canceling headphones can tamp down ambient sounds. Big, comfortable over-ear headphones can make it seem like you have more privacy than you actually do and help you focus.
The nice thing about headphones is you might get just as much use from them outside of working hours as during. Who wouldn’t want a decent set of headphones for music, podcasts, audiobooks, and travel?
2. Use a Back Pillow
You don’t need an expensive office chair at home, as it’s easy to adapt any standard chair to be more comfortable with a simple back pillow. Look for an inexpensive curved foam cushion ($25-$85) for your chair, or save yourself a few bucks by trying something you already have around the house, like a small decorative pillow or rolled-up towel.
Having adequate lumbar support is just one piece of the ergonomic puzzle. Be sure to look at some other tricks to make your home office ergonomic.
3. Raise Your Monitor or Laptop
When you look at your computer, your eyes should be nearly level with the top of the screen. Commonly, the screen or monitor is too low. That’s how you wind up craning your neck or hunching over. There are two simple solutions.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a monitor or desktop computer in your home office, add a few books under the base to raise it to a comfortable height.
With a laptop, you need a little more equipment: a laptop stand (also sometimes called a riser) and an external keyboard and mouse. The stand should add a few inches of height and tilt, too. Don’t try to type on a laptop’s keyboard while the device is on a stand, as it could cause other injuries to your wrists and shoulders.
4. Light Your Face for Video Calls
Looking good on video calls really doesn’t take much, and it’s so worth the effort. When you take video calls from home, the most important consideration is lighting.
Move around your home to find a good spot for calls. It might be different from where you do other work. During daylight, try to get some natural light from a window to brighten your face. Make sure your back isn’t toward a window or bright lamp, as that will put your face entirely in shadow. A simple fix is to pivot at least 90 degrees or close the blinds.
If you’re in a room that’s a little dark, position an ordinary table lamp with a shade to the side or behind your computer or laptop. Selfie lights (sometimes called ring lights) can boost the lighting, too.
5. Make Space for Chargers
Keep the chargers you need for your devices at your workspace. That way, if the battery in your phone, headphones, or laptop starts to run low, you won’t have to take a lap around the house looking for a cord.
In a best-case scenario, you would have a drawer in your desk where you can store chargers. The next best place might be a decorative box or even an empty coffee mug that you like. Just be sure to keep those chargers nearby to minimize distractions.
6. Tidy Up Your Cables
A tangle of cables is ugly and distracting. But it’s what happens when we have a computer, laptop, monitor, router, printer, and everything else in a home office that needs power.
Getting a handle on your cable situation can seriously improve the looks and functionality of your workspace. Set aside time to unplug and detangle everything, as well as gather up a few inexpensive materials for tidying up messy cables. They include Velcro One-Wraps (my preferred option), zip ties (though don’t cinch them tightly if your cords are doubled over), painter’s tape, and even toilet paper rolls. You don’t need to blow half your paycheck at a home organization store to tidy up your cables, and often you can go from messy to beautifully tidy in less than 15 minutes.
7. Keep a Cloth on Hand
Don’t let dust, pet hair, or fingerprints mess up your monitor or keyboard. Keep a microfiber cloth on your desk (or in a drawer with your chargers) to wipe your screen clean. Keep a second cloth on hand to wipe the desk and keyboard; that one doesn’t have to be anything special. A dish towel, washcloth, or cloth napkin will do, or even a paper towel.
If you happen to have disinfectant wipes on hand, it wouldn’t hurt to keep some of those in your home office space as well, as long as they’re safe for the surfaces you have. Be mindful of natural woods and any varnished surfaces.
8. Scent the Air
Put an inexpensive candle on your desk or add a few drops of essential oil to a cup of very hot water. If you believe in aromatherapy, certain smells can make us feel calm (lavender) or energized (citrus). Even if you don’t believe that fragrances affect us to any measurable degree, they can still be pleasant. If a deep inhale of eucalyptus or rosemary makes you happy, then it’s a good addition to your home workspace.
9. Add Plants
Never underestimate the power of nature. Adding a few plants to your home workspace can make a big difference to your happiness. Studies have shown that proximity to nature, including office plants and access to windows that look onto natural scenes, have a positive effect on workers. Plants can boost productivity and decrease stress.
On a shoestring budget, you can take clippings from your friends’ plants or even ivy found outdoors, root them according to the plant type, and pot them in an upcycled container (such as a yogurt container) with a few holes poked into the bottom for drainage.
10. Prevent Clutter From Building Up
Having a clutter-free desk looks good, feels good, and causes fewer distractions. While there are some tricks for keeping a neat desk, there’s only one thing you can do to beat desk clutter: prevent it from accumulating in the first place. And there’s no secret to prevention. Just don’t put anything on your desk that isn’t necessary.
You might try creating a dedicated space for papers and other things you think you need (but really don’t). It could be a box or basket that you place on your desk, or better, in a cabinet in your desk or nearby. You can try making your clutter pile on a separate table. But seriously, there’s no trick to it. You have to be ruthless about avoiding clutter, and that comes down to willpower and habit.