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The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it the “new norm” of working from home for those workers where it has been possible. With this new way of working many employers have discovered that they don’t need to pay exorbitant rent in large office buildings, and in the same vein employees have uncovered that spending hours commuting is no longer necessary.

In the new age of virtual meetings and hi-tech communication you can now work from anywhere.

Let’s make it as comfortable as possible with the following tips to ensure that it is conducive to long-term productivity.

The ideal setup

A home office should ideally be a separate space in your home that is properly outfitted for work in the long-term. Try some of the following to create a safe and productive workspace.

A dedicated space

A small room that can hold a desk and all your computer equipment and whose door can be closed, for the essential meetings, can offer the needed separation for your work life and home life.

If it’s not possible to get a dedicated space in your home to separate from the rest of your life, try to find a semi-private nook that can be cordoned off from the rest of your household as much as possible. 

Proper work height

Your dedicated space needs a desk or table that is at the suitable work height. The industry standard is approximately 75 centimetres from the floor to the top of the work surface. Keep in mind that tall people do better with a higher height, and short people do better with a lower height. The correct desk therefore would be one where it has adjustable table legs, ensuring the most comfortable height.

Having said that, that industry standard height mentioned is based on writing on paper and not using a keyboard and mouse. Ever wonder why keyboard trays pull out from below the work surface? Now you know. If you have the space and budget for a keyboard-and-mouse tray (wide enough for both), do yourself a favour and get one. It might make all the difference. If not, consider lowering your desk to the suggested tray height. For actual writing you can then get a secondary writing surface (such as a thin cutting board or tray) for pen-and-paper work.

A quick way to ascertain whether your work surface is at the correct height is if, when you sit up straight, your forearms are parallel to the ground and your wrist is not bent when typing or moving your mouse. Bending the wrists for prolonged periods is an easy way to cause injury. Ever hear of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome? Yip, that could very well be in your future if you neglect this important piece of information.

Proper monitor height

Check with your boss whether it’s a possibility to take your work monitor/s home, after all it’s in their best interest for you to be as productive as you would be at the office. If it is not possible consider investing in some of your own. Try to avoid the cheapest monitors if you can, since they can lead to eyestrain over prolonged use due to their lower resolution and thus increased fuzziness. Because you likely already have a computer, such as a work-issued laptop, focus on getting a monitor whose specs meet or exceed what your computer can deliver.

When sitting at your office desk try to keep your shoulders level and don’t hunch your back when looking at your monitor — two of the easiest ways to cause niggling injuries. A monitor whose height is adjustable is preferable, though you may still need to elevate it to get to the desired height. Use whatever is at your disposal, whether it be telephone books from 10 years ago or boxes from your online shopping deliveries.

A good chair

As you can no doubt tell the common denominator in all these tips is to avoid any kind of injury from the prolonged use of unsuitable equipment. One of the most important therefore is the chair you use. Correct posture when seated is incredibly important and you’ll find that dining room chairs rarely work. If you can afford it, get an adjustable professional office chair.

Depending on your budget try to get one with adjustable height, that can roll, that provides lumbar support for the lower back. An arm rest is preferable, but only if you use it correctly: The arm rest basically should remind your arm to stay in the right position, not support its weight like a seat does your butt.

Good lighting

It’s easy to underestimate the effects of bad lighting on your ability to be productive. Lighting is often overlooked and thought of as a “nice-to-have”. Ideally, you need sufficient indirect light to illuminate your workspace, so you can easily read papers and see physical objects. Overhead lighting is usually best, such as from a ceiling lamp. White light is usually better than yellow light as it places less strain on your eyes.

Don’t place a lamp right next to your monitor, where you’ll end up with competing light sources and possible glare causing eyestrain. For additional lighting place more lamps in a way that they don’t create glare on your monitor and are not in your direct field of vision when working on your computer. A good guideline as far as your monitor’s brightness is concerned is to set it slightly brighter than your ambient lighting, and that your ambient lighting should be sufficient to read paper documents without additional light.

Good internet service

Most urban and suburban areas have, by now, at least one high-speed service provider for your connectivity needs. Do your homework and explore all the options. If all else fails, ask your IT colleagues what they’re using. 

The best connections are wired Ethernet ones, so where possible, connect your computer to your router via an Ethernet cable. It’s especially important if you do video or other bandwidth-intensive work. Wi-Fi is fine for basic office work, so if you can’t wire your computer to your router, use Wi-Fi.

Other equipment

You’ll need a keyboard and a mouse or touchpad, of course: Wireless ones save you cable mess but require recharging or battery replacement. Working from home could also require you to have a headset for when you need to join conference calls with more privacy. Competing noises in the home can be incredibly distracting and everyday noises can come across as unprofessional should you be on a call with anyone outside your organisation. Understanding only stretches so far.

In these dark days of load shedding you might need to consider a surge protector or, if you’re not using a laptop, an uninterruptible power supply (UPS). The best option is to plug your internet modem straight into the UPS to ensure that your connectivity doesn’t drop. Check timetables for when load shedding will occur and make sure your laptop is charged sufficiently.

An incredibly important point to remember is that, in an age where we no longer really use external drives, it is imperative to store all your work on a cloud-based service like OneDrive or iCloud, so if your computer gets damaged or lost, all your work is easily accessible from another computer. Combining cloud storage with a physical backup, when you sync to your local drive, provides the best assurance that you have all your files.

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