Vast numbers of people who previously reported for work at an office every day are now working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’re included in that group, there was probably even a little thrill of “I get to work from home!” at first. But as those who have telecommuted for years know, it’s not as simple as settling down on the couch with your laptop. Here are a few tips.
Make a Dedicated Work Space, If Possible
Particularly if you’re not home alone, you’ll want to create a space that’s dedicated to working. Otherwise, it’s difficult to focus on work instead of what’s happening in your home. A spare bedroom with a door is ideal, of course, because it lets you avoid the fridge, the TV, and your family, who may also be trying to work or do schoolwork at home.
But if you don’t have an extra room, or if you need to share it with your spouse and kids, think about ways you can create individual spaces, perhaps with bookcases or makeshift curtains.
Either way, your goal is to avoid seeing and hearing others. Your partner’s activities can be distracting, and listening to your kids discussing a school project will make focusing on your work all the harder. Sound isolation can be difficult to achieve in an open room, but that’s what earbuds are for. Those with noise-canceling capabilities, like AirPods Pro, would be best.
Pay attention to lighting as well. Putting your monitor against a window probably won’t work well during the day, and overhead lighting can cause glare.
Set Up an Ergonomic Working Environment
It’s unlikely that your home office furniture is equivalent to what you have at work, but if you’re going to be putting in full workdays at home, you’ll want to pay attention to ergonomics.
Many tables are slightly too high to sit at comfortably with your feet flat, your hips at a 90-degree angle, and your hands floating comfortably above the keyboard, with your elbows at a 90-degree angle. Do what you can to achieve that position; if necessary, raise the chair and add a footstool.
Good, inexpensive chairs with height adjustments can be hard to find, though the IKEA Flintan is well-reviewed and only about $80. A small pillow can provide lumbar support if necessary. Try to make sure the arms, if present, are low—you should use them only when not typing.
It’s difficult to achieve good ergonomics while working on a laptop, or, even worse, an iPad because you’re almost always looking down too far. With a MacBook, you can achieve the ideal sightline either by attaching a large monitor (my favorite is the HP Z27) that you can position at the right height or by raising the MacBook and using a separate keyboard and mouse or trackpad at the proper typing height.
Potentially Upgrade Your Internet Connection
Even beyond whatever apps you need to do your work, it’s likely that you’ll end up doing a fair amount of videoconferencing. You may need to increase the throughput of your Internet connection, and it’s important to remember that upload and download speeds are separate. Unless you have fiber internet such as FiOS you usually have much higher download speeds, so focus on the upload speed when evaluating your plan. Generally, upload speeds on cable internet can’t go any higher than about 12 Mbps because of the power requirements of sending a signal by a wire. Fiber uses lightwaves so the power requirements are lower and they can achieve faster upload.
Apps vary in their bandwidth requirements, but you can consider a 1 megabit per second (Mbps) upload speed a safe minimum, with 3 Mbps being sufficient for nearly any video calls you’ll need to make.
Just remember that your internet connection is split between everything currently running on it. If you are on a video call that’s 3 Mbps and you have two family members in the other room running Netflix in 4K simultaneously which uses 25 Mbps each, a 60 Mbps internet connection isn’t going to leave much left over for other needs.
If your current connection isn’t fast enough, contact your Internet service provider. More throughput will usually cost more, but ideally, your ISP can just change some settings to upgrade you if you are on an old plan. In some cases, a new cable modem or similar network hardware may be necessary, and in the worst case, you may need a new cable from the street. Whatever you do, try to avoid any plan that comes with a bandwidth cap!
Don’t be afraid to compare prices if multiple providers serve your address, and even if you have sufficient bandwidth now, it may be worth calling to see if plan prices have dropped since you subscribed. Just be aware that switching to a new provider normally requires a service visit, which is probably inadvisable during this current health crisis.
Upgrade Wi-Fi Hardware
Finally, if the place in your home that you want to work isn’t well served by your current Wi-Fi router, it might be time to upgrade. Having a fast internet connection to your house won’t help you if your WiFi is the bottleneck.
For creating a Wi-Fi network that has the most coverage, look into mesh networking gear like Eero, which is a product that I sell and have written about before. The beauty of mesh networking is that you can add another router or beacon to extend the network without complicated setup.
If you’re one of my customers for whom I’ve installed an Eero network and you’re finding that there is a corner of the house where you just need a little better coverage, let me know and I can ship you a preconfigured additional Eero. Just plug it in and you’re set.
Or if you’re a customer who is interested in setting up an Eero, while I can’t come to your house to set it up we can discuss what you might need so that I can preconfigure a system and ship it so all you have to do is plug it in and go.
That said, contact me or someone else you trust before ripping your network apart, because on-site visits to fix problems may be difficult or impossible for a while.