COVID-19: So, You Learned You’ll Be Working From Home

A resource for setting up a functional home office

As our world quickly evolves amidst COVID-19 concerns, work environments are also changing as many Madison-area companies transition to work-from-home arrangements to help prevent the spread of the virus. If your company is one of them and you’re new to working at home, this guide to setting up a home workspace can help you operate just as you would if you were in the office. Ensuring you’re equipped for productivity at home can also help you prepare for any future scenarios that may warrant additional or more long-term home office work.

How to Set Up a Home Office

  1. Stock up on any necessary office supplies

First, let’s start with the basics: office supplies. Below are the top supplies that I use every day in my office (in alphabetical order). Depending on your job duties, you might only need one or two of these items – and you may even be able to bring some home from the office. If you’re planning to work at home for the long-haul, however, you may be looking for a more robust office setup.

  • Batteries
    Most wireless devices like your mouse and keyboard use batteries. Whether AA, AAA, or another size, check to see what battery sizes are required for the items you use.
  • Binder clips
    You can go overboard and get a zillion different sizes, or you can go with one that works pretty well as an overall clip.
  • Calculator
    We recommend a margin calculator if you don’t already have a good one on hand.
  • Envelopes
    Assess the size you need and whether the no-window, single, or double window versions are best. For many of us, good, old-fashioned plain white ones will do.
  • File folders
    You may need to organize paper to help curb excess clutter in your home office. I love the straightforward type of folder that’s easy to write on.
  • Highlighters
    Having several colors can be helpful and keep work a bit fun. Choose from standard yellow to an assortment of colors.
  • Writing pads
    If you usually take copious notes at work, you’ll need plenty of paper. The legal rule writing pads are my favorite. They come in yellow and white – choose whichever you prefer.
  • Markers
    If you will need markers, a fine tip point permanent marker is a great way to go.
  • Paper clips
    You might already have paper clips around the house, but if not, here is a great product for simple clipping.
  • Pencils
    Sometimes, there’s nothing like the real wood-feel of a solid pencil.
  • Pencil sharpener
    If you’re using solid pencils, don’t forget a pencil sharpener that works well.
  • Pens
    Whether black, blue, red, or something else, consider color options when stocking up on pens.
  • Postage stamps
    Mail is sure to continue despite the virus. If you need to mail documents like invoices or parcels to your customers, consider picking up some Forever stamps.
  • Printer paper
    If you need to print work documents at home, consider having a decent supply of good paper on hand. If you are working on a presentation or proposal, you might want brighter white and slightly heavier paper grade. If not, standard printer paper will do.
  • Printer ink or toner
    Make sure you have extra on-hand that fits your specific printer.
  • Ruler
    If your job entails taking measurements or drawing straight lines, a ruler will come in handy. Think about whether you need a tape measure as well to measure larger items.
  • Scissors
    The item that always seems to be missing from home offices is a pair of scissors. If you think this item would be helpful as you work from home, be sure to have a pair that stays at your desk.
  • Small whiteboard
    Many people like whiteboards for jotting down brainstorm ideas or reminders. If you usually use one at work, having one handy in your home office might be helpful as well.
  • Spiral-bound notebook
    A solid, basic spiral notebook is my favorite tool for jotting down notes.
  • Stapler
    A strong stapler that works well – and can staple a large number of pages – might be another helpful item for your home office if you usually use one at work.
  • Staples
    It goes without saying to make sure you have plenty of staples at the ready.
  • Sticky notes
    Truly important for note-taking and reminders, sticky notes are a favorite office supply that just about everyone needs.
  • Tissues
    Even if you’re not feeling sick, it can be helpful to have tissues close at hand.
  1. Set up your home office environment

While your dining table or kitchen counter can certainly function as a temporary workspace for the next few weeks, a dedicated home office environment may be something to consider for the longer-term. If you’re setting up a home office from scratch, start here:

  • Ergonomic home office chair
    While there are many office chairs out there, consider one with ergonomic features that support your spinal and overall health, like this mid-back chair that I love. If you’re adding a chair mat to go along with it, be sure to measure your space size carefully before you buy.
  • Spacious desk
    If you’re lucky enough to have the space, consider a home office desk with ample workspace to allow yourself to spread out. You may also look for a sit-stand desk or an adjustable laptop desk that can help reduce the adverse health effects of long periods of sitting.
  • File cabinet
    Will you be storing files at home? For many of us, a small mobile pedestal file cabinet can work well for keeping records organized and close at hand.
  • Lighting
    When you’re setting up a highly-functional home office space, lighting and lightbulbs can make a significant difference in your productivity, especially if you don’t have windows or natural light.
  • Fire-safe box
    Most home offices don’t necessarily need this, but if you have sensitive items or papers that need to be safe no matter what, a fire-safe box can be useful.
  1. Assess your equipment

Ensure your home office functions just like your work office by having the right equipment. Depending on your needs and what you already have at home, consider these office equipment basics:

  • Docking station
    If you’re like most office workers, you have electronics galore. Cell phones, tablets, and other items all need juice. A docking station can help make it easy and convenient to keep them charged. They come in several shapes and sizes and vary in features.
  • Printer
    You might already have a printer at home – and in that case, you’re all set. But if you needed to invest in a new one, consider a scanning function so you can easily scan and email documents.
  • USB drives
    If you need to transfer files from place to place – especially ones too large to email – a USB drive is important. You can also use this tool to transfer data from work to your home computer.
  • Headset
    If you’re like me, you’ll likely be on a lot of calls as you work from home. A great headset for your home phone makes these communications so much easier.
  • Webcam
    The abundance of online video conferencing services makes it easier than ever before to connect with teams remotely. If you don’t have a camera on your computer at home, a webcam for video calls might be another item to consider for your home office.
  • Paper shredder
    If any sensitive documents cross your desk, a paper shredder can help dispose of them confidentially.
  • External hard drive
    If you need to back-up files effectively and easily, have an external hard drive on hand to keep all your information safe for peace of mind.
  1. Put systems in place

Setting up a productive home office that will be hard to distinguish from your traditional office setting at work involves using or setting up systems that will help you thrive. Below are a few helpful systems to consider.

  • Internet and power connection
    A good network router and reliable highspeed internet access is another way to you make the work-from-home move as seamless as possible. Check whether you’ll need a booster to strengthen your internet connection in your home office space to ensure you remain continuously connected. Also, consider the power sources near your desk to see if you’ll need a UPS (uninterruptible power supply) with a surge protector for added security.
  • File or cloud sharing platform
    If you work with a team, and plan to share files, set up a cloud-based file system if your office doesn’t already have one. Dropbox and Google Drive are a couple of options that help you safely share files and collaborate in real-time.
  • Phone service
    Many households today no longer have a landline. If you think a dedicated home office landline will lend more reliability than your cell signal when making and receiving calls at home, consider setting one up. You may also want to ensure any landline calls can be automatically routed if you’re away from your home office – such as directly to your cell.
  1. Make it comfortable

Once you have your home office space is set up, consider making it aesthetically pleasing. After all, you will likely be spending a lot of time here in the short- or long-term. Think about adding plants, artwork, a rug – anything that makes you more comfortable will also make you more productive.

Tips for Success

Lastly, I’ll offer a few personal tips to help your new home office experience a success:

  • I’ve found that if I have a clean workspace, I stay focused on my work and avoid distractions. Chaos and clutter = non-productivity. I do all I can to keep my desk clear of clutter.
  • Another helpful tip for working from home is about setting boundaries. If you have other family members at home with you, make it clear when you are – and aren’t – available. Be strict with yourself and to ensure you’re effectively working during designated office hours.
  • A final tip is one that I continuously work through is separating work from home. While this idea can become difficult as the two blend together, they must remain separate to ensure you stay productive.

Good luck setting up your home office – and reach out to me with questions. I’ve had a lot of trial and error with my own setup and am happy to share my experiences.

Together, we will weather this storm!