Personally, I love working remotely, if I didn’t I wouldn’t have decided to quit my job and explore it full time! However, there are a lot of things that you should consider when setting up your home or remote office, some of them are just common sense, but others can be easy to overlook in all the excitement. Having moved office a lot in the 9 to 5 world I created a checklist to get me through those moves and back working as efficiently as possible, and with a few tweaks it has now evolved into the ultimate setting up a home office checklist!
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1. Why have a defined workspace?
Firstly, why bother having a defined workspace at all? I mean, if you’re a digital nomad all you need is a coffeeshop right? Ok, so lets consider both the mental and physical elements of your workspace. Mentally you need be in the right mindset to work and physically, you need to have your tools organised and to hand. In my view, its optimising the combination of these two elements that creates the perfect workspace.
If I’m in the right mindset, I can work all night – fairly productively. This is not optimal and doesn’t happen often, but sometimes when needs must (like that looming deadline that just got moved up, or some last-minute detail changes outside of my control that need to be included) it can happen.
The most extreme situation I can remember was cost modeling a 9 figure deal, there were 16 to 20 hour days for two weeks straight as both the customer and the cross-functional team had to keep tweaking the inputs to generate the best value for both parties. I shall call this, going forward, the deal.
Situations like this are, by their very definition, non-optimal for working productively especially not on modeling a very detailed solution with complex internal relationships and moving inputs. From this experience and multiple office moves (which always seem to happen under productivity pressure), the bones of the Ultimate Home Office Setup Checklist were born.
1.1.1 Remove Distractions
So, distractions are not your friend when attempting to optimise your productivity. It doesn’t matter whether you’re working in an office, a cafe, or your living room you need to remove the distractions. But before you can remove them you need to know what they are.
While working on the deal, the biggest distractions were actually the day to day workings of the office. I ended up turning off my email while I worked, cancelling all meetings except those related to the deal, setting my phones (work and personal) to silent – even turning the vibration off, and physically moving to another office where no one would look for me.
1.1.2 Resources always to hand
So, the first thing you’re going to require in your workspace is all that the resources you need to work are to hand. Now, this might be as simple as having a pen and notebook to jot down notes; or it may mean that you need several full filing cabinets of paperwork in addition to your computer.
Personally, I am trying to keep as much information as possible electronically but with this comes other issues. Information security is one of them. I need to keep all confidential information confidential, yet have access to this information if my laptop were to stop working or get stolen.
So, from this perspective, I need to consider backups, whether I use the cloud and how I encrypt my information. I also need to have a plan for accessing my information if the internet is inaccessible.
Outside of the information with which you are working, you’ll most likely need electronics like a laptop, phone, perhaps a camera or microphone and headset for communication and any videos or video conferences you may need to do. You might also need ancillaries like an extra screen for working with big spreadsheets or a printer to produce documents.
1.1.3 The “working” mindset
You will want to have an area to work in that stimulates your work. Personally, I’ve spent most of my career in open-plan offices, which means I’m used to working with background noise. I find it hard to work without something happening in the background – therefore my work from home office always has some form of music going to keep me in the working mindset.
1.2 Drawing a line between working and not working
So, if you’re working from your home office, how do you draw the line between working and non-working? And, don’t only consider how to stop yourself getting distracted – because it’s very possible to go the other way and not stop working… I’m often guilty of thinking “just one more thing” and then realising I’ve worked through my dinner and its now bedtime!
Drawing the line between working space or working time and non-working space or time can be easier if you can designate a specific space for working. This means that when you’re there you are in work mode – however this isn’t always possible. Physically I try to work only in my dining area when I’m at home, this draws a physical barrier between work and home (I try very hard not to work from bed, although when I was working on the MBA I found a couple of hours studying in bed before getting up on the dark and cold winter mornings worked very well for me).
2. What does a workspace require?
So there are a lot of nice to haves, but what do you really need in your workspace?
2.1 Tools of your trade
You definitely need the tools that you need to do your work. For me, this is a notepad and pen, a laptop, a good internet connection and a decent microphone.
However, there are lots of things that I have in my home workspace that make my life easier – for instance:
- I have a standalone keyboard and mouse
- a second screen (a big one)
- a day planner in addition to my notebook
- mesh internet so I can roam from the front garden, through the house and all the way to the bottom of the back garden seamlessly
- a printer/scanner combination
- a crosscut shredder for dealing with any confidential print outs
- a choice between a chair and a stability ball to sit on
- a table to work on
- an assortment of stationary (highlighters, pens in multiple colours and lots of post-its!
2.2 Organisation and Necessities
You will require a method of keeping yourself organised, as well as almost certainly some electronics for your organisation and communication necessities.
2.2.1 Electronic must haves:
My electronic must haves include:
- MacBook Pro (it’s now 5 years old and thanks to upgraded RAM and hard-drive I haven’t come anywhere close to reaching its capabilities)
- Mobile Internet (I use a TP-link standalone dongle which can take a simcard for any local network), I have two separate pay as you go data accounts so I can use the one that works the best in a particular area when I’m out and about working.
- IPad – I use the tablet for a lot of the social media marketing elements because often the app version of the social media is a lot easier to navigate than the computer variants – Pinterest is one of these.
- Stand-alone keyboard and mouse to optimise my ergonomics
- A large second screen for working on data sets
- Mesh Internet at home, so that if its a nice day I can move my office to the garden
- A laptop stand to get the screen to the right height
- A pair of Bluetooth noise-canceling over-ear headphones (also amazing on long haul flights)
- A cardioid stand-alone microphone for internet calling and YouTube Audio- I use the Blue Snowball Ice
2.2.2 Is paper necessary?
Personally, I have a love/hate relationship with paper. I love the feel of it, but I’m terrible for writing notes everywhere and never being able to find them again – or not knowing if they’re important when I do stumble across them. Now, this being said – there are a number of studies that suggest that the brain is engaged differently when writing on paper to typing; so there may be additional benefits to paper that we don’t yet understand.
I do find organising my day on paper works well, so I maintain two notebooks – one a 2-month planner (Brendon Buurchard’s The High-Performance Planner) and the other a sketchpad with very tactile paper that I use for creative work. I also plan my content on paper, before transferring it to the computer.
Take a close look at your insurance requirements, your household insurance probably doesn’t cover your business paraphernalia. You may also need cover for public liability at home and when visiting clients, office contents both at the office and away from it, business disruption, or employer liability to name but a few.
The requirements will be based on both your jurisdiction and your business type so its definitely worth taking professional advice to make sure that you are appropriately covered both from the risk and legislative requirements perspective. Your accountant can most likely provide you with some initial direction.
3. Setup considerations
So, you’ve expanded or contracted your work from home office requirements to suit your niche, you space and your travel plans; now what else should you consider in your setup?
Please, please, please, where-ever you’re working don’t forget your ergonomics! The consequences of getting your office arrangement wrong are more than just compromised productivity. As someone who suffers from Carpal Tunnel (unrelated to office work), I urge you to make sure that you are properly setup to avoid repetitive strain injury (RSI) and the headaches associated with not positioning your screen correctly (also, please get an eye exam once every two years, or if you start experiencing headaches and eyestrain while working).
The quick version:
- You want to have enough free space to work, both on and under your work surface – if you’re bumping your knees or forced to sit at an angle then its no good – fix it!
- Your chair should be stable and fit you well – you should be able to rest your feet flat on the floor or on a foot stool while still having your hands in a comfortable position to type (elbows bent at around 90 degrees). Watch out for chairs that are too broad or narrow or are too long for your thighs and make you sit at the edge. your chair, particularly those with wheels should have 5 points of contact with the ground.
- You should be looking at the screen with your eyes in line with the top of the monitor to avoid neck strain and it should be at least an arm’s length away from your nose.
- Keyboard and mouse should be comfortable to use with a neutral wrist. Wrist rests and arm rests on chairs are often recommended and can be useful if you get on with them, personally I hate them both as they always seem to get in the way.
- The contents of your work surface should be arranged so that you’re not awkwardly twisting or forced to face the screen any way except directly forward. If you are moving information from paper to screen consider using a document holder so that you don’t have to keep looking down at the surface. If you have to do lots of phone work consider getting a headset – they allow you to keep your head at a natural position while talking and don’t require you to keep changing arms and ears!
You can find out more detail about home office ergonomics from the resources section at Ergoplus, they have free resources as well as consultancy, software, and training.
4. Nomad Tweaks
If you’re designing a nomadic workspace, don’t forget to take into account transportation along with your other digital nomad plans! Depending on your nomadic lifestyle of choice you might be equipping a vehicle as office space, or fitting your whole working life into a small backpack.
Want more details about crafting a money-making digital nomad lifestyle?
4.1 Design for Transport
So for me, with long term visions of the ultimate “pack up and go” lifestyle, my home-based workspace has to be compact, lightweight, and take up no more space than an airplane carryon bag. With these constraints in mind, my biggest limiting is going to be my love of stationery.
I’ve invested in a folding computer stand to bring my MacBook Pro (13″) to the correct height, a microphone for recording podcasts, a lovely pen that is a joy to write with, and a beautiful set of full-sized productivity planners. To keep the USB fed electronics charged up I have a 24000mHA USB battery pack, and for Wifi, on the go, I use a TP-Link sim free 4G dongle. To keep this all safe while traveling in rugged terrain I have a drybag backpack with an organisational insert (you never know when the next deluge is coming), that doubles as my go-to backpack for hiking and watery adventures.
I’m in the market at the moment for a good folding keyboard and a mouse that will suit, but until I find the right thing I have an old wireless set that works a treat!
5. My Absolute Must haves
My must haves then:
5.1 MacBook Pro
I love my MacBook Pro – I’ve gone for the 13 inch because with the screen resolution I can see everything that I need and still carry it around easily.
You may; however, wish to consider a bigger screen size if you’re not planning on a nomadic lifestyle, and upgrading RAM and Hard-drive is usually a good bet (I ordered mine from Apple 6 years ago with an upgrade to 16GB of RAM and a 512GB Flash hard-drive and it’s still going as strong as ever!). I do, however, hear rumours of the new 14 inch MacBook Pro looming on the horizon… it might be tempting!
5.2 Blue Snowball iCE Microphone
This is a wonderful Cardioid microphone (as recommended by my brother who is sound and lighting production manager with feet in opera, professional theatrics, and large scale corporate and award shows). I use it instead of MacBook’s built in mircophone when recording YouTube content.
Cardioid means that the area directly in front of the microphone is most sensitive to the sounds, with the sides slightly less and the rear not sensitive at all. This pickup pattern was recommended for avoiding getting some of the annoying ambient sounds (although it doesn’t completely eliminate them.)
It comes in both white and black too, so you have a bit of a choice!
5.3 The High Performance Planner
6 large notebooks to cover the entire year’s worth of planning, productivity, and high-performance habit formation.
6. Wrapping It All Up
So, now you know how I’ve survived multiple office moves and sudden work from home requirements over the past 15 years with minimal stress and maximum productivity.
You know you want to see mine… Pop across to the Free Tour of my Work from Home Office, all setup using the Ultimate Home Office Setup Checklist.
6.1 Get Your Printable Copy of the Ultimate Home Office Setup Checklist
I know you do! So, especially for you, I have a print optimised version of the Ultimate Home Office Setup Checklist, including the bonus – Remote working Add-on Page.
We’d love to hear from you, so after you’ve got your printable, please let us know how you’ve got on with setting up your work from home office! And, we adore process improvements – so we’d love to collect your tips and tricks in the comments below.
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