The Covid-19 pandemic has made working from home “the new normal.” In 2020 many of us cleared out corners of our spare room or found space in the attic to use as a temporary office space. However, as working remotely and hybrid working become the new alternative to a daily commute to the office, people are now looking to invest in more comfortable and efficient working environments at home.
With a large number of startups now operating remotely, too, with distributed teams of employees all working from home, a high-tech home office is the new way to keep up with the proverbial Joneses.
At the core of any good home office is a powerful computer. While the exact make and model you require will depend mainly on the type of work that you will be doing, you can’t really go wrong with a Dell computer.
The Dell XPS 8940 is a conservatively modern desktop computer that can be customized in various ways to suit your personal and professional requirements. Redesigned in 2020, the basic-looking design comes with a textured front plate that adds a bit of novelty. Available in black and white, the design is clean and minimalistic. On the front, there are several vertically aligned ports, which include a full-size SD card slot and even a USB-C.
There is the standard collection of ports on the back of the Dell computer, including a number of USB-A, HDMI, an ethernet jack, and a display port. The prebuilt Dell XPS 8940 is not the most exciting system, but it can be easily modified with a different CPU cooler and fan for better performance.
Whichever computer you decide to buy for your new high-tech home office, it is highly recommended that you look at some reviews and overviews on YouTube and visit relevant forums and groups on Facebook and Reddit to get some advice. Whatever computer you buy, the chances are that you’ll be using it for several years, so it’s an important decision to make! To get you started, here is a link to YouTube’s reviews of the Dell XPS 8940.
While you will need to choose an office computer carefully, your choice of office chair is also crucial and could make or break the experience of working from home.
One consideration with a home office chair is whether or not to invest in a standing desk or chair.
Sitting for prolonged periods is scientifically proven to be bad for our physical and mental health. Research has shown that sitting for long periods of time is associated with various health conditions and diseases. Our body comprises over 700 muscles and 300 joints designed to move for extended periods each day. Sitting at a desk tends to make us hunch over, putting pressure on the spine, which over time can damage intervertebral discs and cause issues with posture.
Sitting also tends to make people breathe in a shallower fashion, using the muscle in the chest rather than predominantly the diaphragm. Shallow breathing, in turn, leads to higher levels of anxiety. Sitting down can also cause muscle wastage or atrophy in the glutes and lower back. It can often lead to inflammation or muscle knots in specific areas, as seen with piriformis syndrome.
With this in mind, many people are opting to buy standing desks. Unfortunately, standing desks do not come cheap. The best budget standing desk is arguably the Vivo Desk, which fits on top of a typical office desk. This desk is an excellent option because you can remove the Vivo Desk when you do want to sit for a short while and then add it back when you want to stand up to work. Bear in mind, though, that it is not light, it weighs around 50lbs, and it’s pretty bulky.
If you don’t want to invest in a standing desk just yet, but want to experience some of the potential benefits before spending any money, you can always try out your ironing board and see how working while standing up feels! Another ‘healthy’ option is to look to buy a stability ball. Although you will still be sitting down while using a ball, it does engage and strengthen your core, and it will usually prevent you from adopting incorrect or damaging posture.
Another great option for saving your back and improving posture is to invest in a standard office chair and a kneeling chair. By rotating and using both during the day, you can minimize postural issues associated with sitting in the same position for hours each day.
A final alternative to sitting all day is to buy a desk that allows you to squat down to work. Squats open your hips, helping to maintain back health and knee mobility. However, squatting can take a bit of getting used to, so to begin with; a standard office chair may be the best option if you want to actually get some work done!
With this in mind, a great office chair is the Steelcase Leap V2 with headrest. It’s ergonomic, with a range of adjustments available to suit different heights and body types. There is also lumbar and back support, and it’s good for sitting back and relaxing if you choose to watch a movie at the end of the working day.
Smart Home Tech
If you want an enjoyable and cool home office that is just a bit more enjoyable to work in, automation with smart home tech is the way!
The first thing to consider before investing in any smart home devices is what platform you will use to run all your smart home operations? The three most popular ways to set up a smart home include Google Assistant, Apple HomeKit, Samsung Smart Things, Amazon Alexa/Assistant or the open-source Home Assistant platform. In theory, you can use more than one platform. However, some platforms only work with specific devices, and things can get complicated pretty quickly. The easiest and most popular platforms at the moment are the Apple HomeKit and the Google Assistant.
One thing to start with is smart lighting. With the Apple Homekit, you can put a sensor on your office door so that when you walk in first thing in the morning – hey presto! All the lights come on for you. You can also sync the sensors up with other devices like your computer so that you can get to work as soon as you step foot in your office. You can also set up flashing light alerts. So, for example, if you tend to work with your headphones on, you can set your smart light up with a smart doorbell so that the light flashes three times when someone rings the doorbell.
A good device to set up when working from home is a “busy light” that sits right outside your office door. You can set the light to turn red when you are busy, for example, on a video call, and green when you are available. This way, you can minimize any distractions from the family.
For more information on choosing a platform and setting up smart devices, please see this helpful YouTube tutorial.
Home Office Apps
There are a range of mobile phone and computer applications available specifically for remote working. However, if you are running your own business from home, the Moneypenny phone answering app (which comes as part of their virtual receptionist service) is a must.
The great thing about the phone answering service is that you get a dedicated, US-based receptionist to manage all of your calls, exactly as an in-house full-time receptionist would. You can also opt for a 24/7 service so that no matter what time someone calls, they will be greeted by a polite and professional receptionist. The app itself functions much like a business phone system. You can dictate where your calls are sent – for example, to your mobile and then after four rings, if nobody answers call can then be forwarded to your receptionist. You can also use a toll-free number for your mobile.
While creating a professional first impression is important when running a business remotely, focusing is also crucial. It’s always easy to get distracted and to lose concentration when you are home alone working. A Pomodoro timer app, such as Marinara Timer, is a great way to kick off the working day and get in the flow. A Pomodoro timer splits your day into 25-minute sprints, followed by a 5-minute rest. You can turn off your email and mobile phone and focus on the work at hand for 25 minutes straight. You can then use your break to have a stretch quickly or nip to the bathroom. You should also have time to check over your emails and messages to make sure you’ve not missed anything important.
Finally, a project management tool is always a good idea if you are working with clients or a distributed team. Trello is an excellent app for computers and mobile phones. With Trello, you can set automated rules to set tasks automatically finished on a specific date, check items off, or remove members. You can also archive cards/tasks, which is a handy alternative to deleting them, as you can always access old tasks if you need to.
Working from home has become standard for most office workers during the Covid-19 pandemic. It is important to make your home office space comfortable and functional so that you can get work done and stay focused. Adding some plants to your office and ensuring that you have sufficient breaks can also help deal with some of the potential mental health issues that can come with feeling isolated. Nature and being outdoors for at least a few minutes per day can help alleviate stress and anxiety better than any high-tech device!