Most of us have been working from home for at least a year by now. Are you loving it, or is it getting you down? If the latter applies, it's time to make some changes. And even if it's the former, there are still things you can do to make working from home healthier, more fun, and more productive.
Shillington, the original graphic design bootcamp, knows a lot about working remotely in creative and productive ways; not least because they've recently launched their first online course, enabling you to learn from home too. So we've teamed up with them to share advice on how to reboot your remote setup.
Read on, and find out how to (finally) get the blissful WFH experience you've long been dreaming about.
1. Create an ergonomic setup
At the start of the pandemic, many of us didn't give a lot of thought to our home working setup. After all, the lockdown was only going to last a few weeks, right? But if you've spent an entire year hunched over a laptop on the sofa or perched on the edge of your kitchen's breakfast bar, your health is probably already suffering. So setting a proper home office is vital.
That means, if possible, having a room dedicated as the home office, where you have space to sit comfortably. It also means getting a proper desk and having your keyboard and screen placed at the correct height. Everyone's different, but in general, the top of your screen should be at eye level (or above eye level for larger monitors) to protect your posture and eyesight.
When it comes to the keyboard, your forearms should be parallel to the ground, and your wrists should not bend up or down when you type. And you'll also need to...
2. Buy a decent chair
Dining room chairs, bar stools, bean bags, deck chairs... we've seen freelancers and remote workers sit on all of these for their day-to-day work. But in the long term, they're a health disaster. So if you don't already have a decent office chair, investing in one is vital.
For the best office chairs, you can spend £500 or more. But if you just can't afford that right now, even an office chair costing around £150-200 (such as the Hbada Ergonomic Office Chair) can make the world of difference. And let's spell it out: if you don't want to spend half your life suffering the misery of back pain, it really should be your number one financial priority.
3. Keep clear of clutter
Even when you work in an office, clutter can slow you down, make you unproductive and irritable, and ultimately cause stress and poor health. Conversely, as the saying goes, 'Tidy desk, tidy mind'.
Of course, keeping your desk free of clutter is even more difficult at home, where each available surface becomes a place to plonk down anything from kids' toys to clothes for the wash. So you just have to be super-vigilant and make it clear to other members of the household (and yourself) that your desk is off-limits.
4. Build in a break routine
In the office, there are constant interruptions from colleagues, bosses and clients. Working from home is much quieter, though, letting you get in the zone and really become productive. But here also lies danger because that can mean not moving for hours at a time, and that really isn't good for your body.
So it's important to build in a routine that forces you to leave your desk at least once every hour, if not more often, for a quick break. If you don't trust yourself to remember, then use an app to remind you, such as Stretchly or Unhook.
5. Exercise in short bursts
When the first lockdown began, we all promised ourselves we'd exercise regularly. But many of us have got out of the habit, and some of us never started all.
But if you're feeling unmotivated, you don't have to do a full Joe Wicks workout. Just doing small bursts of activity, little and often, can make a huge difference to your health and well-being, whether that's a few keepy-uppies with a football, some star jumps, or a couple of full yoga stretches. The important thing is that it should be something you enjoy. Despite the misleading phrase 'No pain, no gain', you really don't have to suffer to stay fit and healthy.
However, if you need guidance, try a fitness app focused on short workouts, such as the Johnson & Johnson 7 Minute Workout.
6. Clean your keyboard and screen
We've all got into the habit of washing our hands thoroughly. But what about your keyboard and screen? Laptops are a breeding ground for bacteria, so it's absolutely essential you clean them thoroughly with an appropriate product, such as Weiman's Electronic Wipes. Not only will that protect your health, it will help your laptop live longer and perform better too.
7. Get a better webcam and microphone
Over the last year, we've all seen from interviews on the TV what a difference a decent webcam and microphone makes. So if the ones built into your laptop aren't the best, you're giving a bad impression to your colleagues and clients.
Consider, then, buying an external camera and mic that will cast you in a better light (both metaphorically and literally). That's especially important if you're looking to promote your work across the creative community and the wider world. For example, if you're going to be interviewed on a podcast, make sure you get a podcast-ready mic. Your thoughts and ideas will be all the more compelling if people hear them in crystal-clear quality.
8. Nail your video call lighting
Another way to make a better impression is by tackling that dodgy video call lighting. People are difficult to take seriously when they're a blurry shadow cast in darkness, plus the colour of fluorescent light isn't particularly flattering either. So when you're making Zoom calls, seek out the best LED or natural light source in your house, or invest in a ring light such as the Neewer Camera Photo Video Lighting Kit.
9. Improve your internet connection
However great your audio and video equipment is, it's all going to be ruined if your internet is poor. So first, try moving your router to different places to see if that affects your connection. If that doesn't work, try upgrading your router and/or buying a WiFi extender. If none of that helps, it's time to switch internet providers.
On the plus side, there will probably be rivals offering faster speeds, not to mention free gifts, cashback and lower prices if you switch. But be warned: promised speeds don't always materialise, so take some time checking customer reviews to see if their claims match reality.
When it comes to those special offers, remember that prices may jump after the first year or six months. So, just like with any utility provider, it's vital to check the terms and conditions with a fine toothcomb.
10. Buy some decent headphones
Need to shut out the world and get yourself in the zone? Then a decent pair of headphones can be a great investment in making you more productive. We love these Sony noise-cancelling over-ear 'phones for really immersing yourself in your tunes, while we'd also recommend Apple's Beats Studio 3 Wireless cans if you like your music heavy on the bass.
11. Use productivity tools
We don't like to admit it. But most of us could work much more efficiently and productivity with the help of certain apps. And most of these apps are pretty cheap, too: you just never get around to researching them. To save you that hassle, then, we've grouped 10 productivity tools, ranging from a secure way to store and recall passwords to an app that automates repetitive tasks. Try them out: they could save you hundreds of hours of work in the long term!