Do Remote Work Right with These Tools

9/13/2020

Remote work is officially a thing, not only with fancy startups and forward thinking creative agencies, but nearly everyone. Yes, it has become the norm through bad circumstances, but we need to make the most of it. Anywhere you look, you can find content around remote tools and services, best practices and tips, but not too much around physical things.

I have been part time remote with my day job for 4+ years and full time remote freelance for longer. During this time I have learned tons of ways to optimize remote work. Customizing your remote physical work experience beyond that of what your employer could allow is a huge productivity booster.

Yes you are at home, so that comfort is a given. The comfortable places that you watch tv, eat and lounge is not efficient for work and just not healthy for the duration in which we work. Since remote is still just an adaption of in office work, we are expected to work an average of 8 hours. This is old thinking and incorrect, but I'll get to that another time. Since we are expected to work such long periods, one-third of our day, we should make sure our bodies and minds are setup to do it efficiently and safely.

Before we get into these physical things, assess your surroundings. Where is the best place for you to work? It doesn't need to be a separate room, it doesn't even need to be one place. You could have multiple areas that trigger different kinds of work. I am writing this on my couch in my living room. I do this because I like to get all my thoughts out in a relaxed environment. When it comes to editing or designing graphics for a post I generally move to my desk or the futon in my office. Back to you. Your kitchen table, island or that empty corner that you have been keeping empty until you find that perfect plant can be it for you. Instead of that plant, you might want to consider a desk...but that is all up for interpretation.

The starting point in most cases will be a desk. This could be something new to your home or just repurposing something you already have. If it is new, I'd recommend going with something that is a sit-stand combo. If you are using something you have and it isn't a sit-stand desk, I'd consider getting something to convert it to one. There are tons of options out there, but I currently own both the Ikea BEKANT and the VariDesk® Pro Plus™ 36. For my home office I use the Ikea and for my desk at my employers office I use the VariDesk. Both do the job, but I recommend a full standing desk in most cases. I like the option to use both my MacBook and my iMac throughout the day, but with some ergonomics, and a full standing desk allows this a bit more. The two tier design on the VariDesk and the limited range of movement lessen my use of it at times. VariDesk does offer different models that do not pose the same limitations, so consider how you like to use your computer(s). I only have experience with these, but I'd recommend looking for something that fits your needs, style, and budget. If I were to get one today I would have accounted more for height and maybe 4 legs so it didn't teeter as much.

Once you have the right desk, I would consider the other peripherals that could complete your setup. You have to consider, now that you don't have someone looking over your shoulder, having to pretend to work all day long, stretching out every menial task, you might want tools to help you work more efficiently. For me, those items are:

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I know some might think that that is a lot of tech, and you are right. I work as a product manager by day and run my creative business all the other time, so these devices are all used for a ton of different purposes. Obviously my iMac and MacBook are for getting stuff done, which can range from tools to access the web, writing, file management, video/photo/audio editing, designing and some occasional illustration. The speakers and AirPods are just as important. I listen to a lot of music and podcasts that get me in the right mindset and learn new things. I also use them for editing audio in my films. The trackpad is my preferred way to navigate MacOS, but sometimes you just need a mouse too. Then the iPad. Most would say it is not needed, but it is one of my most valued devices. This is where I write by hand and sketch ideas. I do not own any paper. Yes, none. I use my iPad for all of this. I also do not buy physical books, whenever possible, so it is also my eReader. On top of that, I use it for media consumption, tons of writing (including this article) and the occasional game.

I am not saying that you need any of this. Just take into consideration what you use and what could make you more efficient. Working from home allows you to control your day more, so getting work done faster allows you to focus on other things. That could be learning, creating, relaxing, exercise or even gaming. There may be some upfront investment, but know that if thought out and used effectively, items like the above could help.

Now onto the less thought of items.

A super pro-tip is to get good house slippers. Not only if you are in a cold state and your house is below freezing, this is for everyone. Good slippers will provide you good support and comfort. This is even more important if you do have/get a standing desk. Your back and knees will thank you! I use a pair of Mahabis flow's and I love them. They are super supportive and comfortable. This pair allows a lot of airflow if you get warm easily, like me. These are quite pricey for a house shoe, but if you are like me, I only buy things that will last me, so these aren't much more than the three pairs I would have gone through. Alternatively, you could get something like an Anti Fatigue mat, I use a somewhat low cost one that I got from Amazon. I like to double this up with the slippers for extra comfort. These can also be multipurpose, and brought into the kitchen when cooking for awhile. I do this every Sunday, when we meal prep.

Get a smart speaker. Something that does timers and automations. Any Google Home, Amazon Echo or Apple HomePod will do. I have tried all three, but I really love my HomePod. Yes, because I have a lot of Apple things, but mainly for the stellar sound quality and the amazing microphones. Use this speaker to set timers, listen to music and automate tasks. Pro-tip, set 90 minute timers for focus sprints. This will help you a ton! Using your phone will give you the urge to check other things when you see the home screen. There is a ton of science behind why focus sprints work. I'd totally recommend reading or listing to some content around it.

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A good pair of headphones with a microphone included or external. I mentioned above that I love my AirPods. They are great for music and podcasts, but also conference calls. If you are like me and most people these days, you have a lot of calls now. People think calls are needed, though they are extremely wrong, they will continue. If we are going to be forced to be on them, the experience might as well be good. A good microphone will save you tons of time not repeating yourself. You can also do an external mic if you'd rather. If you do, get something that you can get close to your mouth for best results.

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Clothes that make you feel like working, but not like you are going to a wedding or funeral. Personally, I do not dress up for anything, so all my normal clothes fall into this category, but a lot of people still put on their penguin suit to go to their office. So getting something that makes you feel both productive but not stiff truly gets you in the right mindset. Key thing, when your workday ends and you start to relax, change into something different. You need to do a mental and physical shift to allow your mind to shut off.

Take care of your body and mind. If you intend to sit a lot, invest in a great chair. Something ergonomic and promotes good posture. Herman Miller does this best, but there are other great options out there. I have heard great things about the AUTONOMOUS MyoChair. Plan on standing a lot? Great! An anti fatigue mat helps, but also consider something that gets you moving a bit too, like a balance board. Fluid Stance makes great options! I am really considering picking up The Plane® Cloud. These will directly impact how you work and how awake and alert you feel.

Welcome to remote life. Seriously, make the best of this experience. There are terrible things going on out there. These things have triggered a shift that is intended to be temporary, but could be the norm for a lot more people. If you do this right, you'll never want to step foot in your office again.