Remote work used to be a privilege reserved for certain roles within certain industries, but nowadays, it’s becoming much more common: About 50% of the U.S. population works from home at least part of the time.
While various factors contribute to this trend, such as digitalization and rising real estate costs, many employers favor remote work because of the increased efficiency that it makes possible. In a survey conducted by ConnectSolutions, 30% of participants reported that they accomplish more in less time when telecommuting, and 24% reported that they accomplish more in the same amount of time.
Whether you own your own business or are employed by a company that favors remote work, telecommuting increases efficiency by eliminating distractions such as spur-of-the-moment meetings, water cooler chat, and noisy coworkers. As is apparent in its name, telecommuting also does away with commuting, so time spent sitting in traffic and finding parking can be put toward actual work.
However, for all of its potential to increase efficiency, working from home also presents unique challenges. I have worked from home full time for almost three years and have found that taking advantage of that potential requires meeting the challenges with an intentionally designed home office.
Although working from home eliminates certain distractions, it also opens the door to new ones. These can come in the form of chores that need done, pets, kids home on their days off from school and temptations to do nonwork-related things. Oftentimes, remote workers feel less pressure to keep a tidy work area at home, and this lack of organization can be a distraction as well.
The home environment itself can be a challenge if it’s not suitable for working. Whereas office buildings are generally designed to enhance productivity, such as with adequate lighting and space, your home probably wasn’t. If your home office area is relegated to a crowded nook or dark basement, your productivity may suffer.
Finally, if your employer isn’t providing high-quality resources, your efficiency could be hampered by slow equipment or unsuitable furniture.
The first and most crucial element of an efficient home office is having a designated work area. Pro tip- if you have kids, make sure it has a door! When your office is part of a larger area in your home, such as the living room or kitchen, your likelihood of becoming distracted is high.
If you don’t have an entire room to dedicate to work, try creating visual boundaries between your work area and living area with bookshelves, partitions, and the like. The fewer nonwork-related things in your line of sight, the less likely you are to get distracted.
Choose an area for your home office that is exposed to natural light. Placing your desk in front of a window will both give you a nice view and increase your productivity. Here is the view from my office that helps in the long calls.
Studies have revealed the many health benefits of exposure to natural light. For example, the blue light present in natural light contributes to pupil constriction, increasing the visual acuity of your eyes. In other words, natural light boosts your reading ability and productivity.
Natural light also prompts endocrine system responses that are necessary to manage your immune system, mood, and sleep. Getting enough exposure to natural light could improve your mental clarity and vision and reduce headaches and migraines.
If your home office doesn't have access to natural lighting, your next best option is to replace your current light bulbs with full-spectrum light bulbs. While not a substitute for natural light, full-spectrum lights feature the same balanced temperature, and so provide you with some of the same benefits. The crisp white light that they give off is perfect for activities that require visual acuity, such as reading.
The internet is supposed to speed up your work — not slow it down. If you’re working with a poor internet connection, your efficiency is likely suffering.
The clock doesn’t stop when you’re waiting for pages to load, files to transfer, and attachments to download. In fact, a 2013 study found that workers waste about a week waiting on slow computers every year.
In addition to slowing you down, poor connections take your attention away from your work and increase your likelihood of becoming distracted by other things. Slow internet can also be incredibly frustrating — it’s actually the leading cause of employee frustration in Australia — and that irritation doesn’t lend itself to strong work performance.
Instead of settling for slow internet, review your different internet service provider options and decide which is best for your home office.
You’ll need a network router if you or your family use more than one laptop or computer in your home. Your choice of router becomes even more important if family members will be using devices such as cellphones, tablets, or smart TVs while you’re working from your home office.
To ensure that your network router can meet your Wi-Fi connectivity needs, you’ll have to consider the types of devices you’ll be using as well as the size of the area that requires coverage. While you will want to choose a router that optimizes your efficiency, you may not need the highest performance possible and should only pay for the features that you need.
If you already have a router but the signal isn’t strong enough in your home office, look into a wireless range extender. It will pick up the weak signal, boost it, and retransmit it. Otherwise, you have many quality routers to choose from. Just remember that you don’t need to go all out to optimize your network and stay efficient.
You’ll have to choose a desk that fits into your home office space and, naturally, you’ll want to keep it clear and organized to stay efficient. But to really boost efficiency, a standing desk is the way to go. I have a coworker that walks on a trend mill while on calls- she covers many miles a day!
If you don’t want a trend mill, standing desks have long been promoted as a healthy alternative to sitting all day, but relief from a sedentary lifestyle isn’t the only benefit they offer. A 2018 study out of the University of Leicester revealed that 43% of participants who started using standing desks rather than sitting saw improved performance after a year, and 52% felt more engaged with their work.
A study led by the School of Public Health at the Texas A&M Health Science Center revealed equally encouraging results: 46% of call center employees were more productive when using standing desks.
These spikes in productivity are probably due to the fact that standing triggers your blood to circulate, sending more nutrients and oxygen to your brain, and promotes neurogenesis (the formation of new brain cells). Standing has also been shown to increase focus, with 71% of employees reporting enhanced mental focus after reducing daily sitting time by just one hour.
When it comes time to choose a standing desk, your options range from the more basic (and less expensive) to the more complex (and costly). This option is highly portable and includes built-in fans to cool off your computer, whereas this option works with multiple monitors. Both are adjustable, so you can alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day.
The importance of maintaining a tidy workspace is greater than you might imagine. When OfficeMax surveyed 1,000 adults, it found that:
A cluttered workspace can also cause you stress — whether or not you recognize it. Because of clutter, you may be feeling overwhelmed without even knowing why. Pro tip- I find that cleaning my desk every night as I turn off my computer keeps it clean.
The conclusion: To think clearly, stay motivated, and be productive and efficient, you have to get rid of the clutter. Luckily, this can be as easy as removing unnecessary papers and items and setting up an effective organization system.
When you remove the papers and random objects from your desk, don’t just banish them to another corner of your office — organize them so that you can easily find them when you need them.
The type of organization system you choose should depend on your space and the materials that you have to organize. For many home offices, a file cabinet lined with hanging folders will do. Again, ensure that you place your documents in these folders in a logical way, labeling everything clearly and consistently.
You will also likely need storage for all of your office supplies, such as writing utensils, sticky notes, business cards, and so on. A simple storage cart should suffice, allowing you to tuck everything away until you need it.
Document scanners allow you to go paperless, which can improve your home office efficiency in multiple ways: by eliminating the distracting clutter of papers, by allowing you to organize documents digitally, and by speeding up workflows.
We’ve already established that a messy workspace can lead to decreased productivity and motivation and increased stress. Since they digitalize the papers that inevitably end up littering your desk, document scanners reduce the possibility of clutter. And once out of site, those papers no longer have the power to distract you.
While you will need to maintain a physical organization system for important original documents, digitizing other documents both decreases the number of file cabinets you’ll need and reduces the amount of time you’ll spend searching for documents. It also minimizes the risk of data loss, since you won’t have to worry about misplacing key paperwork. On average, people spend a week searching for lost papers and other items every year, and that time eats into productivity.
Document scanners can speed up certain workflows, such as forms processing. Whereas manually entering data is time-consuming, and mailing documents halts the workflow altogether, scanning and emailing documents take just minutes.
When it comes to choosing document scanners for home offices, your options are nearly endless; but if you’re looking for a scanner that will improve your home office efficiency and is efficient itself, both the Alaris E1025 Scanner and the Alaris S2040 Scanner are great choices.
Both options feature a simplified setup that lets you power on and begin scanning in less than 10 seconds. You can also configure one-touch scanning for multiple different jobs — no more confusing multistep scanning processes. And if you need wireless, the S2060w has all the same features plus you can place it where ever you need it!
These scanners have many of the same features, such as Perfect Page technology, optical character recognition, and the ability to safely scan passports and other small, fragile documents. However, the S2040 and S2060w have higher daily scanning capacity, embedded image processing and active feed technology for reliable feeding.