The ability to work at home is one of the unique advantages of our era. The fact that so many of us can avoid the hassle and expense of commuting while also steering clear of soul-crushing cubicle farms means that we can work the way we choose. Sure, there’s pressure. But it’s of a different sort, since we don’t have that boss literally breathing down our necks.
One of the best parts of working from home is that you can set up your work environment in a way that suits your needs and personality. While you may be limited by space and budget, you still have a say in how things look and what type of equipment (aka toys) you have to work with. Try doing that with a traditional office job.
Still, there are some things that every home-based designer needs. Things that help to promote productivity, creativity and of course a little bit of fun. Whether you’re thinking of working from home or you are a seasoned veteran, here are the necessities of the gig:
A Private Space
Being at home means that you are an easy target for interruption – especially if there are others in the house. While they usually mean well, housemates can sometimes get in the way of work by talking (to you or someone else), watching TV, etc. Little ones are usually wanting to get Mom or Dad’s attention, regardless if you are working or not. And let’s not forget about the pets who love to bark (or meow) right in the middle of your conference call.
That’s why it’s important to have a workspace that lets you get away (or seal yourself off, at least) from everyone else in the home. It could be on a different level or just a room with a door. Design and development work requires some serious concentration, which you’re more likely to get when you’re by yourself.
The other part of the equation is that having a separate space dedicated to your job lets you “leave” work at the end of the day. Of course, it can be quite tempting to sneak in some extra hours while everyone else is asleep. But that’s still better than working in the living room, where you also spend your downtime. Any change of scenery you can create makes for a healthier work/life balance.
Sure, you can lock yourself in your home office all day. But there are also times when you may want to move around the house or (gasp) even go outside. Sometimes, you just need to get out of that chair and find inspiration elsewhere. It can be an easy and effective way to relieve the stress of staring at the same thing all day.
Fortunately (or not), many of us in the tech industry carry a smartphone at all times. But while that’s great for basic communication, you’re probably not going to do a lot of coding, writing or graphic design with one – no matter what the commercials say.
The best way to get things done outside of your little nook is to have a decent laptop and a Wi-Fi connection. If a laptop already is your primary system, then you’re all set! If not, keep in mind that you won’t have to completely bust your budget to acquire something that fits your needs.
When shopping, think about where you might use the system and what kinds of things you plan to do with it. The key is to try to find a balance between computing power and portability. You don’t want to lug a massive system around with you, but you do want something that is capable of running your favorite software efficiently.
Depending on where you live, you might consider some sort of mobile hotspot for reliable connectivity. Lastly, if you do buy yourself a laptop, install some backup and security software on it. Don’t risk your files to infection or a balky hard drive.
An Ergonomic Setup
This one, I cannot stress enough. If you’re going to sit there for hours upon hours typing, an ergonomic work setting is essential.
The effects of bad posture or constantly reaching too far for a mouse or keyboard can be quite serious. Over the years, I’ve suffered from both repetitive stress injury (RSI) in my wrists and a literal pain in the neck. These types of issues can make your work much more difficult and even cost you downtime if you require medical treatment.
To avoid issues, make it a point to invest in the following:
- An adjustable chair that is designed for long periods of sitting
- An ergonomic (curved) keyboard and mouse
- A desk with a keyboard tray or that is otherwise adjustable
- A monitor that is large enough to keep your eyes from straining and has an adjustable height
It’s also worth checking out some office accessories that help improve comfort. For example, I usually wear special gloves while typing (you know, for that Michael Jackson look – and to avoid wrist pain) and a wrist rest that takes the sting out of using a mouse.
Things to Keep You Sane
We work in what can often be a high-stress occupation. Dealing with code debugging, client demands, etc. can really take the fun away. That’s why it’s important to keep who and what you love around you as much as possible (yes, I’m the same guy who advised locking yourself away earlier).
But there’s a difference between healthy and unhealthy distractions. We know that there are times when we simply have to work without being bothered. But that doesn’t mean that we should shut out the entire world.
Working at home can, at times, be extremely lonely. If you love animals, a pet or two may provide great companionship. Caring for a pet can be very rewarding, even if it does require some responsibility. And they make downtime much more fun with a game of fetch or a ball of yarn. Even fish, who aren’t known for their game playing, can be quite calming to watch.
If you’re a fan of music, a decent speaker system or set of headphones can help keep you motivated throughout the day. Just be sure to have an easy way to turn down the volume for those times when a client unexpectedly calls. You don’t want to have to run across the room each time you need some quiet.
Lastly, decorate your space with reminders of what makes you happy. Family photos, sports memorabilia and fun gadgets can add some personality to your office.
All the Comforts of Home
Working from home isn’t all fun and games. It requires self-discipline and proper motivation to get things done. Part of what can get you there is setting up a work environment that is at least semi-private, comfortable and enjoyable. And, for those times when you really need to get away, a means for working elsewhere can also be very beneficial.
To be sure, being a home-based web designer isn’t for everyone. But for those of us who have been doing it for some time, it’s an experience we wouldn’t want to give up.