3 Questions to Ask Yourself About Your WFH Workspace (If You Plan on Working From Home Forever)

published Jun 1, 2021
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Credit: Lauren Kolyn

The future of work in a vaccinated world is fast approaching: some offices are re-opening, while others have announced their plans to implement hybrid work models as states relax COVID restrictions. Meanwhile, some employees have chosen to follow their desires and either continue to work remotely at their current job, or pursue a new, permanently remote role. It’s a tension that feels palpable: A new study from the Best Practice Institute found that over 83 percent of CEOs surveyed want employees to return in person, but “only 10 percent of respondents want to go back to a fully in-office culture.”

Some newly-remote workers have settled into a routine, while others are still trying to find their footing, even if they prefer telecommuting. Because just like office culture isn’t for everyone, finding the right formula for an at-home work setup can make or break someone’s experience.

“From a mental health perspective, some workers have really struggled, finding a lack of psychological separation between work and home to be detrimental, struggling to implement a productive routine and being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of elements to manage,” Lee Chambers, an environmental psychologist and wellbeing consultant at Essentialise Workplace Wellbeing, told Apartment Therapy. “For others, it has been a beneficial period, allowing them to work around the life they desire, fewer physical distractions, plan their days and take ownership and autonomy over their workday and workspace.” 

Adjusting to working from home isn’t always easy, especially if your home is filled with other obligations and potential disruptions, and finding what works for you does take time. If you’re hoping to continue working remotely moving forward, here are three tips from experts on how you can improve your at-home work/life balance. 

Are you putting yourself first?

Sure, working from home can be convenient, but the lack of a daily commute virtually eliminated a much-needed boundary between work and home life, causing the two to blend together and contributing to high rates of burnout

“I think there’s a danger for some — and I think I fit into this category — where working from home means that I have, by choice, more hours and more time to spend on projects I’m working on and things I’m doing, so it’s increased my availability,” Caitlin Collins, an organizational psychologist and talent development consultant at Betterworks, told Apartment Therapy. “I think it’s important to consider, regardless of how you’re responding, or how you’re feeling, putting yourself first.”

Working from home can often mean fewer breaks — because, yes, those walks to and from the office, as well as going out to or picking up lunch, often helped break up the work day and give people necessary time to reset. Maybe that lack of in-office structure makes it more difficult to check in with yourself and your needs throughout the workday. To combat that, Collins advises carving out time in your day to take breaks, like going out for a walk or meditating. “Whatever works, whatever helps to really decompress your brain to relax,” she said. If you’re stuck in meetings or calls all day, try taking a call on a walk or sitting outside — even the change of scenery from your office setup or living room can help recharge your brain.

Are you being strategic about your setup?

Have you found yourself getting tired throughout the workday or getting distracted by your longing pet, your child’s remote schooling, or even a dirty kitchen sink? If so, your work-from-home set-up may be due for a tune-up. 

Your work environment can have a significant impact on your levels of productivity and general happiness, no matter where you work — but that can go double for people working from home. Chambers recommends setting up your workspace near a window that gets plenty of light throughout the day. ”Natural light is beneficial as long as it doesn’t cause screen glare,” he notes.

Often, people forget how much sounds contribute to our environment, too. Do you miss working in a café or crave some other kind of noise throughout the workday? Consider incorporating soundscapes or music in your space. “Try to find what acoustically works for you; maybe it’s silence or ambient music,” Chambers said. 

If you’re struggling to focus throughout the workday because there’s too much noise, whether that’s from roommates or significant others, there are also ways to drown that out. Poppy Duffree, a professional organizer and the owner of Organised Interiors, encourages workers to set boundaries with the people they live with. “You could ask not to be disturbed between certain hours when you are most productive or ask to be sent a text if someone wants to ask you a non-urgent question instead of just interrupting you,” she suggests.  

It may also be helpful  to establish physical boundaries if you work in an open space. Chambers recommends partitioning your workspace from the rest of your home if you can, especially if you’re prone to stop what you’re doing and tend to a chore that can wait until later. Partaking in a non-work-related task can serve as a great way to take a break during your workday, but if you find yourself falling behind on work assignments as a result, it might help to set up a barrier or turn your desk to face a wall away from the rest of your home.  

How often do you declutter your workspace?

Working in person meant you could leave your mess, your pile of papers, and even your work computer at the office. Working from home eliminates that luxury, meaning you might feel a greater need to keep your workspace organized — and if you’re relying on a personal computer to serve as your digital workspace, organization can help you set boundaries between work and personal time. 

“I’ve had a few clients who, after we finished organizing their home workspace, wanted to work on digital organization,” Duffree told Apartment Therapy. “This has become a more frequent request as we are now spending so much time in our digital environments that clutter… disorganization on our laptops causes as much of a problem psychologically as it does our home environment.” Whenever you have the time, go through old files that are no longer needed, and focus on organizing your desktop into designated folders. 

The most important tip Duffree shared was ensuring your desk is clear at the end of the day. Walking past your desk after-hours and seeing a pile of unfinished work will only remind you of your to-do list, which will trickle down into how you spend and enjoy your time in the off-hours. Make sure to close or minimize all of your work-related tabs, too, especially if your personal computer doubles as a work computer. As a result, you can enter your workspace the next day with fresh eyes and a fresh start.