Staying comfortable in the office

One of the appealing aspects of working from home is that you’re free to configure your work environment however you want, especially if you have a dedicated office room in your house. Readers, what are some of your favorite strategies/configurations/products for staying happy and comfortable in your office? I recently gave my office a thorough cleaning and used the occasion to evaluate the ergonomics of my setup. Here are what I think of as some critical elements of feeling good and being productive at home:

  • Good light is absolutely essential. I love this about my office: my desk is centered between two north-facing windows and two west-facing windows, so I have lots of natural light without a lot of glare. I use an overhead light but I find that a desk lamp creates too much direct light for my taste.
  • I’m addicted to two large monitors. This used to require a second video card in your computer, but most late-model computers will now support two monitors without a lot of reconfiguring. With two 21-inch (or larger) monitors, you can have a pretty good view of four documents at once: for example I often translate with the French and English documents side-by-side on one monitor and an online dictionary and the project glossary side-by-side on the other. The only downside is that I’ve lost the ability to translate using only one monitor!
  • For your hands’ sake, invest in a keyboard that you really like. It seems like a small thing, but if your hands are going to be striking this thing 40 hours a week, you want the experience to be pleasant. I cannot speak highly enough of Unicomp keyboards; they are the descendant of the legendary IBM “buckling spring” keyboard which gives you a very audible “click” when you strike the keys. I have the SpaceSaver 104 model ($79) and I love it so much that I clean it with rubbing alcohol on Monday mornings to keep it grime-free (seriously; just don’t tell too many people!).
  • What you sit on has a lot to do with your in-office comfort too. I’m not a huge fan of the traditional office chair because  I often end up sitting sideways with my legs crossed which is obviously not great from the circulation or posture point of view. I’ve thought about trying a kneeling chair, but my favorite office chair is actually a $20 fitness ball that I’ve had for years. I like fitness balls because it’s physically impossible to sit on one with your legs crossed, and they encourage you to sit in a neutral (non-hunched) position.
  • I’m not a neat freak, but I do think that a relatively clutter-free office is key to productivity. I find that if there are piles of stuff around me, I think about cleaning them up rather than what I should be working on. I also like to keep some of my favorite family pictures and pictures of my favorite vacation places where I can see them from my desk.
  • Sound is a big contributor to workplace comfort as well. I listen to music only if I’m doing something totally mindless like entering receipts into my accounting program. Once in a while if I’m working very late at night, I’ll listed to disco music on my iPod just to stay awake. At the same time, I don’t like a totally quiet environment when I’m working during the day. I’ll admit this is a weird behavior, but my preferred sound environment is to leave the radio in the kitchen on NPR (news/talk radio) so that I can hear the sound of voices but I can’t make out what they’re saying. For some reason this is just enough background noise for me to focus and not enough noise that it’s distracting.

Any other tips for feeling good in the home office?

24 Responses to “Staying comfortable in the office”
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