Physical environment: Tools & Accessories, Comfort, Location, Routines, Attention span, Energy Levels
Social environment: Social Exchange, Video Meeting Rig, Handling Interferences
Body & Mood Ergonomics: Posture, Lighting, Supporting Gear, Look & Feel
Psychological environment: Designated Spaces, Recharging, Clothing
Work should be fun. I mean, honestly, work should be exciting. Ideally, work shouldn’t be just for a paycheck. We actually believe that at Athyna, and we’re not alone.
Being able to work from anywhere is a huge part of that. Remote workers around the world love working that way; it gives back control, and quite a lot of it actually.
The mindset for high-performing remote work is that you’re gonna be responsible for (a lot) more than you would with an office job. And because human willpower is limited, work can easily become stressful from all the things you have to control.
Walk-in workplaces come with a motivating work environment, and being at home used to mean taking a break. Working from home disrupts (to oblivion,) that former arrangement.
But we don’t have to miss out on the benefits of in-office work.
Without understanding how to make remote work work, we’ll be skimping on such a spectacular experience. We’d be losing out on the figurative work-life balance, social interaction, ergonomics and a motivational work environment.
But knowledge is power. Let’s get you powerful, shall we, matey?
The first step to a healthy and productive remote office is reconnaissance. I actually use that word regularly, mind you. But quite obviously, your current work setup (or empty space) is the first thing to examine. After reconnaissance, then we’ll make adjustments.
There are 4 aspects to consider, for a high-performance workstation:
To save you time and energy, I’ve answered these questions in depth.
In developing a high-performance workspace, you’ll need a structure that does the decision-making for you, freeing up your mind to work.
That will take some effort to achieve. Thanks to this blog, you have fewer decisions to make. And once you set your work structure up, it’s a walk in the park and a smile to the bank.
We’re here to work and work well. The structure you set up here will be the foundation for high-performing remote work — from virtually anywhere.
You can skip this section if you have some experience working remotely, but I recommend a quick skim just to be sure.
(My, oh my.) Let’s begin.
If I were to assume you know nothing, Jon Snow, I’d say that the first thing you need is a personal computer. But there are different types of computers to pick from, so you have to ask these questions:
What does my job need? What software will I be using? How portable do I want my workspace to be? What’s my budget?
There’s a lot you can do with a smartphone or tablet, but it has to be powerful enough to meet your needs.
There’s the desktop computer, which gives you high computing power at a lower cost. It’s also easily customizable and upgradeable.
Finally, there’s the laptop computer, which is designed to be a desktop that you can carry around.
They each have their strong suits and drawbacks. If you’re buying a desktop computer, chances are, you’re not planning to pack it up in a bin bag and head to another country.
If freedom to travel is part of your core objectives with remote work, a good choice would be a small to a medium-sized laptop, with 13–15 inches of display. Or an iPad Pro paired with the Mac Mini. Or an Android tablet, depending on your needs and tastes.
Your computer will be the brain of your operation, connecting to other pieces of tech to make up your high-quality remote office. Whichever you choose, spend enough on high-quality tools.
It was Abraham Lincoln (not me) who said, “If I only had an hour to chop down a tree, I would spend the first 45 minutes sharpening my axe.”.
As important as your computer is, you can’t work remotely without an internet connection. If your smartphone/tablet is your work computer, using a dedicated wifi router will put less load on your battery.
I recommend getting a portable router so you can work from anywhere.
If you live in a place with considerable power outages, the portable router is the best choice because it comes with a rechargeable battery. Just be sure not to leave it charging when it’s full so you won’t damage its battery.
You’ll also need a display monitor, a mouse and a keyboard.
Desktops are usually sold with them, and laptops are built with them. Smartphones and tablets have those features embedded in a single touchscreen, but I wouldn’t recommend using them for more than an hour or two.
I’ll tell you more about it in the Body & Mood Ergonomics section.
The number of monitors you need depends on how often you have to switch between software and how much you’d like to see at once.
You’ll need a work desk. For working. Nuff said.
You’ll (perhaps) want a chair, preferably one that swivels because it’s fun. But it’s not necessary to work sitting. You’ll just need a tall desk if you want a standing setup.
To pen your thoughts, you’ll need a notepad and — you guessed it — a pen! I’ve seen use cases of chalkboards, but I’m not about to sweep that up. A whiteboard with whiteboard markers (not permanent markers) for brainstorming is also useful.
A webcam is essential for video meetings if you have those (and you should). Most laptops come with one, and mine makes me look hideous.
You’ll need to set up an audio system too. Both audio and video systems are essential parts of your meeting rig.
You can use the in-built audio setup on your computer, or get a dedicated microphone and a pair of headphones/speakers. That depends on where you’ll be working.
Some speakers & headphones come with an in-built mic for the best of both worlds, so get your Hannah Montana on.
A desk clock is an optional addition to your office. Not exactly essential for a portable workspace, but a good tool to have. It will help keep an eye on your work hours, especially if you can set check-in and check out alarms for work.
A wall calendar is useful for visually-oriented people. I think digital is more effective for collaborations and portability, but a physical one helps some people with individual tasks.
If you can, go for an ethernet internet connection. It’s faster.
If you have limited USB ports on your computer, you can opt for purchasing Bluetooth accessories, or a USB hub. With a Mac, you’ll likely need a USB adapter to connect your gadgets and gizmos.
A surge protector is necessary if you get regular power surges where you are, or for when you travel. It keeps your precious electronics from getting damaged.
Keep your stuff in the cloud, so you can really work from anywhere and on any device. A VPN is also a good idea to protect your data from being stolen on public networks. I don’t use one though, I’m a cowboy.
Universal power adapters are the greatest creation of this century — since the idea didn’t occur to people in previous centuries. For God’s sake, we have 15 different types of plugs and sockets! If you travel or buy electronics online, you should get a universal adapter.
Finally, without a power outlet, remote work is finished. Or it’s only a matter of time. Get your cables, chargers and wires in order, organised.
A power bank is critical if you’re gonna be on the go. You can get solar-powered laptop chargers and power banks or just stick to the conventional ones.
You deserve a comfortable office. Let me rephrase. Spend $$ to make $$$. Well, that applies to your main workstation. Since you’ll be spending a good number of hours working, it only makes sense to make sure you’re comfortable.
Whether you take work around with you often or work mainly from home, be on the lookout for these things:
There’s more in the Body & Mood Ergonomics section. For comfort, just keep it simple.
Who said there’s only one workspace for you?
Oh please. You can work from…
Home: In a single or shared office. Work from home when you need a consistent environment you can control. You can share with a friend or a partner who also works remotely.
Coffee Shops (post-COVID): When you enjoy the occasional distraction of people’s soft voices. A coffee shop is a good place to get away from home when you want to be around other humans without necessarily socialising.
Remember to be polite and pay for stuff. Here’s a guide to remote work in a coffee shop.
Libraries (post-COVID): Literally no distractions. Find the perfect spot and just go crazy. Remember to take your accessory bag with all the cables and chargers, and to keep ergonomics in mind. We’ll discuss ergonomics in the next section.
Coworking Spaces (post-COVID): When you want to get away from home, but need a motivating space for work + work facilities, try a co-working hub. You should never forget your headphones though. These places can get a little too motivating if you know what I mean.
A Work Pod (Stationary or Mobile): If that sounds like your thing, more and more of these are becoming available. Maybe soon, we’ll be able to float them to outer space.
The Back of A Van/RV: You can rig up vans like these for work. You still get to “drive” to work if you love to commute. Super spy stuff.
Check out this list of other places for remote work post-COVID.
Without a routine, working/relaxing unbridled is what you’ll probably do. Neither of them has ever been a stellar idea. There’s no part of you that is unlimited, so you need to find and maintain a balance of stress and relaxation.
As you might know, not all stress is harmful. We need some amount of stress or discomfort to be able to grow and enjoy life. Similarly, your routine should be challenging enough to keep you on your toes, but still standing.
It should also incorporate breaks, de-stressing periods, free time and allowance for personal care that you should make serious efforts not to skip. As far as I’m concerned, I’m as busy working hard as I am resting and taking care of myself.
Remote workers need boundaries to protect our time and prevent distractions of different kinds.
You need to be firm with and kind to yourself and everyone else. Unlike company office work, leaving the building is up to you. The single act of getting up to go home helps switch your mind off from work — easily recreated for remote work through a daily/weekly routine.
Having a routine helps you get enough done, building the habit of hitting small goals that build up every day. We’re always building habits — whether we’re slacking off or achieving our goals. Each decision we make leads us closer to one and further from another.
No one will see you bingeing on YouTube or your favourite anime all day. But you’ll get used to slacking off, and that’s unfair to your teammates counting on you to do your part.
You’ll need to prepare beforehand, a schedule that you can trust to help you achieve your personal and work goals.
It should be generous and effective, flexible but tight. It should focus on building habits from a day to a week, to a month and a year. That way, you can follow it “blindly”.
Here’s what I mean.
Some things should be fixed, like a wake-up time, meal times, or meetings. Some other things can be flexible, like what time of the day you work. Here’s an example:
Wake up by 6:30. Make the bed. Go for a run with the dog. Enjoy a smoothie on the terrace. Listen to podcasts. Work for 4 hours, with 15-minute breaks. Fixed break time by 12:30, non-negotiable. Cook lunch. Paint for 2 hours. Have a cold shower. From 3:45, work for 4 hours, with 15-minute breaks. Destress with meditative yoga for 30 minutes. Check social media for 1 hour. Put down the phone by 10:00 & prepare for bed. Sleep for 8 hours.
How you want it is up to you. You might benefit from having a fixed time for some things more than others, it’s important to keep editing till you’re satisfied.
Work hard to achieve the most important things every day; balancing stress and relaxation, always.
It’s public knowledge that our attention spans are shortening, thanks to the user experience of technology. I think it’s a case of the butterfly effect — it has ultimately caused technology experience designers to design for an even shorter attention span. Enough philosophy.
Since our attention spans are shortening, we’ve got to do something about it. It’s so easy to get lost scrolling the infinite feed of social media. Emails can even take up to 2 hours to deal with. Netflix & YouTube show us no mercy with their delicious content — but, like every good thing, we have to know when to stop.
Instead of letting your phone’s notifications tell you what to do with your time, turn Do Not Disturb on while you work. If you need more help than that, browser extensions like Just Focus will help you keep yourself accountable. Do what you’ve gotta do.
It’s also good to go after work in short bursts if your attention span can’t take the ferociousness of Cal Newport’s Deep Work just yet. You still have to get your job done, don’t you?
Like everything on this blog piece, it’s important to first pay attention to your current attention span. I believe you can increase it, but that’s a story for another day.
Just make sure to be proactive in preventing distractions from being around your work zone, rather than trying to resist them. That’s why it’s important to completely separate your workstation from your PlayStation, hehe.
If 70% of people admit to getting distracted at work on Powtoon’s blog, the odds aren’t exactly in your favour. Distractions can also come from people around you, so set time boundaries with your family & friends. Time is expensive.
Wear headphones at home or at the coffee shop. Even if there’s no music playing, headphones show most people that you’re not available for conversation.
There’s no proof that humans can execute more than 1 task efficiently. Do not multitask, my dear. In fact, there is proof of catastrophic failure from the attempt to multitask.
What your brain does is try to shuffle between two tasks at once, as quickly as possible. The result of that? An increased error rate of 50%, thank you very much, and 100% more time required to complete your tasks. Until we can create an auxiliary human brain, let’s focus on one task per time.
Finally, because your attention span doesn’t last forever, taking breaks are a great idea to recharge. Yoga, meditation, art — anything that takes your mind to an alternate state of rest will help you create and maintain a pure, focused work environment.
There are other psychological enhancements, but we’ll get there in a jiffy.
There’s a popular definition of energy where I’m from. We say, “energy is the ability to do work”, and it’s pretty accurate. But it doesn’t grow on trees. (It does, but you get my point)
Tony Schwartz said so (well I paraphrased a bit). He’s the founder of The Energy Project, a business that energises employees for life and work. In his TEDx talk, he explains how energies for work are different.
The world as we know it runs on energy. We refuel cars and replace batteries, but don’t pay much attention to ourselves.
According to Schwartz, human energy is physical (from food; the ability to move), emotional (from internal or external states; the ability to enjoy), mental (from interesting stuff; the ability to focus), and spiritual (from a purpose; the ability to desire).
All of these work in tandem to enable us to do work. As a remote worker, you can take care of your energy by:
Getting regular exercise: I know, I know, you’ve heard it before. Your body and brain will thank you for obliging this time. Your emotional state gets elevated, and your blood circulates better, et cetera, et cetera. That means your body stays healthy and provides you with more energy per day.
Getting through 2.5 hours of (WHO-recommended) moderate to vigorous physical activity every week will change your life. You’ll also become more disciplined as a person. Start gently, build up the pace. Start at home, or at a gym (when it’s safe). You can do it, baby.
Eating healthy for a change: Feasting on nuts and seeds (instead of crusts and “cheese”) provides your body with a slow-releasing energy supply. That means you won’t get tired or sleepy at noon.
But you’ll need to cut down on the high carbs. They supply more energy than your body needs, and at a super-fast rate. And so your body decides to store the excess energy in your belly and waistline. Fruits and granola, on the other hand, have nothing but love for you.
Eat nutritious food, I beseech thee. There’s no reason not to. Drink lots of water to hydrate your brain, and less alcohol or coffee when you have to work. There’s an energy crash that comes with each sip. Sip not, my liege.
Sleeping up to 8 hours a day: Unfortunately, we’re not solar powered. Please guard your bedtime with your life. Some good advice is to mute & drop all electronics an hour before bedtime and not look at them till the next day.
Take naps too. Look, even Google lets their employees take naps at work. We need to be able to do healthy things to help us work better. 2 hours or less, usually does the trick.
Take work breaks to replenish your attention span, as we discussed here.
Move outside for your calls, go for a walk, eat out, anything.
As one of the biggest problems with remote work, communication, collaboration, loneliness and distractions from other living creatures will affect your productivity.
That depends on the work; some types of work require less communication (writing, designing and coding) than others (decision making, onboarding, brainstorming). That’s why the world is really considering the hybrid workweek (3 days at home, 2 days at the office).
Really understanding the amount of social exchange your job needs will help you prepare for maximum output. You’ll need to answer questions like:
How often do I have to take calls? Where’s the place with the least noise and traffic here? How do I keep in touch with my team? How do I stay on the same page with everyone at work?
These questions are important; the social environment suffers the most for remote jobs.
Because of how our brains work, we need more than just words to communicate. Things like tone, facial expression, gestures and emotional state are not easy to read from a Slack message.
The solution is to overcommunicate, often. That means using emojis, sending voice notes, hosting audio and video calls, and asking lots of questions to clarify things.
Being empathetic helps to prevent miscommunication, so it’s important to be as explicit as possible. That sounds like work, doesn’t it?
Thanks to technology and software, it doesn’t have to be. For example, Loom is a great piece of software that helps you prerecord and share things like demonstrations and reports that need screen sharing. Onboarding videos too.
It saves you the time and extra effort required to actively overcommunicate.
Be sure to keep an eye on your social capital (in this sense, your ability to socialise), Zoom fatigue is real. Check out this blog for more helpful software for remote work.
You’ll need a dedicated rig for video meetings. Pick a spot with good lighting, a strong internet signal, an audiovisual setup (the thing with a webcam, a microphone and headphones/speakers) and some water.
This way, you’ll provide an exquisite call experience for the people that get to see your lovely face. Most setups are located in the same place as the workstation, and that’s fine if you don’t take a lot of calls in a week. 1–3 per week is cool, but if you take calls every day, please use a separate location. It’ll help your brain switch between communicating and focusing to get work done.
If you're scaling your company, you might need to hire a virtual assistant. Or to build a remote team. That's a lot of video interviews (that we can handle for you at Athyna, by the way). A video meeting rig will help you spend less energy in video communications, and it's not a huge investment.
Watch out for background noise, interference (no preposterous pant-pulling pranks, please), fluctuating internet and the state of the visible background in your meeting rig. Major video calling software comes with the ability to blur or alter your background if it can’t be helped. Or use a curtain.
Also, communicate with family (if you WFH) to respect your meetings. Fixing a special family time after work or during breaks helps to keep everyone feeling great. You can use an “On Air” sign like in radio stations to let your people know you’re unavailable. Or an LED bulb with different colours for work and break times.
Software like Krisp help with noise cancelling. (If you haven’t checked the software blog, you should. It’s huge.) Change your damn — 🧡 internet plan if the one you have is the bare minimum quality. Good internet is good work. :)
If you’re a nomad, the internet quality should be a big concern before you travel. Make it as important as the bathroom.
In summary, preparing your social environment for work means
A healthy social environment means more focus, better communication, stronger teamwork, higher output quality, happier lives and healthier relationships. It means less stress, lower chances of falling sick, and reduced feelings of loneliness.
Since you’re the one picking out your office equipment, your health is in your hands. And in your pocket, haha.
You don’t have to sit to work. In fact, there’s a tonne of research that shows that sitting isn’t very healthy and that standing can help productivity. But we both know that standing all day is crazy. You shouldn’t stand throughout work or sit either.
If you’re going with the chair, get one that supports your natural body posture.
They’re called ergonomic chairs (if you didn’t already know). Here’s a guide to picking a good one for your home office. They help to relieve the pressure of sitting that accumulates on your back. But you still have to stand up and move a little every hour.
You’ll also need a desk to work on (duh?). I know I said it before, but I mean a special kind of desk. The one that’s just the right height. It’s super important for your health. It should complement your body’s height, and your chair too.
People who like to work both standing and seated opt for the adjustable desk. But they don’t have those at the average coffee shop.
So if you’re taking work with you, here’s how you can adapt:
Sit in your chair with your feet flat and firmly on the floor. Then keep your elbows and knees at right angles, adjusting the seat & armrests. Observe any tension in your body. Use pillows or cushions to provide support for your back.
If your feet aren’t touching the floor, put some paper reams underneath. If the table is too high, opt for an additional keyboard & mouse and a pull-out drawer.
Keep your monitor at arm’s length. Elevate it to eye level, or very close to it. If you use a laptop, get a laptop stand or some more boxes and reams. If you use a tablet or a phone, don’t look down on it, literally. When you spend hours looking down, you create tension in your neck.
Check out this video for more tips and a bonus; posture exercises.
According to Autonomous, lighting has a tremendous impact on productivity, workplace well-being, and preventing Computer Vision Syndrome (blurred vision, dry eyes, and headaches).
Lighting is strong enough to improve your mood, productivity, and error rate. Poor lighting can cause eye fatigue, reduced focus, colour selection errors, and headaches.
Here’s a video from this Cornell professor if you don’t believe me:
Because our brains use the temperature and colour of light to decide our physical states, you’ll need a new perspective on lighting.
According to studies, you’re gonna need 300–500 lux of light in your workspace. A lot of that should leverage on natural lighting, so you can get better sleep. Take care of the positioning, the bulb lumen, the brightness, the softness, and the temperature of the light. The easiest way is with adjustable LED lights.
Still, as much as possible, try to face a window to let all that sunlight in.
If you work at night, set your devices to night mode and dark mode, to reduce the strain on your eyes. It also prevents your eyes from sending the wrong message on whether it’s day or night to your brain.
Backlit keyboards help you see your keyboards clearly if, unlike me, you haven’t memorised the position of the keys on the keyboard, hehe.
Let less light enter your eyes at night. Haven’t you seen the sky at night when the stars are out? I’m sure it wasn’t blinding.
Finally, make sure the contrast between the lights and your screens is moderate. Light tends to reflect from our screens, so arrange your lights to provide multiple, controllable sources of this life energy — but not in front of your screen.
Here’s this guide with more tips to improve your lighting situation.
I found this interesting hypothesis on Work Design’s blog, called biophilia. It shows that there’s a natural human attraction to other living things and nature, and connecting with them improves the quality of our lives.
More than two handfuls of surveys prove that natural daylight is the most important part of workspace design. And just having plants around your workspace reduces your stress by 30–60%, and increases your productivity.
When space is limited, consider building a plant wall (above). Watering your plants could become part of your morning routine to get you in the mindstate for work.
Because plants need sunlight, it’ll motivate you to let more light in. Sitting close to a window will give you the eye breaks you need from time to time.
To really lift the mood of your workspace and get you pumped for performance as often as possible, you should include reflections of yourself and your tastes in your workspace.
Hang pictures, motivational quotes and art that make your workspace feel personal. You could even get a mural done if you own the walls. Work should be enjoyed, or it’s gonna be a struggle.
Make your space feel welcome and comfortable — but remember to keep it as organised and clutter-free as possible.
You know how great it feels to work with motivating music in the background. No? You should definitely try it. Create a work playlist if you like, or use someone else’s. The internet is full of them.
I prefer music on speakers because of ear fatigue, and it feels like my brain has more space to bounce around my workspace with ideas. But that’s a luxury for when you’re alone.
Also, when I want background noise, I use Noisli. It works for browsers and smartphones. It used to be free, but now you’ve gotta pay some $ if you want more than 90 minutes of background noise per day.
But I bet there are channels on YouTube with free background noise. The scientists say white noise and ambient noise helps focus, so you could just do a quick search.
I also listen to podcasts while I work. Not for the content (distraction), but for the voice and audio quality. You could try it if you like, with the volume turned low.
Now for an exciting experiment, use scented candles and oils to make your workspace feel more comfortable and zen. Since our memories are strongly linked to our sense of smell, we can create good work habits around unique fragrances. Namaste. (No, you stay.)
The state of your mind is directly linked to the state of your life, and work.
The single act of designated space for work has a tremendous psychological effect on your long-term performance. This is super important; one of the biggest issues with remote work is being able to get into rest or recreation mode.
I know, not everyone has the physical space or extra room for it. But even if it means separating your office from other parts of your life with a curtain and wallpaper, you’re better off.
Changing locations allows you to simulate the same mindstate switch that happens in a conventional office. It affects our attitude and helps us get a break when we need one.
Work hard, play hard. When you take breaks from work, having a special area or corner for de-stressing and meditation feels like fast, wireless charging.
It’s always a good idea to find a space to calm down for a bit. Meditate, breathe and relax in that space. I use the Meditation Studio app to, well, meditate. I don’t do yoga, but I use my recharging space to work out. You could also use your space for recreation and for hobbies.
So, if you’re thinking of building a treehouse or an outhouse, or you’re fine with a couch, beanbag chair or hammock and/or yoga mat at a corner — now’s a good time to mark some territory.
If you include stuff that helps you get more creative, it’s a more useful space. Stuff like figurines, prototypes, colours, plasticine/playdough, action figures — anything that gets your juices flowing.
Your brain and mind will reward you for it. Your abilities need to be rejuvenated from time to time to keep being creative.
The theory of enclothed cognition says that the clothes we wear affect our behaviour; attention, confidence and abstract thinking.
It depends on the symbolic meanings of the clothes in our culture. What you can benefit from that is, if you wear pyjamas, you’re likely going to be less productive.
On the other hand, if you dress up a bit (just a smidge) like you’re going to work, you’ll get more work done. Findings of another research on formal clothing showed how important it is to recreate the office environment as much as possible.
What it does is to get your mind in work mode, and get you out of bed too. That way, you do more work in less time from home, with better levels of focus.
You made it till the end! I hope it was useful for improving your remote work experience! All of that research improved mine.
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