Is working from home your new reality? Here's how to optimize your productivity

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Working from home takes some getting used to. Optimizing your space can help. (Photo: Getty)

Working from home is quickly becoming an extended reality for millions of Americans: Facebook, Google, Microsoft and other tech brands recently announced they would allow employees to work from home through the end of 2020.

Between 25 and 43 percent of Americans worked remotely on their laptops before the pandemic, according to recent numbers from Gallup and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But just because everyone’s doing it doesn’t mean everyone’s doing it right.

We all want a comfortable work space, but your household might not be remote-ready just yet. Maybe you’re crouched over the kitchen counter. You could be pecking away from the couch in a bustling family room. After week three (or day three), you might even be tempted to work from bed. 

Not only do these scenarios hurt productivity, they can also wreak havoc on your posture, crunching you into unnatural positions and causing everything from neck strain to back pain. Your at-home work station deserves thoughtful consideration. “My number one recommendation is to have a dedicated area you work from. Keep it separate from your relaxation area,” says Andreas Klinger, Head of Remote for AngelList, to Yahoo Lifestyle.

“Everyone’s set-up is going to be unique to their work style, their role, and their space,” adds Meaghan Williams, Remote Work and Inclusion Program Manager for Hubspot. We’ve created a cheat sheet to help set you up for work-from-home success—feel free to customize to your heart’s content.

Get a seat that offers stability

BestOffice Ergonomic Desk ChairVivora Luno Sitting Ball ChairComfiLife Premium Comfort Seat Cushion. (Photo: Amazon)

“I find the chair you sit in is more important than the desk,” says Heather Doshay, remote work expert and VP People at Webflow. “It's nice to have a chair that swivels so it's easy to get up more frequently to stretch and move around.”

An ergonomic seat like Amazon’s best-selling BestOffice Ergonomic Desk Chair, $65, offers all-important lumbar support and helps you sit up straight. Another, more wallet-friendly option is the immensely popular Vivora Luno Sitting Ball Chair, $60, which engages the core, promotes proper posture, and helps relieve aches. If you already have a chair you love but want extra support, indulge in the ComfiLife Premium Comfort Seat Cushion, $30, made of 100 percent memory foam to ease back pain.

Yahoo! Plus Tech

Get it covered for just $15 per month. (Photo: Yahoo Tech Plus)

One of the toughest things about working from home as opposed to in an office is the lack of tech support. If something goes wrong in the office you call IT. If something goes wrong at home? You’re on your own. Well, not anymore.

Yahoo Plus Tech (a new service created by Yahoo Life’s parent company, Verizon Media) provides extended warranty protection for eligible home tech, premium tech support, and, for certain portable devices, coverage for accidental damage from handling — all for $15 a month (plus tax). And premium tech support takes care of your tech questions and struggles, with 24/7 IT service —if you’re having a problem with an eligible laptop, TV, printer, even headphones, just call for help.

Yahoo Plus Tech is perfect for anyone who struggles with evolving technology—your grandparents, your dad, you—since there’s always someone on the other end of the line to help you fix the problem, find those photos, access that software, update that operating system, and so on. Learn more, and sign up here.

Supplement your laptop with accessories like a mouse, keyboard, and monitor

(Left to right) Sceptre E248W-19203R 24" Ultra Thin 75Hz 1080p LED Monitor, Logitech MK550 Wireless Wave Keyboard, Victure 1080P Webcam. (Photo: Amazon)

“When you’re working remotely, your laptop becomes your office, and so it’s essential to make sure that your set-up can support you in doing your best work,” says Williams, “whether that’s keyboards, monitors, etc.” 

“It really depends on how you prefer to work within an office,” adds Doshay. “Some [people] prefer a mouse, others don't.”

If a mouse and separate keyboard are just more ergonomically suited to your tastes, pick up the top-rated Logitech MK550 Wireless Wave Keyboard and Mouse Combo, $52.

“I personally am a big fan of having a second monitor next to your laptop as it gives you a lot more visual space to work with,” says Klinger. For just $105 more, the five-star-rated gm offers a dual-screen experience in case you’re, say, fielding a lot of emails or working with graphics.

“Depending on your monitor set-up, a webcam may be a better option than a laptop camera,” adds Williams. So if you do go the dual-monitor route and plan to conduct a lot of meetings on video platforms like Zoom and Skype, consider bundling it with a webcam. The Victure 1080P Webcam with dual microphones is $60.

Soundproof yourself

(Left to right) Bose QuietComfort 35 II Wireless Bluetooth Headphones, Cowin E7 Active Noise Cancelling Headphones Bluetooth Headphones. (Photo: Amazon)

Whether it’s dogs, kids, street noise, or even a side-by-side coworking situation with your partner, there are bound to be distractions when you work from home. That’s where the beauty of noise-canceling headphones comes into play. 

Bose QuietComfort 35 II Wireless Bluetooth Headphones are Alexa-compatible and top-of-the-line. Fans say they’re worth every penny of their $349 retail price—but right now you can score this set for just $299 on Amazon. If $50 is more within your budget, though, you can’t go wrong with the Cowin E7 Active Noise Cancelling Headphones Bluetooth Headphones, which have more than 12,000 five-star reviews.  

Or...opt to stand while you work instead of sitting

Stand Steady X-Elite Pro Standing Desk Converter. (Photo: Amazon)

You may have heard the refrain “sitting is the new smoking.” It was coined by acclaimed endocrinologist Dr. James Levine, who speculated that prolonged sitting—the bane of a desk worker’s existence—can have serious negative health consequences. Many health experts are jumping on the standing desk bandwagon, arguing that alternating between sitting and standing is the healthiest move overall.

A standing desk that adjusts to your height can be a major investment though, even if you opt for a popular mid-priced one like the Flexispot Height Adjustable Desk, $290. “That's not always economically possible in these times,” says Doshay, who’s found success with the Stand Steady X-Elite Pro Standing Desk Converter, $180, a work surface that sits on your desk, table, or counter and expands up to almost 17 inches to standing-desk height. 

Stay healthy and hydrated

{Left to right) Germ Guardian True HEPA Filter Air Purifier, Quit Fit 1 Gallon Water Bottle, Succulents by Plants for Pets. (Photo: Amazon)

Don’t forget the elements of an optimal workspace that have nothing to do with electronics at all. “I’m a big fan of keeping an air purifier and plant life near me in the office space,” says Doshay. “It can feel stale being isolated all day in a small space, and while subtle, good air is important.”

Amazon’s best-selling Germ Guardian True HEPA Filter Air Purifier, $97, filters up to 99.97 percent of your air’s impurities, like dust, pollen, pet dander—and, of course, germs—from a room that’s up to 167 square feet. 

As for the plants, succulents are pretty hard to kill—and these Succulents by Plants for Pets come in a five-pack for $18. “I also keep a full gallon water bottle [try this one by QuitFit with motivational quotes, $19] on my desk to keep me extra hydrated on busy days when there's little time to refill.”

Move, stretch, and stay aligned

=Retrospec Solana Yoga Mat Thick w/ Nylon Strap. (Photo: Amazon)

Health and wellness entrepreneur Richard Gray co-founded Brightday, a company that produces software that teaches proper posture and movement for desk workers. The takeaways from their research—proper posture erases pain, discomfort, and fatigue; promotes energy and relaxation; and even keeps you looking tall and slim—raise a strong argument over the importance of ergonomics.

In fact, Klinger emphasizes ergonomics and posture over any electronic gadgets you could buy—though he admits he’s not a scientific expert in the area. “My personal experience is, make sure you can sit upright. Make sure your head looks as upright as you can.” If you’re craning your neck down—or too far up—to see your screen, you’re doing it wrong.

Williams recommends “adding reminders to get up and stretch, or taking a break to go for a walk or exercise can help break up the day so that you come back to your computer feeling refreshed and energized.” She says many of her remote employees keep yoga mats in their workspace to squeeze some poses in and make sure they stay limber. You don’t have to spend more than $17 on a top-rated one, like the Retrospec Solana Yoga Mat with Nylon Strap.

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