Many people made the shift to working from home in 2020, but little did we know how dramatically it would change the culture of work, well into the future. The struggle was real for many - especially those with small living spaces and little to no outdoor area - yes, especially you, home schooling parents!
Now, in 2021 many employers are choosing to sustain a flexible approach around employees working from home or going into the office. This is a dream for some and far from ideal for others, but whatever your situation, setting yourself up with the best home office and workspace arrangement will make the transition much easier.
What's your new normal now?
Everyone's home circumstances are different, so your first step is to determine how many days (or hours) you'll be working at home for, and how conducive your current environment is to ensure that happens. What will your new normal look like? Will you continue working from home full time? Or will you phase in a hybrid situation of some office days and some home days? Are your kids going back to school? What are your housemates or partners doing with work and home life? Whatever you did to 'get by' in 2020 can now be disassembled or upgraded and the new version of your working life can come into its own.
It's more than just a desk and a chair
If working from home is becoming a permanent arrangement, a dedicated workspace should not only give you a place to sit and work; it should encourage productivity, whilst being ergonomically sound and ideally have access to good natural light and fresh air.
Nationally recognised standards are designed to protect the population across a range of areas, including in the workplace. Standards Australia set out minimum surface area, table or desk size and height and these should be adhered to where possible to ensure best practice, for your own health, wellbeing and productivity. This should be something that your work's HR department discusses with you if their direction is for you to work from home.
Talk to your employer about what hardware and furniture they can provide you with, and make sure you have the essentials of good noise cancelling headphones (with a microphone for meetings), strong WiFi and excellent back up procedures (to external hard drives, company servers or other cloud-based solutions).
Being a tenant certainly doesn't restrict your options where a great home workspace is concerned, but the space you have available will. Remember you can always put in a request to your property manager to put hooks in the walls, or install some shelves, lighting or power points, if you need to customise the space. It's important though, that whatever you do stays within the confines of your lease agreement and can be easily packed up and taken with you when you move out.
Working from small spaces
If you're in a one room studio apartment and your bed pulls down from the wall each night, then yes you have some challenges. If you have a little extra space, then adapt parts of the main living space to work where possible. If you need a desktop monitor, pick your preferred workspace - be it kitchen bench, dining table or a dedicated desk (if you have the room) and find another solution for whatever happened there before. If you're not restricted to a desktop then a simple tray, basket or box with all of your work gear in it is ideal. You can establish a nice routine then of 'arriving' to work by unpacking your tray and 'leaving' work by packing everything away and magically making it home space again. It also gives you some flexibility to work from the table one day when you have a lot of meetings or planning, or the couch if you're doing writing and thinking type work.
If you share your space with others, it's worth talking over everyone's needs and creating a schedule of who works where and when. Knowing what your workflow is going to be and what environment you need is essential, but the end result might be that everyone works on a rotation to share the home space - a few hours in a cafe, a day in the local library, a day in the office, and a day at home, then flexibility built in around whatever's left.
Ditch the spare bedroom and make it your own
If you have a spare room and home is your new permanent work address, then all the cards are in your favour. You're going to be spending a lot more time in there than any guest ever would so consider swapping out the bed for a sofa bed of some kind to make it feel more like your office and less like that empty echoing room that's hardly ever used.
Make sure you take the best advantage of what your employer can provide you with in terms of hardware, furniture and so on. Freestanding furniture is ideal, because as mentioned previously - you can take it with you when you move out. Positioning your desk near a window will ensure you maximise the best light and air, whilst also accommodating for essential strategic thinking/daydreaming opportunities. A whole dedicated room also gives you the freedom to get creative and make it a great space that you'll love to be in. Some plants, pictures on the wall, a calendar, a planner, or even a whiteboard can be the key to a more balanced and productive workspace.
Understand your options and responsibilities
Being a tenant means any changes you make to the property must comply with your lease agreement. Working from home and running a business from home are not the same thing so it's important you define your situation clearly and keep your property manager informed about your circumstances.
Additionally, there may be options for you individually to claim a portion of home offices expenses related to the property so having everyone in the loop about your circumstances will help.
You of course should understand how your personal, or home and contents insurance is affected if you suddenly have a lot of expensive equipment on site that's not currently listed in your policy. Workplace protections around health and safety, and employee health and wellness, will be applied in different ways than when you worked on site so discuss this with your employer and make sure you know your entitlements and responsibilities.