For many professionals being thrust into a jarring and unfamiliar work environment, the acronym “WFH” tends to bring with it a similar one: WTH (What The Hell?!).

This is unfamiliar territory for a whole lot of people. If that’s you, the good news is that remote work has been a rising trend for some time, and plenty of folks have been developing habits and best practices to optimize for the experience. Some people, like Liam McIvor Martin, even dedicate their careers to this focus.

Liam describes himself as a remote work advocate. He co-founded Time Doctor, and is co-organizer of Running Remote, the world’s largest conference on building and scaling remote teams.

To help others with understanding this new world, and making a successful transition, Liam was kind enough to share insights and guidance on building a WFH workspace that sets you up for a serious home field advantage.

Why Your Home Office Needs Attention

Liam McIvor MartinNaturally, Liam and his organizations keep a finger on the pulse of what’s happening with remote work. And as you might guess, the impact they’re seeing from the COVID-19 crisis has profoundly accelerated an already-rising trend.

“In 2018 4% of the US workforce was working full time remotely,” he says. “By our estimates right now [via Time Doctor and Running Remote], we’re at approximately 75% of the U.S. workforce working full time remotely.”

Liam adds that his companies have polled newly remote clients, while also pulling other survey data, and “interesting stuff has come out.”

“One survey result showed 22% companies have canceled their leases. And that was about one month into the pandemic. There’s another report by Reuters that just came out showing 74% of CFOs say that at least some, if not all, of their employees will remain remote.”

His best guess, based on all the data he and his team have analyzed? “We’re probably going to be 50 to 60% full-time remote after the pandemic.”

The new normal, indeed. In light of this permanently altered reality, it’s easy enough to see why creating a home workspace that is comfortable and built for maximum productivity is such an essential focus, both for the present and future. So let’s create one.

Building an Optimal WFH Workspace

Drawing examples from his own carefully crafted home workspace, Liam helps identify priorities and key components as you set up your own WFH station (or help guide your employees in setting up theirs).

Comfort Isn’t Just a Luxury

Often viewed as distant secondary priorities, comfort and ergonomics matter a lot. Liam strongly urges that they not be overlooked. Given how much time you’ll spend in it, your office chair is a critical cornerstone.

“I would suggest going into a chair store, if possible, but if that’s not possible, go and order a whole bunch of chairs off of Amazon that you’ll have free returns on, and then sit in each chair,” he advises. “If you can sit in the chair without adjusting your posture for at least one minute, then you know that that’s the chair for you.”

Liam himself uses an Aeron swivel chair, but acknowledges that these can be rather expensive, and notes that price is not always indicative of suitability. It all comes down to personal preference.

“We’ve had employees that have not liked the thousand-dollar Aeron chairs, but they really loved a twenty-dollar chair because it’s just much better for their back.”

Another important ergonomic consideration: your desk.

“If you can get a standing desk that would be ideal, but realistically, any desk that you can sit at for multiple hours and not necessarily feel stressed over it, go for that.”

Tailor Your Tech

Of course, it’s important to have the necessary tools for your trade. While needs can vary, here’s some gear Liam recommends at a high level:

  • A good external monitor. Liam uses a 32-inch ViewSonic VX3211, which he likes because it has a USB-C connector that also powers his laptop.
  • Audio accessories. Quality speakers will be valuable in some cases, but Liam emphasizes the importance of comfortable earbuds. He rolls with Bose SoundTrue Ultra headphones.
  • Lighting fixtures. Key for those who do a lot of video conferencing, especially for any type of media production purposes (published interviews and such). He suggests ring lights, which make a big difference in terms of aesthetics and often run for $40 or less.
  • Internet speed. Reliable high-speed internet is of the essence for almost any WFH employee. “I usually have everyone go to net and then run the speed test, then send me back the results URL,” Liam shares. “If their download and upload scores are below five, then we upgrade the internet.”

Create a Routine that Separates Work from Life

Maintaining a semblance of work/life balance has long been cited as one of the biggest challenges for people working from home, and right now that challenge is magnified exponentially. While there are no easy answers in a time of turmoil, Liam encourages people to do whatever they can to create barriers and breaks.

For him, the home office is a “sacred space.” He’s fortunate enough to have a fully dedicated home office where he can close the door and be at work in a sense.

“If someone wants to get attention they have to call me or text me, even though they might be in the very next room,” he says. “So we’ve created a very clear barrier between my workspace and my social space. I think that that’s really important when you look at the long-term implications of mental health when you’re working from home.”

He realizes not everyone is able to replicate this dynamic. In those cases, he advises, just do what you can. One way to delineate work life from professional life, when they are becoming so closely intertwined, is making intentional efforts to set them apart. Even something as little as getting and leaving your desk to have a conversation with a family member, or scroll your Facebook feed, makes a difference in creating these boundaries.

“To a degree, at least at the beginning, it is quite odd to physically get up and look at a Facebook notification on your phone as an example. But you’re training your brain to create a very clear workspace and that, for me, has been huge for my overall productivity.”

Find Solutions and Innovations that Make Sense for You

A disruptive event like the COVID-19 pandemic is never welcomed, but if it had to happen, at least it’s coming at a time where technology is enabling all new ways to stay connected and recreate physical office dynamics.

“There is going to be a massive, massive growth of remote work tools like Time Doctor, Sococo, Slack, zoom, you name it,” Liam predicts. “Even more importantly, there’s going to be an entirely other group of tools added into this ecosystem that we’re not even understanding right now.”

You can bet that brilliant entrepreneurial minds everywhere are working in overdrive in response to the rapid rise in demand for tools facilitating distributed and remote work. We’re excited to see what the coming months hold.

Take Command of the Home Front

We thank Liam for sharing his awesome perspective, and hope these tips can help you turn your WFH mindset from WTH to FTW (For The Win!).

If you’re looking for a simple and functional way to bring the best parts of the in-office work experience home, you can give Sococo a try with a free trial.