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How to set up a work-from-home ‘office’ for the long term

Working from home is hardly a new phenomenon, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made it an unplanned requirement for many office and knowledge workers. Even as the coronavirus crisis eventually recedes, many employers will have discovered that they don’t need large office buildings, and many employees will have discovered that they don’t need to be in the office every day or spend hours commuting.

But many people have set up makeshift home offices for the pandemic that won’t work well for the long term. In addition to having the right equipment, the physical setup — the ergonomics of the workspace — is critical, especially around avoiding repetitive strain injuries that a bad setup can cause. I suffered such RSI issues 20 years ago and narrowly avoided a relapse a year ago, so I know what it takes to get back to and stay in a workable status.

And employers, take note: RSI puts you on the hook for workers’ compensation claims and, of course, lost productivity.

The ideal home office setup

A long-term home office should ideally be a separate space in your home that is properly outfitted for work. Do as much of the following as you can to create an effective, safe workspace for the long term.

home office ideal setup Galen Gruman/IDG

Here’s my office setup (no, it’s not usually so clean). It provides for proper height and sufficient workspace. My laptop is hard to see, but it’s tucked away under the bottom monitor riser. (Click image to enlarge it.)

A dedicated space

Ideally, you would use a small room that can hold a desk and computer equipment and whose door can be shut for the essential need to separate work life from home life.

Most people don’t have spare space, but many people can convert a guest room into a dual-purpose space: an office most of the time and a guest room when people visit. (A Murphy bed is a great way to do that if your space and budget allow.) An enclosed porch, a large laundry room (or, for Europeans, drying room), or even a garden shed can also do the double-duty trick.

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