Believe it or not, I’ve been making notes for this blog post, and others like it, for months. I had planned to publish it further down the line, as I knew many people would benefit from it, but I didn’t have the time to complete it. Never could I imagine quite so many people would be put into the work from home situation so suddenly, so I’ve brought it forward and I hope you find something useful here today.
A bit about me
Right now I’m a social media manager, social media consultant, editorial assistant and sometimes a photographer too! I began working remotely in early 2019 while living in Vietnam, but I started putting systems into place about 6 months before that, while living in Thailand. Soon after moving back to the UK I discovered my next challenge: Staying Freelance! That’s where I’m at right now.
My set-up is completely remote which means I can usually work from anywhere in the world with a wifi connection. This so far has included 3 different countries, many cafes and libraries, a couple of bars, lots of trains, an airport or 2, a boat, and countless desks in the homes of family, friends, and houses that I’ve pet-sat in.
Recently I realised that it was time to stop moving around for a while, and I set-up base in Dorset, UK, to be closer to my family, and so I could be near the sea.
Working from Home
There’s lots to cover in regards to working from home, so this will be a blog series.
I’ve got more blogs in the queue which will cover things like:
- How to stay focussed and motivated when working from home
- Healthy habits for a better work-life balance
- How to avoid feeling isolated when you work from home
- How to organise your time and be more productive
- How to look after your mind when working from home
In this blog I will be focusing on an area I commonly overlook myself which is the practical and physical side of it: Equipment and physical health.
Equipment: My Remote Set-up
Everyone will be slightly different, but here’s the physical equipment I use for online work no matter where I am (disclaimer that there are affiliate links in this post, which means I get a bit of commission if you buy using them, with no extra cost to you).
- Laptop & charger (Macbook Pro, 13 inch, 2014)
- USB Mouse (Genius brand)
- Headphones, or a small bluetooth speaker (working to music is essential for me).
- Portable hard drives x 2 (I use Transcends)
With the above 4 items, I can work from literally anywhere with wifi. The hard drives are likely optional for many people depending on what you do – online back-ups are another option.
Work from home Set-up
In addition to the above, these are what I use when I’m working from one workstation (nowadays the desk in my room) for long periods of time:
- Kensington Laptop Stand (£3 charity shop find)
- Computer Chair (£8.50 charity shop find)
I may soon add a separate keyboard to make typing easier, and better for my arms and wrists. For now, I remove the stand to do large amounts of typing (while being very mindful of my back and neck) so that my arms sit at a right angle when I type.
That’s it, that’s all. No planners or pens or post-it notes (the occasional notebook for new ideas). I do it all on my laptop keeping my workspace clear, my waste low, and my notes more easily stored and accessible.
My dream set-up would actually be a standing desk with a sea-view – oh yes! I had an awesome make-shift one for a while when staying with family and it really boosted my productivity while also stopping me from sitting down all day (nothing like dancing around to songs while you type up an Instagram caption).
Your spine is your core! It connects all of you, and while I adore the benefits of working from home, this is one of the biggest downsides – You will be sitting a lot. This is not what our bodies are made for. Your back and body can suffer as a result!
Make sure you’re sitting correctly.
Take a read of this: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/how-to-sit-correctly/ and see what you can do to make positive adjustments.
If you have a classic desktop set-up this should be easy to adjust to the above guidelines. If you have a laptop, it would be worth investing in a laptop stand like the one linked here. If you don’t have a desk chair try and find some pillows to support your back and body.
I learned about all this the hard way.
When I first started remote-working I usually sat in an awful position on a chair that was completely unsupported and the wrong height for the desk I was working at. My posture was awful! I was so worried about finding work and doing work, that I forgot to look after myself! I hardly took any breaks and usually gave in to my natural urge to sit crossed-legged (an urge I still fight on a daily basis).
One day I sat up from my awfully crouched position and out of no-where, had the extremely painful experience of pulling a muscle in my shoulder. It has irritated and caused me pain for more than a year since.
Don’t be like me!!
Once back in the UK, I managed to find 2 laptop stands in separate charity shops for £3 each. A lot of these are given away for free by universities to students who have things like dyslexia, and many end up in charity shops if they aren’t needed once the person has graduated. So you can often find second-hand ones in great shape!
Laptop users, please get a mouse!
Using that tiny track-pad will hurt your wrists. Also fyi, it can be a right pain to keep charging or replacing batteries! I stick with a USB one for this reason.
Desk work can put you at risk of repetitive strain injury. Look out for the symptoms and take the steps needed to avoid it! Here’s a website that can show you what to look for: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/repetitive-strain-injury-rsi/
Look after your eyes!!
The blue light from our phones, computers and other devices can cause issues when looked at for too long. For me, this led to a headache that I almost forgot I had because it was so constant, and it may have also been a factor in me needing actual prescription glasses for long distance – though I have no way of actually knowing this.
When I finally looked into this I found some very interesting information and some solutions! You can read more about how blue-light effects your eyes (both naturally and unnaturally) here: https://www.preventblindness.org/blue-light-and-your-eyes
Anti-Blue Light Glasses
This is a fairly inexpensive item (as far as glasses go) that could make a world of difference. It very simply filters out the blue light from your screen, helping you look after your eyes. I use the pair linked here.
Warm-up Your Screens
Pretty much as soon as my glasses arrived I discovered and even cheaper way to aid your eyes. You can reduce the blue light on your screens! I’ve since enabled “Eye Comfort” on my phone and “Night Shift Mode” on my Macbook. The latter automatically has a timer that kicks in during the evening, but I’ve adjusted it so that it’s always a warm light as I’m on my laptop so much. The only time I turn it off is if I’m editing photos! I still use the glasses when working, though if I forget sometimes or don’t want to wear them when I’m watching a movie the reduction in the screen still helping.
How to reduce blue-light on your screens:
- For PC: https://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/how-to-use-a-blue-light-filter-on-pc-mac/
- For Mac: https://macpaw.com/how-to/use-night-shift-mode-mac
- For Phones: https://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/how-to-use-a-blue-light-filter-on-pc-mac/
Just as you should take breaks for your body (more on that coming up), taking breaks for your eyes is also very important. You might literally forget to blink!
Here are some ideas for exercises you can do throughout the day:
Take regular breaks!
I suggest using a free timer software on your computer, or on your phone, to tell you how long you’ve been at your computer. There are some specific apps for this, but I find a simple visible timer is all I need to mentally note when I’ve been working for too long.
www.online-stopwatch.com is a great site for this. You can decide if it counts down or up (this can help with productivity too!) and it’s visible in the browser tab so you can do other tasks and see where it’s at, at a glance.
My general rule of thumb is to take a 10-15 minute break after every solid hour of work (and don’t forget lunch) but definitely adjust this to what works for you, you might need more frequent breaks sometimes. Freelance and from-home work can often be very intensive, especially if it’s something you are working on entirely by yourself that has no limit on time. Schedule in your breaks to avoid physical discomfort and mental burnout!
What to do on breaks?
Stand up! Walk around! Have a dance to your favourite music or a song that’s on the radio. Working from home means there’s plenty of things to do during this time and you have a few more freedoms than your average office set-up. Equally viable options are heading to the kitchen and making a cup of tea, sorting your laundry, going to say hi to someone you live with, playing with a pet, staring whimsically out the window, reading a few pages of a book, listening to a podcast or audiobook, popping to the shops for milk, or making yourself a snack. Get away from your screens and get that body moving – especially your neck, shoulders, and legs.
For at least a couple of these breaks I highly recommend you:
For your body and your mind! Running is by far the most relieving exercise I can do for my back, mind and body in general, but if that’s not available to you (or if like me you can’t always find the will-power) I would highly recommend doing free online work-outs.
My favourites are YouTube channels like Yoga with Adrienne and Joanna Soh.
Don’t worry, there aren’t any super bendy, crazy positions! These are all aimed at people who just need a bit more movement in their lives. In fact these 3 are specific to people who work at their desk or desk-related problems. Try one a day and see how you go.
While quick yoga is good for a break, you still need to get the blood-pumping and the fore-head sweating a few times a week. Here’s my favourite at-home work out:
The joy of the internet means you can look through loads of these and skip through them without actually doing them, or try multiple until you find a trainer or class style that works for you.
The benefits of this also include: Not having to exercise in front of other people! With solo workouts, I just do what I can and what feels right for my body instead of feeling embarrassed to move or pushing myself too hard. It also means you can tell your instructor exactly how much you hate them for what they are putting you through, and you won’t get kicked out for it!
If you’re a seasoned office-worker then many of the above tips may be obvious to you. This is for all the first-time at-home workers and newbie freelancers out there: it’s time to take on the role of your own boss, supervisor, HR, and health & safety inspector, and be the best colleague that you’ve ever had!