With the crisis of COVID-19, a lot of people have suddenly been forced to work from home. And their kids are being schooled from home. But it’s temporary, right? We hope!
Depends how you define “temporary.” Tech giants like Facebook and Google are allowing many to work from home through the end of 2020. Global Workplace Analytics estimates a whopping “56% of the US workforce hold jobs that are compatible (at least partially) with remote work.” They forecast that the longer people work from home—and the more companies invest in remote infrastructures and arrangements—the greater the chance that working from home will be allowed or encouraged even after this crisis.
So how do you work from home, and host kids who are learning from home, without coming apart at the seams? Create good workspaces that work for everyone.
Location, Location, Location
When you’re scouting locations for a home workspace, look for a spot that doesn’t make you feel trapped or stagnant. While a dedicated room with a view is nice, your workspace should at least be out of the way and away from distractions like TVs and people.
If you have a smaller house or apartment, look at corners of rooms. These often-underused spaces may easily accommodate a desk and chair, and they’re out of the line of traffic. Closets can also be converted into offices; they usually have a door and shelves, offering privacy and office storage. Need to relocate the towels? Put them in cabinets, in baskets under tables or in under-the-bed storage containers.
Still can’t find a spot? Avoid the couch and the bedroom, for reasons discussed below. But you can:
- buy a lightweight, moveable desk that folds up and slides under the couch at night.
- create a standing desk at a kitchen counter and use a kitchen drawer for storage, whisking everything away at the end of the day.
- create a moveable workstation. An adjustable laptop riser allows you to use different surfaces around the house when you start to feel cooped up in one spot, or when you need privacy for calls.
Kids need dedicated spaces, too. Older children are usually fine in their bedrooms (and often prefer it). But dining room tables are ideal for younger children who need a helping parent nearby. When you need it, you can retreat to your private workspace. And your younger child can retreat to a dedicated nook for quiet time or reading. Your 5-year-old wants to use the bathtub? Give her blankets and pillows. Kids love creative hideaway choices, and they fit into small spaces!
Desk, Lights, Zoom
If you opt for a standing desk, make sure it’s the right height. The same goes for an adjustable chair at a conventional desk. For proper keyboard use, your elbows should be at 90-degree angles with your forearms parallel to the floor. Don’t use a couch and a coffee table for your “chair and desk.” The ergonomics are all wrong—the couch is too soft for support and the coffee table too far away. Keep things you use often within easy reach and keep your computer monitor an appropriate distance, at least 20 inches from your eyes.
A location with good natural light during the day is a plus, but make sure you have enough artificial light as well. Up the wattage on your bulbs if your eyes are getting tired, or move your lighting closer.
If it isn’t ideal to Zoom from your workspace, set up a spot with good lighting and a background that isn’t distracting. A tidy bookshelf makes a good backdrop, or a plain wall with a few tasteful pictures. Lighting should shine on your face from in front, not from the side and definitely not from the rear.
Wherever you work needs good access to power. If you have only one outlet nearby, buy a good power strip with multiple plugs and a USB for computer, phone and printer, and possibly your modem/router and backup hard drive. A power strip with a surge protector is a must to protect your equipment. Surge protectors have a lifespan, so look for one with an auto shutoff that cuts power when the surge protection has worn out. Some strips have clamp mounts to attach to the back of your desk. So instead of wires trailing underfoot, you can run them along the lines of the desk.
You also need a strong, fast WiFi connection. Test your workspace and Zoom spot to make sure they aren’t in a weak zone. If you have several family members who need connection, consider upping your broadband capacity.
Separate Function, Things and People
To maintain a good work-life balance, work and relax in separate spaces. Avoid working in your bedroom to avoid sleep troubles. Clean off work surfaces at the end of the day or shut the door to your work closet to make work disappear and signal a mental separation.
Keep work and study things separated and organized with storage solutions from an office supply or home goods store. If you’re working and your children are studying at the kitchen table, kitchen drawers with dividers offer good storage. Baskets, chairs with storage compartments, closet shelves, under-table spaces… all possible storage solutions.
When you need to work separately from the rest of the family, agree on signals for when you can and can’t interact. A closed door with a “Do Not Disturb” sign will help. A whiteboard, a writing pad or stickies on the door keep your kids at bay but in touch—but remember to respond periodically to your messages. A gong or a bell lets everyone know when you’re done for the day and open for family time.
Can You Claim Your Home Workspace on Taxes?
If you have self-employment income and you work from home, you can probably claim a home office deduction. But if you’re a company employee working from home, under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 you probably can’t. For self-employed business owners to qualify, the workspace must be used “exclusively and regularly as your principal place of business.” For gray areas and questions, consult IRS rules, your accountant or a tax attorney.
WFH has its challenges. With a little ingenuity and flexibility from the whole family, you can reinvent your home spaces to meet those challenges. Gaskill Realty salutes you and stands with you!