For many freelancers and entrepreneurs, a trusty laptop, smart phone, and BPA-free caffeine vehicle is all you need to survive the world of remote work.
Notice the word I used there, though? Survive?
In part 1 of this series, I talked about the urban legend of working from home in your underwear. This time, I’m focusing on your work environment.
Since I don’t think an urban legend theme really qualifies here, I’m going to switch gears. Let’s turn the laptop/phone/caffeine survival idea into a folktale. Folktales, in their beginnings, were more than whimsy and bedtime stories… they were functional. They taught morals to children, kept community history alive, and carried families through times of struggle. As these stories get passed down from generation to generation, they gain embellishments and go through changes, all the while keeping their basic essence intact.
Stay with me here: your remote workspace is a lot like a folktale that has been passed down for a few years.
So, if you’ll gather ‘round the campfire with me, I’d like to share with you some tips for creating a home office that will not only complement your business but provide you with an environment in which you can thrive.
1.) Stock up on healthy snacks.
Yeah, I went straight for the food. I’ll get to the technology and ergonomic desk chairs in a bit.
One of the biggest double-edged swords of working from home is the comfort of home. Hungry?
No problem! Just hop on over to the kitchen and make a sandwich… and wash a few of those dishes… and go through the mail… and miss that deadline you were supposed to be working on instead of scrubbing pots and pans.
If you’ve got a nice supply of shelf-stable, high-protein snacks like nuts and granola bars, you’ll be able to power through those hungry moments (friends don’t let friends freelance hangry) instead of letting them drive you to distraction.
Now, I know we’re all adults here. I know you know you need a wireless internet setup in your home and office. But, if you’re going to work from home, I’d like to suggest that you get the “good wifi.” Every internet company offers different tiers of speed, and in this situation, you should probably reach for the top shelf. Even if your at-home business is knitting Strek Trek-inspired teapot cozies, you’re going to need to communicate with your customers, yarn suppliers, and accountant. Slow and unreliable internet speeds will result in slower production and increased frustration. The difference in price between internet plans is often around $20-$30 extra per month. How many times a week do you pay for recreational things like cupcakes, coffee, or a few drinks at your favorite bar? If you can afford those things, why can’t you afford some lightning-fast internet?
3.) Get that paper under control!
We’re living in an increasingly digital world; we can have our contracts signed digitally, receive bills and balance statements via email, and even order a burrito online. Why, then, do we still find ourselves drowning in paper? I don’t think we’ll ever know… but I do know that finding a system to deal with those abundant sheets will keep your workspace clean and your official documents organized.
Make sure you evaluate all of the paper you accumulate and see if there are paperless options available. Many companies offer email-based statements and receipts, which are easy to save and keep track of.
A good way to get the piles of unavoidable paper under control is to find a filing cabinet, grab a couple of small wastebaskets, and slap a compartmentalized paper sorter on your wall or desk. Unimportant paper is easily recycled, and sensitive documents can be shredded with a personal shredder or even at your local bank. A paper-sorter will help you keep track of urgent documents and things like bills and invoices. Designate a day for dealing with paper each week, and you’ll be able to keep that desk clean.
4.) Business-specific Accessories
Each work-at-home business has its own accessory needs, so for those really specific items, it’s important to check forums and talk with other freelancers in your field. There are a few accessories, however, that can benefit anyone working from home.
Writers, developers, and tea cozy-knitters all need to make phone calls, and holding that phone to your shoulder while working will only cause you pesky neck pain. A wireless headset will keep your hands free and your spine happy.
Once you can afford it, buying accessories that keep your from having to leave your home office will help boost your productivity. Every once in awhile, you’re going to have to print, sign, scan, and email a document to someone, or print out an adult coloring sheet to help you de-stress. Purchasing a printer with scanning capabilities will save you gas money and valuable work time.
If you do a lot of sitting while you work, a good-quality chair can make a huge difference in the way you feel at the end of the day. Even in professions that mostly use minds and hands, taking care of your body needs to be a priority… and sitting on a folding chair all day long is going to take its toll sooner or later.
6.) Desk Essentials
You’ve got your cloud for file storage, a webcam and microphone for video calls, and an app that tells you what time you should go to bed for optimum sleep-quality… but what about when you just want to attach one piece of paper to another piece of paper!?
You know that long drawer in the middle of your desk? That is a great place to store some old-school desk-essentials. Paper clips, stapler and staples, bare-bones calculator… all of these things can come in quite handy as you grow your business, and keeping a small stockpile will keep you from procrastinating with a trip to the store.
7.) Take care of your tech.
Your computer is your lifeline, right? And your phone? So why would you wait to protect them until the last minute? It’s extremely important to perform any necessary updates and invest in sturdy covers to protect these delicate and essential pieces of your freelance arsenal. When you purchase new equipment, make sure to do your research on warranties and protection plans so that your necessities are covered if disaster strikes.
Also, I would be remiss to leave this out: back up your stuff. Back up everything. Back up, back up, back up. Clients know there’s no excuse for lost work, you know there’s no excuse for lost work, so let’s just make sure there’s no lost work. Deal?
8.) Leave your mark.
An office doesn’t have to be all work and no play. Why are you working from home in the first place? Freedom to live the life that you want on your own terms, right? So remind yourself of the life you love! Movie posters, family photos, action figures, Lego masterpieces, life-sized chainsaw-carved replicas of woodland creatures… anything that makes you feel happy and motivated to support the lifestyle you’re working for should be a must in your workspace.
Embellish, but don’t forget where you started.
Embellishment of your home office is no different from the embellishment of a core folktale: you must always keep the integrity of the original intact. Will the addition of a new character change the moral of the story? Will spending money on accessories take away from funds saved for a much-needed computer tune-up? If your home burnt down tomorrow and your computer, phone, and pet hamster were the only things you could save, would you be able to keep working without a hitch?
Remember that, at the core of your business, you can survive on the basics… but, if you can budget it in, don’t be afraid to give yourself an environmental advantage.
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