In response to the spread of novel coronavirus in the U.S., a significant majority of Americans have been asked to stay home. The directives keep all but essential workers from going to work, resulting in a surge of people who are working from home for the very first time.
Many Curbed staffers work remotely every day—we’re local experts in cities across the country—and we know that working from home can be challenging. We’ve long grappled with how to do it in the most productive yet comfortable way.
As you find yourself working remotely out of necessity, we’ve got you covered. We’ve gathered our best advice on the subject, from how to create and organize a workspace to which cozy pick-me-ups really make a difference. Have your own tip to share? Add them in the comments section below.
Create a dedicated work space and keep it organized
One of the most repeated pieces of advice in remote culture is to create a mini-office where you can focus on work. It doesn’t have to be large: Many Curbed staffers work from kitchen counters, hallway desks, or the dining room table. But a dedicated work space helps create familiarity and discipline in your day. As Mercedes Kraus, executive editor, says, “Even if you need to ‘put away’ your desk every night, have one place that you work only. The more that you can devote a place to work only, the more that space becomes a better, more clear work space.”
And once you create a spot for work, don’t let the mess of everyday life take over. Alyssa Nassner, art director, says she cleans up her desk every night so she’s not overwhelmed with house tasks in the morning. “I work from my kitchen island, so I make sure the surface is wiped down, mail is sorted and organized, and any kitchen things are picked up. I hate coming down in the morning and having groceries still out or a mess from dinner—I cannot start working until that is tended to.”
Kraus, likewise, tries to clear her desk of everything except a notepad and pen. Her motto? “A clear desk equals a clear head!” Below, a few products we use to keep things tidy.
Be flexible and take care of yourself
Feeling sick or needing some self care? Even if you carve out a dedicated work space, give yourself permission to be flexible. I know I get more work done from the comfort of a king size bed whenever I am—or my young children are—under the weather. If you need to recline, Curbed Austin editor Cindy Widner says “to do it in the most ergonomic way. I use a yoga bolster under my knees to keep them elevated.”
Still, staffers agree that working from your bed should only happen during special circumstances. Brock Keeling, editor of Curbed SF, advises working outside of your bedroom in order to prevent loss of sleep at night.
And sometimes you might just need to move around. Curbed LA associate editor Elijah Chiland says that transitioning from spot to spot does the trick for him. “I’ll stand at the kitchen counter, then sit at the breakfast table, then move over to a chair in the bedroom, and maybe even spend some time at my ‘desk.’ I move when I feel like I’m getting stuck or not being productive.”
Movement is something that comes up time and time again. Curbed editors take our dogs for walks, step outside to breathe in the fresh air, and seek out sunshine. “A 10-minute walk outside, in fact, helps keep depression at bay,” says Kraus.
Mind your body
Normal offices are full of desks and chairs that often provide more structure and support than our home furniture. When we work from home, it’s important to pay attention to potential pain triggers. “Sit in a chair with a back. Sitting on the sofa for a year sent my back into a tailspin,” Keeling advises.
In addition to supportive chairs, many Curbed editors use a laptop stand and separate keyboard and mouse to encourage better posture. Laptops may be convenient, but they aren’t at an optimal height for proper positioning. Kraus says if you can’t afford a monitor, consider buying a bluetooth keyboard and putting your laptop on boxes so it’s at eye level. The result? “Neck, back, and shoulder pains are reduced!”
And sometimes, specific types of chairs help you sit up straight. Deputy managing editor Nina Pearlman found that even chairs with backs made her slouch. Enter the balance ball chair, seen below.
Embrace hot beverages
One of the perks of working from home is that you can imbibe your favorite coffees and teas, on demand. This is clutch for Curbed Boston editor Tom Acitelli, who says he starts his day as early as possible. “The quiet time to focus can be invaluable as the day picks up.”
And as most early risers soon realize, a hot coffee or tea hits the spot. I especially like lose-leaf peppermint tea in the mornings; the tea’s refreshing aromatherapy is helpful for waking up, even if you don’t drink caffeine. Here are some of our favorite items for enjoying beverages.
Add a little something special
Whether it’s a yummy smelling candle, plant, or fresh misting spray, sometimes it’s the small things that make a difference when you’re working from home. Plants, in particular, can provide a nice visual distraction in the digital age. For me, I know I’m supposed to take breaks and walk outside when I work from home, but some days I’m so busy it doesn’t happen. When I have a few plants in view, however, it brings a bit of that outdoor feeling to my desk.
Great smelling accessories can also help create a soothing environment. According to one study, aromatherapy has been shown to regulate emotions, reduce stress, and make you more attentive and alert. A few of our favorite natural pick-me-ups, below.
Pay attention to sound
You probably wouldn’t dare head to a coffee shop without your headphones, but sometimes we neglect the auditory ambience in our homes. Curbed NY editor Amy Plitt says it may seem obvious, but music is one of the most important things in her work day. “When I’m editing or writing a story, I can’t listen to podcasts or things with humans talking—but listening to my favorite albums (currently Stop Making Sense by the Talking Heads) helps me stay focused and drowns out other distractions.”
Below, we’ve picked out a few tried-and-tested speakers and home assistants, as well as a pair of noise-cancelling headphones; you’ll thank us if construction starts on your block.