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An office area. There is a desk with a wood top and white drawers. There are two chairs with fuzzy white cushions. There is a large computer monitor on the desk. Works of art hang over the desk. The walls are white.
A House Calls home office from a San Francisco remodel.
Photo by Carlos Chavarria

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How to work from home, according to Curbed editors

We’re experts at remote work. Here are our best tips.

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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.

A lap desk made from bamboo.

Bamboo Laptop Desk

  • $56

It’s great to have a dedicated work space, but for anyone who needs to work from a couch or bed, this well-reviewed adjustable desk is just the thing. Made from smooth bamboo, the compact desk—which comes suggested via Keeling—has a small storage drawer and can also be used to raise your laptop as a standing desk when needed.

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.

Tea Forte Single Cup Loose Tea Brewing System

  • $20

This easy-to-use tea brewing set is a favorite of news editor Megan Barber thanks to a double-walled design that keeps tea hot without burning your hands. The set includes the insulated cup, an integrated stainless steel infuser basket, and matching lid. It’s microwave and dishwasher safe.

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.

Sonos One Smart Speaker

  • $149

Known for its room-filling sound and convenient voice control, the Sonos One is the speaker of choice for editor Jenny Xie. “Having music on in the room is maybe the more productive version of keeping TV on in the background,” she says. “I like to put classical/jazz/lo-fi beats on shuffle when I’m working, and a 2000s R&B playlist after hours when I want to #dancelikenobodyiswatching.”

Condor Electronic Ear Muff

  • $40

We know, we know, these headphones aren’t glamorous. But for anyone living in an urban area, follow Acitelli’s advice and snag a pair of simple noise-cancelling headphones. You’ll thank us when you need to drown out irritating distractions.

Google Nest Mini

  • $50

Voice-activated speakers are a remote worker’s best friend—they can help you keep a schedule, get weather updates, and play the news. Plitt uses her Google Nest Mini not only to play music, but also to set timers to help her remember to get up and walk around.

Crosley Cruiser Bluetooth Record Player

  • $69

Located in a prime spot in Barber’s living room, this turntable combines vintage style in a mint faux leather briefcase. The record player produces solid sound, is bluetooth compatible, and comes with a headphone jack, RCA audio out, and stereo speakers.