The #Coronavirus chronicles, part 2: The work-at-home environment #COVID19

Several years ago, I had a job for a virtual company. There was no brick-and-mortar location; the entire job was work-from-home. To accommodate myself for the position, I went out and bought a new, comfortable office chair. If I was going to work-from-home, I wanted to make sure I was comfortable. I made sure my home office setup was one that I could deal with over the course of the position.

Several years later (present-day), I’m working a position where I am able to work from home, although I much prefer going into the office. I have a comfortable desk setup and two monitors. I’ve adapted it to my preferences, and it’s an environment I enjoy and in which I’m productive.

Before COVID-19, my work-at-home setup was me sitting in my living room recliner with the TV on in front of me. I didn’t do it all that often, but for the few times that I worked from home, it wasn’t a big issue.

That changed with COVID-19. It took me a little while, but I realized that I was being unproductive. There were too many distractions. My work environment was uncomfortable… or, more accurately, it was too comfortable. I was picking up bad habits. I was watching TV more than I was concentrating on my work. I wasn’t concentrating on what I was doing.

It took me a while — about a week — before I realized what I was doing. It’s like the situation where you’re working on something and you start zoning out, completely unaware that you’re doing it.

When I came to that realization — today — I realized that I had to change my setup. I cleared out some space in my home office (I hadn’t been making much use of it, other than for my personal non-work laptop), put my work laptop on my desk, and started working. The difference was night and day. I was suddenly focused on my work again. My thought processes were better. I wasn’t sinking into my chair the way I was with my recliner. And I don’t have the TV to distract me.

Granted, I’m still not in a completely ideal environment. My desk (and my entire home office) is cluttered, so there isn’t a lot of room to work. Subsequently, I am working entirely off my laptop, as opposed to having a monitor, mouse, and keyboard with which I’m comfortable. That should come along as I get reacquainted at my work-at-home office space. Getting a new monitor setup and clearing out my home office has soared up my priority list. But to be able to work and be productive again is well worth the change.

The perfect workspace

My client office is in the process of redesigning and rebuilding the office space. The old environment was the traditional “cubicle farm,” along with individual offices used by managers. The new environment — still a work in progress — eliminates the cubicles and utilizes a more open office environment. Each worker who is not a director will have a desk — and not much more.

I have mixed feelings about the new setup. For over a year, space has been an issue; there had been talk about moving to a larger office. The new setup maximizes the use of space. The office spaces have a sleek, modern new look; it looks like a brand-new workspace (which it is), and the new furnishings appear comfortable and attractive. A part of me looks forward to relocating to a clean and shiny new desk. At the same time, it also leaves something to be desired; privacy is non-existent, I have no place to hang my jacket (I do NOT like putting it on the back of my chair), and seeing that many of us participate in virtual meetings through our computers, it could potentially get noisy.

Throughout my professional career, I’ve had a variety of workspaces. In my first job out of college, I didn’t even have a desk of my own; my “workspace” was a data center. Granted, I didn’t do a lot of “sitting at a desk” at that job; much of what I did involved roaming around the data center. Nevertheless, I wasn’t too happy that I didn’t have a space that I could call my own. My next job (and for many jobs afterward), I had my own cubicle. I once had an office (that I shared with another guy) with its own window and door. (I even bought a small dorm-sized cube refrigerator that we shared.) Other times, I worked (as I do now) in an open shared office space. And every once in a while when the need arises (daytime appointment, illness, bad weather, etc.), I’ll work at home in my own living room, sitting in my recliner with the TV on, my laptop, and (sometimes) Bernard — our tuxedo cat and my co-worker for that day — in front of me.

I wrote in an earlier article that I believe a comfortable workspace is important. (For the sake of context, “comfortable” means “I feel good in my workspace,” as opposed to “I love my job.”) Most of my waking hours during a typical week, I am in my workspace; for all intents and purposes, it is my home away from home. If I spend so much time at my workspace, I want it to be comfortable.

What makes a perfect workspace? It depends on the person. Personally, I like having multiple large monitors, a comfortable adjustable chair (that I always adjust to its highest position), a place to hang my coat (again, NOT on the back of my chair), some type of climate control (I usually prefer it cooler, so I usually have a small fan at my desk), a little space where I can put my wife’s picture on my desk and a Syracuse pennant on the wall, and a little bit of privacy while still maintaining some face time with my co-workers. Even those requirements have changed over the years; at one point or another, I would’ve wanted a door that closed, a window with a view, and a place where I could put a small refrigerator. As time passed, those features became less important to me.

No workspace will ever be “perfect.” No matter how comfortable you make your work environment, there will always be some kind of flaw. Nevertheless, it should be a place where you’re comfortable while being productive. Consider it your “home” when you’re at work — because that’s essentially what it is.