Good Job: 17 Things You Need if You’re Working From Home Right Now

Working From Home
I’ve worked from home as a freelance writer and editor for the past eight years. Now everyone from software engineers to marketing managers have been forced to join me, thanks to coronavirus. Here’s how I keep myself on track—I’m hoping these will help you, too. Getty Images

Use the mute button during conference calls.

Let my slip-up be your guide: Early on in my work-from-home career, I was in the middle of a crowded conference call training session and sitting on my deck. One of my daughters, then 3, didn’t understand why my husband wouldn’t let her come outside to be with me and piped up with her disapproval. Very loudly. The training leader said, “Whoever has the crying baby, can you please mute your phone?” If you don’t have to be an active part of the work conversation, the mute button is your friend. Use it.

Get noise-cancelling headphones.

If you’re in an urban environment or have kids, roommates or a dog at home during work hours, noise-cancelling headphones will cut out the sound clutter and help you zero in on what’s in front of you. These two get top marks from Consumer Reports: The Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, which are pricey, but worth it; and the JBL Live wireless headphones, which are a more wallet-friendly option.

Ignore your doorbell and silence your cell.

Treat your home office just like you would your real one, and don’t answer the doorbell or take non-business-related calls or texts when you’re working. Whoever it is can wait until you’re “home” from work. I always silence my phone during stints of working, and try to look at it only when I’m taking a break.

Get a full-size keyboard.

What’s that old saying? “A keyboard that’s comfortable to use, durable, quiet and has good lighting is worth a thousand words”? No? Well this full-size one, with over 3,000 positive ratings on Amazon, might be worth a thousand and one. Instead of crunching your elbows in to type on your laptop or compact Bluetooth keyboard, a larger one lets you hold your shoulders, arms and hands in a more natural position.

Unclutter the background for video calls.

You don’t really want your biggest client to see your sink full of dirty dishes behind you, do you? “Before starting my day, I will clean up the surfaces and anything that will show on video—grabbing toys and books that have migrated from my kids’ room,” says work-from-home veteran Annie Carmona, a managing director on Teach For America’s Human Assets team. One of her remote co-workers actually pulls a curtain to separate herself from other things that may be going on in her home.

Designate a specific area as your “office”—even if it’s just the coffee table.

Whether it’s a separate room or a section of countertop, dedicating an area in your home to working helps you set physical and mental boundaries for yourself and for other family members, says career consultant Kerry Hannon.

Try a standing desk “converter.”

It’s easy to get too comfortable—and therefore, slow and drowsy—at home. A computer platform that lets you stand up can help keep your blood, and work juice, flowing.

Get dressed—no pajamas!

Staying in your pajamas or workout clothes sends a loud message to your brain that it’s time to chill. So commit to your workday at home the same way you’d commit if you were headed elsewhere, recommends Lisette Sutherland, author of Work Together Anywhere. “Shower and get dressed like you normally would for going to the office.” Your boss will thank you.

Get a mini fan (or space heater).

Offices have HVAC systems that keep fresh air moving all day long. Not so at home. If your house tends to get stuffy or overwarm during the day, a desk fan can help keep you alert. (If you’ve never experienced a Vornado fan like this mini version, you’re missing out.) On the other hand, if your place gets chilly, a space heater like this one that got top billing from Wirecutter, can save you from bundling up in a blanket…and accidentally falling asleep.

Don’t forget to eat!

When you’re on your own at home, it’s very easy to stay at your keyboard and forget to do everything from emptying your bladder to feeding yourself. “I have to be really cognizant ahead of time to plan my meals like I would if I were going into an office,” says Carmona. “Otherwise, they won’t happen!” No food = low blood sugar = no energy = no brain power.

Try the “Pomodoro” technique to stay on task.

Keep yourself from checking Instagram every 5 minutes with the help of the Pomodoro Technique, a time management tool that divides work sessions up into 25-minute intervals, with short breaks in between. It really works.

Invest in a good office chair.

Working in an armchair or on your couch will get old fast, and put a kink in your neck and shoulders. A good desk chair can remind you that you are, in fact, “at work,” and save your back. I love this one because it comes in every color you can imagine and adds some cheer. This option isn’t quite as colorful, but it’s a fraction of the price and comes highly recommended by the Wirecutter.

Treat Yourself.

Get some chocolates you like. Order that fruity tea or chocolate coffee you like. Stock your fridge with flavored seltzer. A little luxury can go a long way toward making your new workplace enjoyable.

Don’t slump and slouch.

It’s all too easy to do the “gargoyle” over your laptop when working from home. To help yourself keep better posture—and save your neck, shoulders and wrists—get a laptop stand. I use an ergonomic stand that keeps my arms and wrists aligned and lets me set up shop as comfortably on my couch as on my dining room table. When you’re seated at a table, desk or counter, you should always bring your monitor or laptop screen up to eye level to protect your neck and back. A lot of my freelance friends like the lightweight, portable Nexstand.

Set smart priorities.

When it’s up to you to plan your workday, it’s especially important to set priorities. Organization expert Julie Morgenstern uses the “4Ds” system: Delete. Take anything off your to-do list that is repetitive or just not important. Delay. Pay attention to when things really need to get done and prioritize accordingly. Delegate: Hand off work that is better suited to someone else or doesn’t make good use of your time. Diminish. Think about the most effective way to get something done— for example, will a call get results faster than an email? Then pick up the phone.

Get on a regular schedule (and tell your roommate or spouse about it).

Plan out exactly when you’ll be working and when you won’t, suggests career and leadership strategist Dan Pontefract. And then protect those times from interruptions and other appointments. “If I’m facilitating a session for a live audience,” says Carmona, “I let my husband know ahead of time when I need him to be out of the house.” If you have a dog, consider dropping him off at doggie daycare or putting him outside when you need to be particularly professional.

Move your body.

Take advantage of your work-from-home freedom to move around more often and keep your blood flowing and your energy up. Set movement-break alarms every hour or two, switch up your positions and locations, take a call while walking around the block. Here’s hoping that with a little planning and set-up, you can be just as productive from home as you are at the office.