It’s been more than a year since many of us began working at home. And during that time, as the pandemic wore on…and on…and on…we’ve all experimented with how to fashion a home office.
Like Golidlocks, I had to try on three different virtual offices before I got it right. I started by co-opting my husband’s workspace whenever I had an important meeting. He’s got one of those huge, wrap-around desks. Said desk also happens to be located in the room in our house with the best Wi-Fi. So every time I needed to deliver a workshop—which is, P.S., how I make a living—I would kick him out, dump his papers on the floor to hide all traces of his existence, and do it there. That strategy worked great for my business, but not so great for my marriage.
From there, I graduated to a room in our basement, which doubled as my meditation room, workout studio and storage closet. I bought a green screen to hid the paint-chipped walls, stacked some books on top of a folding table to bring my laptop up to eye level, and thought I was golden. Until I learned the hard way—mid-workshop—that the Wi-Fi was iffy down there and bolted upstairs to finish my workshop at my husband’s desk. More marital strife ensued.
So for my birthday this year, my husband kitted me out with my own new workspace in a corner of our bedroom. (Thank goodness in our marital division of labor, he’s also the technical advisor. Armed with a tape measure, he spent a week figuring out how to fit everything I needed into an exceptionally small space.)
But whether you have a large home office, the edge of a kitchen table or what is now lovingly known as a “cloffice” (tiny workspace inside a closet), here are five must-haves to make your virtual workspace work for you:
a. Get an adjustable desk. This is a game changer. I love my Jarvis Fully standing desk, but there are loads of other models on the market. The adjustable desk is particularly useful in virtual meetings for two reasons. First, standing up gives you energy, especially if you’re delivering a presentation. Standing also helps you project authority and may even help you think better. So it’s worth having a desk that rises to the occasion, as it were. Second, if you wish to look professional, you need to have your webcam/laptop at eye level. Otherwise, the rest of us will be staring at your forehead or—worse!—your nostrils. I can’t tell you how much I love pushing a button to elevate my desk to eye level. I feel like a Star Trek character. (And yes, I’m dating myself here…)
b. Invest in a good microphone. Good sound quality also conveys professionalism. Don’t rely on the built-in mic on your desktop computer. What kind of mic you buy depends on how noisy your house is. Mine is quite loud, with the odd saxophone lesson happening during a meeting, so I’ve got a headset to block out ambient sound. But if your home is quiet, then by all means get a standing mic or a boom mic with omnidirectional sound. Lapel mics are also good. But be careful! If they’re attached to a USB port in your computer and you stand up abruptly, you may be sorry!
c. Buy a Ring Lamp. Actually, buy two. It’s so important to be well-lit during important meetings. Natural light is fantastic, but if your window is located behind you, your entire face will be blacked out. And if you do meetings in the evening (I live in the UK, where “night” begins at 4 pm for several months of the year), you’ll want at least one ring lamp to illuminate your face. Don’t position these so that they shine directly into your eyes; rather, you want them at an angle.
d. Connect to the Ethernet. Again, I learned this lesson the hard way. If at all possible, you always want to hold important online meetings from a computer that’s connected to an ethernet cable. An ethernet connection isn’t always faster than WiFi, but it provides a much more stable connection. So you are far less likely to drop out. And if, like me, you live in a home with spotty wifi, you can also buy an powerline adapter (also known as a TP link) to connect your home office to the main ethernet network.
e. Fix your background. Backgrounds also matter. A bit of color on the wall (like yellow) is better than a white background, which washes you out. But the key thing is to make your background as decluttered as possible. Try to have one personal item that says something about you (a painting, a photo, a vase), but no more than that. Some people like the pre-made fake backgrounds offered by Zoom, MS Teams and the like, but I think they lack authenticity. The new Zoom blur feature also works well if you aren’t able to fashion a good background in your home. Do check out Room Rater, which launched about a year ago on Twitter, if you’d like a professional opinion.
What am I missing?