productivity, working from home without losing your soul
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Working from Home: Spaces and Tools

I like the Scandinavian style, Paul enjoys the ultra contemporary office, Christina only works in the garden, Francesca gushes over metal surfaces. There’s plenty of different tastes and Pinterest boards dedicated to home offices (here’s mine). I simply wish to remind you that design magazines and interior decorators won’t be putting their asses in that brushed steel chair for 50 hours a week, the pleasure is all yours.That’s why, no matter how much looks matter to you, please don’t forget to follow ergonomics and convenience in the choice of your work tools. And if your creative flair forces you to put your money in upholstered doll-house armchairs or wooden papal kneeling stools, please explain to your poor bottom that I had tried to convince you otherwise.

Fachiro
Laptops. Keyboard drawers. Wireless mice. Wooden chairs. Beds of nails.

CHOOSE THE RIGHT SPACE

Where you put your home office is not a simple matter and will naturally depend on factors innumerable. If you live on your own, you can work more or less where you want. If however there are other people with you, it might be a good idea to place them all behind a closed door. Working spaces are as many as the people who set them up. What follows is just a set of suggestions based on my own experience (I’ve been nailed on that chair for 6 years – or something like 20.000 hours – and that’s if we count just the working part; only Vishnu knows how many more hours of plain shit shooting have to be added to the equation).

  • As you’re going to spend lots of time in there, unless you’re living in a studio apartment (which would offer the bathroom as only alternative), try and avoid holing up in the cupboard under the stairs. A dark place with a mop to keep you company is not exactly my idea of productive foundry. Choose a real room – though not necessarily big – and well-lighted.
  • Once you’ve chosen the space, experiment with the position of your desk. Staring at the wall might not be your thing. My desk was in the centre of my living room, in my old flat in Rome, and if my current flat was bigger than a cockleshell I would still place it there. Square feet forced me to place it against the wall this time (pics below).[1. My desk has been a work in progress ever since I moved here, more or less a year ago. This week we’re going to raise both displays on a shelf. Plus, I’m definitely throwing that chair out of the window. And now that we’re at it, the lamp might fly as well.]
Scrivania
You still haven’t given me a good vintage lamp. PS, I like steel.

Interno con staffordshire terrier
Interior with Staffordshire terrier. When I shot the pics for this post, last Tuesday, my dog was still alive. Insert pause for tears

  • When choosing your desk, bigger is definitely better. Be sure to only take into account desks with more than 25 inches width to have space enough for your keyboard and forearms (mine is 23-inch wide and is often too narrow). Apart from that, personal preferences count. Glass and metals, for instance, are really beautiful but have the double disadvantage of reflecting light (eye strain) and of freezing the hell out of you: remember that, unless you’ve moved your business to Nusa Dua, at some point winter is going to come around. On a side note, this looks like a good time to mention that if somebody takes it into their hearts to travel around the globe and burn every single desk with an extensible under-desk keyboard tray to the ground, well, that person would have earned my eternal worship and esteem.
  • Saving is good, but don’t economise on everything. One of the things you better spend your dime on is a good chair. No, the one you steal from your kitchen table is not OK. Here, possibilities are almost endless, starting from the faux-plastic garden chair by IKEA to the Emperor 200 – just the thing for the wolves of Wall Street among you, who either buy that or need to throw all their money in the ocean. What matters is that it’s comfortable and with adjustable height.
  • Surround yourselves with living things that will keep you company without distracting you with gossip about your cousin in Germany. A basket for your cats or chihuahuas, a bean-bag for a rottweiler, carnivore plants, even a cactus can be a very gratifying addition. Taking care of something or someone is wonderful, it helps reduce stress; if that someone is also furry, you have your endless pet-therapy reserve.

THINK TECH

Many colleagues work with a laptop. Well, there’s also people who plunge in the Tiber on New Year’s Day, but that doesn’t mean that one should follow their example. I do own a laptop with separate keys and all the bells and whistles, but for my everyday activities I use a desktop with a Full HD 24″ display, a gaming mouse[2. The late Logitech MX518.] and an ergonomic keyboard[3. Logitech Wave. All the Microsoft Comfort ones are OK as well.], thank you. (My laptop is produced only when I’m working elsewhere or when the cleaning lady drives me out to dust the shelves.)

You may take into account an Internet connection that won’t cause you biliary reflux. Even though translation is mostly a textual activity that doesn’t require great computing power, bear in mind that more RAM is always worth your money.

Buy a Wi-Fi printer. You’ll thank me later. Cord covers will give you great satisfaction. When choosing your power strip, be lavish.

Learn to type properly with all your fingers. Advantages are numerous: correct position, less strain, it’s a time saver and helps precision. I guess it’s not necessary to remind you that time is money. There’s a bazillion of websites, free software and Firefox or Chrome extensions that teach you to do that (for instance this one).

Alla tastiera

Learn how to use a computer by attending a course or asking a friend to teach you. (Or you could reel in a sysadmin and lure him into marrying you. I’m currently working on it.)

My colleagues are quite tech-savvy, even though you still get the random hit man who sends out emails about not being able to decompress a RAR file. As long as you work for a company, your complaints will be managed by a system administrator. (In my last office this was a task for The Planer, called that way because he used to solve every problem by taking your PC back to the big bang era, carefully obliterating all your invoices and current job accounts. And the Cloud was still pretty sci-fi stuff, in 2008.) I’m sure that you can learn something even from the most basic ECDL courses. IT skills, like skiing, improve with a few simple tricks that help you fix all those wrong behaviours you’ve acquired after years of unattended downhill.

AND FINALLY, ERGONOMICS (PLUS SOME OTHER STUFF)

Unfortunately, we can’t delay this any longer: the time has come for the VDU users safety course list (such courses are a legal requirement, in Italy, so even I have followed one). I promise I’ll be brief!

  • You need to interrupt your display work every 2 hours for at least  15 minutes; these breaks can’t be combined into larger ones. We do this to fight asthenopia, or eye strain, which gives you blurry or double vision, pain around the eyes, and other such pleasantries. As always, a picture is worth a thousand words:
Steve Buscemeyes
Parbleu, Asthenopia, it’s a seriuos thing, man. 

  • Fine tune natural and artificial light. Too much is not good, too little is bad as well. Window and lamp reflection is also bad. If you choose neon lights, get the warm ones and don’t place them directly in your eyeballs – diffuse the light and use curtains. Excessive contrast (too much white and black) and eyesore colours are a big no no as well. So a big red picture is nice, but please put it behind your chair.
  • Your keyboard needs to be detached from your computer (what did I tell you? adieu, laptop) and must allow you to rest your wrists. A good distance from the edge of the desk is 5-6 inches.
  • A good eye level is roughly around the centre of the display, or slightly higher. That way your neck won’t get too strained upwards or downwards. By the way, a not very active life causes the neck muscles to weaken which in the long run gives you headaches. I’ve been through this. Put simply, your head becomes too heavy for your neck, and not because you’re too smart. A piece of advice would be to stretch often. And also to start practising a sport, but that belongs to the next post – which will also be the last one of this Working from Home series.

 

This post is also available in it_IT.

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