How to optimize your workspace for remote work?

A computer and internet are not enough to be productive

When I tell people that I work remotely, I am often confronted with this romantic view of remote work: They picture a person sitting at the beach or in some far away cottage in the middle of wild nature with nothing but her laptop.

Can you be productive with such a work set-up? Does it matter where I work? There are certainly moments you can (or have to) work from exotic places but most of the time working in the middle of nowhere or at a beach simply does not work. And there is ample evidence that suggest that it does matter very much in which environment we work.

What then is a good set-up? What are the basics you need to set up a productive workspace for remote work?

When I started working remotely, I had my laptop and worked at the kitchen table or on the couch. And this set up was ok for a while, but I soon realised that is was not enough. I started missing a proper desk with all the accessories nearby that you inevitably need when you work: from printer, to pen and paper (yeah, I still print stuff and write things on paper) but also a plug to charge my laptop and phone. Additionally, because I do a lot of virtual meetings, I need to connect my computer to the internet via network cable to avoid the flakiness of my Wifi and ensure good quality audio and video. In other words, I needed to sit close to my router.

I also realised that sitting — actually slugging — on the couch for 10 hours a day was not very good for my posture and health. Plus it did not look very professional in video meetings! Two more reasons get a desk and a good chair.

So for me the basics to set up my physical workspace for remote work are: my computer, a good internet connection with the option of using a network cable instead of Wifi, a webcam, a headset, a desk and a good office chair.

Let me explain why I need these things:

Why use a cable when we now have Wifi everywhere? To stabilise your internet connection. If you live (and/or work) in an area with many wifi networks or your bandwidth is not so great to start with, your connection might drop to veeeery slow frequently, which makes video calls with more than one party almost impossible. The solution is to plug a network cable into your router and switch off Wifi!

Since I do a lot of virtual meetings, I also have a webcam (most new computers have those built in, but if you are a stickler for good quality video it pays to get a separate camera), and a good headset. While a camera is not essential a decent headset is!

Most smartphone headsets do work, but they are not good enough to get a good sound quality for a meeting. Better you buy yourself a USB headset (you can get a decent one of 30–40 USD). USB headsets tend to perform much better than the ones you plug into the headphone jack.

Finally, if you work more than a couple of hours per day from a specific place it makes sense to get yourself a table and a good (ergonomic) office chair. An alternative is a standing desk, which often also take up less space. I have not tried one myself, but know a lot of people who have and are happy with their choice.

After looking the stuff you need to set up a workspace for remote work, you need to decide where that place is located. At home? in a shared office? In a co-working space?

For me working from home alone was really nice in the beginning: no colleagues or noise can disturb you! It’s just that after a couple of weeks it got quite lonely. This is why I started working from a shared office space a couple of days per week and sometimes from coffee shops.

Most remote workers I know work from different places: they have a desk at home, go to public spaces once in a while, and also have access to a shared office or a co-working space.

My recommendation would be to make sure that you have at least one space where you can really work undisturbed. There are moments, when you want to be in a crowded space like a coffee shop or an open plan co-working, but your own work space should give you the possibility to shut yourself out from the world, so you can get those parts of your work done that require focus and creativity.