I’m not one to recommend spending money very often, but by this point during lockdown, you might be hurting — especially your wrists, neck, back, feet and mental health.
Back in March, if your employer offered a small one-time subsidy to help you get set up to work from home, you may have spent it on AirPods rather than an ergonomic keyboard or chair. If we’d known how long this would last, you may have made different choices.
Since March, non-essential workers have been connecting to their customers and workplaces from kitchen tables, countertops, picnic benches, couches, beds, children’s activity centres and more. Unless a work-from-home culture was previously established in your organization, the physical way you work is different; VPN, phone calls, virtual team meetings, product reviews by video and so on.
If this new way of work looks to be a more permanent fixture in your life, you’ll need to invest appropriately in your at-home setup; your workstation, internet and cellphone package, inventory storage and shipping arrangements.
You need to invest if …
Seen a dip in your at-home productivity? This could cost you a future job promotion and impact your salary, in an already unstable employment environment. Are you experiencing aches and pains in your body? You could be setting yourself up for long-term health issues like carpal tunnel syndrome. Do background noises from neighbours, children and your spouse prevent you from hitting client deadlines? You may lose business if your clients are of the less forgiving variety. Are you experiencing depression or anxiety? The space you’re in can, amongst many other factors, impact your mental health. This last one is touchy, but true. Are you gaining too much weight? Being overly sedentary because you’re working from beneath your bed covers is bad for your health. Or, an uncomfortable work setup could increase peckish snacking.
Just how much should you invest in your workspace?
Workspace improvements can cost nothing (if you’re reusing and rearranging what you already have) or can run thousands of dollars (if you’re buying brand new everything). My recommendation is to get maximum value for minimum cost to make your workspace as ergonomic as possible. It’s simply not in most peoples’ budgets, nor is it prudent, to spend on workspace luxuries if there’s a possibility that you’ll be back in the office next year. We need to prioritize.
What are the most critical things you need to be great at your work? If you are a graphic designer, you might need a large screen. If you’re a physiotherapist now consulting virtually, you may need a weight set and foam roller. If you’re managing people and on calls all day, you might need a headset and ergonomic chair. If you’re streaming media, you probably need a major upgrade to your internet package. For me, it’s key to have a space with a door so that my 10-month-old baby can’t access the room and slobber all over my computer.
Start with a list of what is most relevant to your work.
Next, create a budget for those workspace elements.
Then determine what level of support your employer is willing to offer you to make these improvements. If you have special needs, be clear about those costs with your boss as there should be additional room in the budget for your needs.
The difference will be coming from your pocket. If you have savings from the past 12 weeks from being on lockdown (no gym or child-care fees, for example), allocate a portion toward your workspace needs. If you’re strapped, you may need to tackle these improvements slowly, as each paycheque rolls in. Note that there is a huge second-hand market for desks, chairs, lights, computers, screens and so on, especially since so many businesses have closed permanently because of COVID-19. Going the gently used route will also reduce waste and could greatly help the person from whom you’re buying.
Keep the receipts for anything you spend money on for your at-home workspace as these costs could be tax deductible.
Permanent changes to your home
If you own and are keen to build out or convert a room into an office, consult a real estate professional, especially if selling is on the horizon in the next year or two. Changing walls, adding doors and more can have long-term price implications and may require building permits.
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If you rent, call your landlord for permission to make changes. You wouldn’t want to do anything that would cause you to lose your security deposit or, in worse cases, land you in small claims court.
A healthy workspace is worth the investment. Just make sure you can afford the improvements.
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