Thriving in the New Normal//

Little Changes You Can Make If Your WFH Setup Starts to Feel Stale

Small tweaks to your physical surroundings can make a real difference.

Vera Petrunina / Shutterstock
Vera Petrunina / Shutterstock

Your immediate environment can impact your productivity and your mood, which is why being intentional about your surroundings while working from home is so important. Whether you prefer absolute quiet, keeping photos around, or using a standing desk, optimizing your workspace will allow you to feel energized and focused while you work. 

“A lot of people didn’t think working from home would be a long-term change, so they didn’t pause to set up their space,” Elana Feldman, Ph.D., assistant professor of management at UMass Lowell’s Manning School of Business, tells Thrive. “Now is the time to mindfully think about your work setup, and look into the small things that make a big difference.” 

If your WFH space is starting to feel stale and you need help getting focused, here are a few Microsteps that can help:

1. Designate a “work only” space

If your desk is set up in your kitchen or in the same room where your kids are on Zoom for remote schooling, you might understandably have some trouble focusing. When it comes to staying productive, experts say having a degree of separation is crucial. “It’s important for you to set up a space that becomes your office,” says Ronald Riggio, Ph.D., professor of leadership and organizational psychology at Claremont McKenna College. “Set up a place that becomes your ‘office,’ and when you go to that space, you only use it for work.” 

2. Alternate between sitting and standing

We know that sitting all day can take a toll on our bodies, and Feldman says that periodically standing up while you work can help you feel more energized and productive. “I highly recommend that people set up their desks so that they can alternate between sitting and standing,” she says. “It’s great if you can set a timer for every 30 to 45 minutes, so when it goes off, you can take a quick break, and that’s a great chance to switch from sitting to standing.”

3. Try out different Zoom backgrounds 

You might have considered Zoom backgrounds as something fun or silly to try before a meeting starts, but they might actually help you channel a change of scenery, which can help you reset if you’re struggling to focus. “Pick something that makes you feel like you’re in a calm workspace,” Feldman suggests, like a clean office space or an outdoor setting. “If it looks to you like you’re in an environment that’s not your house, it can actually help you feel like you have more of a separation between home and work.”

4. Invest in noise-canceling headphones

The sounds around us can have a direct impact on the way we think and work, which is why finding the right headphones can be crucial. “Invest in noise-canceling headphones, especially if you have kids or a partner or roommates who are also working from home,” Feldman recommends. “You can either simply have them on to block out noise, or you can put on music that energizes or soothes you, depending on your mood.

5. Take regular breaks

For many of us, setting boundaries with screens is a challenge. “People tend to overwork when they are working from home, and they go well beyond the scheduled hours they did previously,” Riggio points out. So to set those healthy boundaries, try taking real breaks where you walk away from your screen for a few minutes. In fact, taking the time away from your work can help improve your well-being. “It’s important to remind ourselves to adjust our expectations so that we don’t end up hitting pandemic burnout,” Feldman adds. “People really need more, not fewer, breaks.”

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