(This post is sponsored by Samsung Canada and Staples Canada. All opinions – and the cat – are my own.)
With more people working and studying from home because of the pandemic, our home study spaces can be seriously under pressure. Nothing is more stressful than having everyone dive into the office for the coveted, quiet spot in the house at the same time.
I’ve got three tips for you to take the pressure off! Better understanding what each person has to do should help you expand the variety of suitable places to work in your home and help confirm the need for any additional furniture or technology to support you.
Step One – Complete a task audit.
Take some time to think through each person’s commitments and specifically what kinds of activities they will undertake. It can be helpful to think through these tasks in three categories:
a) Consumption – Taking in new information by reading, listening, or watching.
b) Creation – Making new works on a computer or with paper, music, food, or other materials
c) Collaboration – Working with others
Prepare an inventory of all tasks including such activities such as attending online classes, reviewing notes, drawing, colouring, podcasting, writing on a whiteboard, reading, and meeting with others (virtually or socially distanced), and of course, mind wandering.
For each task, identify the technology or materials that will support you in accomplishing your task. Technology is always innovating and often the improvements can drive a significant productivity boost. Samsung Canada sent me two products in their lineup to try out.
A more powerful tablet
It used to be that tablets were ideal for consuming information but a challenge when it came to creating. Since my first tablet, about ten years ago, tablets have evolved dramatically. I remember feeling so liberated by the tablet which I could use while reclining after a car accident left me unable to sit at my desk for the second half of the day. But there was a lot I couldn’t do.
The brand new Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+ with its 12.4-inch display (and its smaller 11-inch sister, the Galaxy Tab S7) combines the power of a pc with the portability of a tablet. To be released in Canada on September 18th, 2020 both tablets will be available just as classes are starting across the country.
Both versions come with an “S” pen, which Samsung also refers to as a “magic wand”. That made me curious! Since high school, I have enjoyed hand-writing my notes but so far haven’t tried an electronic solution that felt as comfortable as writing in a regular paper notebook. Not only do old habits die hard, there are studies that show handwriting improves memory retention(1) in part because there is more time to think while writing than typing. And if you’re sharing your notes, you can convert your writing text for easier readability.
Latency, the delay for the image to show up while writing, has been reduced to a hard-to-notice 9 ms – and the haptic of friction and sound while writing now means that taking notes on a tablet provides an experience which closely mirrors the feeling of writing on paper. It feels good.
What about the magic? The “S” pen includes sensors that detect motion enabling shortcuts for your workflow and a click button which offers remote control for your camera and presentations.
Enjoy a better, brighter screen
Have you ever been working on a laptop outside and been frustrated because it was difficult to see the screen? Samsung has brought the QLED technology pioneered in its television lineup to laptops for a portable cinematic viewing quality.
QLED stands for quantum dot LED (light-emitting diode). According to CNET, “Quantum dots are microscopic nanocrystals that glow a specific wavelength (i.e. color) when given energy.”(2) It’s this extra light that gives the screen a brightness boost making it easy to see in the most illuminated rooms. An “Outdoor Mode” kicks the light up even further with a function key.
First introduced in May 2020, the Galaxy Book Ion is a beautifully crafted, sleek and slim, less-than-a-kilogram light laptop with a battery that will carry you through your day and then some. The extra bright screen and easy portability open up more workspace possibilities.
Step Two – Pick a posture.
Comfort is a key ingredient for maximum productivity and performance. If we are uncomfortable, it is a real-time distraction and what I call “energy thief” and can also be the beginnings of a long-term injury. Paying attention to the ergonomics of each environment for each person cannot be overlooked and one size does not fit all. That said, there are more options than you might think for working effectively. Here are some thoughts to consider.
Let’s tackle the most obvious work posture first. Whether at a desk or a table, make sure your wrists are flat when using your keyboard. This might mean raising the chair. If your feet are now dangling, add a footrest. A footrest not only supports your legs, it helps keep you sitting properly with your lower back against the back of the chair. If you are not feeling the chair back when fully in the seat, add a pillow or lumbar support. Note that women have deeper curves in their lumbar area of the spine and will likely need more support than men.
If you’re using a computer for longer than an hour, invest in a separate wireless keyboard and mouse, as well as a laptop stand to place the screen at a more comfortable viewing height and distance. Your neck will thank you.
Staples Canada has many affordable chair and desk options to choose from. If you’ve been struggling to make do, it could be time to create another workstation to keep everyone comfortable.
Create standing workstations to not only ease the pressure on your sitting stations and on your backs! When setting up a standing station, follow the guidance above with respect to flat wrists while keyboarding and placing the screen in the right place. An anti-fatigue mat (or what I use, a pair of cork-soled Birkenstocks) will keep you more comfortable, as will the use of a footrest to raise one leg, keeping your lower spine happy.
Research from Stanford University confirms that creativity increases significantly while you’re walking (3)…and shortly afterward, no matter whether it’s indoors or out. Think about what can be accomplished while walking. Voice recording your thoughts is a wonderful way to capture new ideas.
Though reclining during the day has the air of appearing unprofessional to some, we may be compromising our most profound thinking in what I call “Mind Wandering” time. It’s also the perfect posture when you want to relax and take some pressure off your spine. Working from home, you’ve never been closer to a comfy sofa or your bed. Arianna Huffington, now chief of Thrive Global, and I agree, you should have places to relax and rest at work (4). It’s part of sustaining your performance. Be careful not to overdo it though and create an association with work in your bedroom as it might affect your ability to fall asleep. (5)
Step 3 – Respect preferences and privacy.
As human animals, we have different sensitivities to our surroundings and to be most productive these need to be respected. You might not feel bothered by visual stimulation (clutter), noise, or the energy of other people, but some in your family may be. In general, it is an act of love to cater to the most sensitive amongst you.
a) Organize your space to reduce visual stimulation.
Create order on your desk, behind workspaces (for the camera) and in front to avoid distractions. Desk organizers keep supplies handy and tidy. They also save space by storing items vertically thereby using a smaller footprint.
b) Make it easy to tidy up.
Use a rolling cart to help create an instant office in another room. This cart with three levels has ample storage for supplies, reference materials, and healthy snacks.
c) Curate your soundscape.
We have different preferences for sounds while we work. Some love the clamour of a coffee shop, something the free version Noisli provides, along with a variety of more soothing sounds like rain, streams, and a crackling fire. Other more recently developed sites such as the straight-forwardly named Sound of Colleagues provide recordings of all sorts of office noises to help cue you to get to work…or if you’re like me, remind me just why I wanted to work from home so much in the first place. Thank goodness there was no sound of nail clipping, something one of my colleagues used to do regularly. I wish I was kidding.
For many students and workers, it is necessary to mask other sounds. Making an investment in noise-canceling headphones is your best bet to eliminate unwanted sounds as you can keep your listening volume lower. For growing kids, headphones that cap the sound volume to 85 decibels are a help. In 2015, the World Health Organization pointed out that over 1.1 billion young people may be at risk of hearing loss because of “unsafe listening practices” (6), so when you use headphones, pay attention to safe volumes.
Step 4 – Cocreate a family schedule
With all these insights and options, avoid any last-minute conflicts by discussing your needs and preferred workspaces as part of a regular #hometeam meeting. I recommend once a week, on the weekend or at the start of the week. It is an appropriate time to review your commitments and work together to help each other achieve your objectives in the most comfortable and productive places to work.
For more tips, visit www.clarekumar.com/workfromhome
And if you want to work through any of this with a coach, it would be my pleasure to assist. Good luck on the journey.
1. The Benefits of Handwriting
2. Quantum Dots
3. Boost Creativity While Walking
4. Rest and Recline at Work
5. Working in the Bedroom Might Challenge Your Sleep
6. Teens at Risk of Hearing Loss