Ease your student supervision speed bumps.

Living at Work: Optimizing your work from home space and routine

Working from home is hard.

When I first started my remote work journey in 2013, I had just left my fulltime job at a college campus to complete my doctoral program. I could wear what I wanted, make my own schedule, heck even work at the beach. After a couple of weeks, the honeymoon wore off. I struggled to stay focused, was lonely – and looking back, became depressed. 

Beyond mental and physical health resources, I had to make some significant changes, in making my home functional, as well as set realistic work structures and routines.

I hope this post will give you a number of ways to optimize your work from home space, but I must recognize the following:

I have a fur-family. My partner is very independent. This is FAR different than those who are juggling caring for children or other dependents. I’ve rounded up a few articles at the bottom from authors who can authentically speak to these realities. 

I realize writing this is a privilege to those still employed. That millions have filed for unemployment and would gladly navigate how to work from home and maintain their paycheck.

I also recognize that thousands are called to show up physically at a job site, in which our society relies on. To these humans putting themselves at risk, the doctors, nurses, EMTs, grocery store workers, cooks, delivery drivers, THANK YOU! Your challenges pale in comparison to those navigating remote work realities.

With those acknowledgments upfront, I’ve been asked enough in the past couple weeks, of how I’ve made working from home a reality. So this post will be a roundup of what tools I’ve invested in, suggestions for setting up your space and schedules, as well as other sources that I think you’ll find helpful. 

Space and Scheduling

I recently shared on social media my concerns about folks becoming overscheduled at home. That our society already glorifies hustle and overworking. I know personally, that the appeal of working from home actually means 24/7 access, which quickly leads to burnout.

Crisis response does require an increased level of attention and communication, and getting by with whatever and wherever you can work to get the job done. However, as we settle into new modes of workflow, I ask you to critically consider your meetings, workload and communication expectations.  

Below are the first things I thought of to thoughtfully and proactively optimize your home for work.

Carve out your space.

If it is the corner of the couch, table, closet or office. Create an environment that you can quickly return to. What tools do you need to work your best? Chargers, notebook, water bottle, pen, etc. In the next section, I list out a number of office supplies and technology tools that have greatly benefited my efficiency and ability to quickly communicate to the masses. 

Take back your schedule.

As much as you are able, establish and actively communicate your availability/office hours. Maybe go so far as to add your hours and/or realistic response time to your email signature. Consider setting an out of office message that includes time-sensitive information and necessary resources. As you set your hours, get creative. Maybe that is 7-11, then 3-7. When do you work best “at home.” For those overachievers like me, you may have to self-regulate from over-working. Setting hours and days off is not selfish, it’s sustainable. You’ll also need to consider the flow of those also under our care, such as children. Supervisors need to be open to these ALL realities and re-define together worktime. 

Get UP and Out.

I realize some areas of the world this is not encouraged/allowed. In this case, stand up, go to another area of your home/apartment, or open the window. Physically remove yourself from your work hub. For those that are able to get outside, even for five minutes – you will notice a huge difference. If you don’t have existing reminders – create a daily calendar event to get you up and out. We didn’t have animals until I began working from home. Our pup parker was my reminder to stop working on my dissertation, or else I’d have a mess on my hands. Maybe now is the time to rescue that pup or kitten!

Set the ambiance.

Considering your surroundings and what you have control of, how can you modify to set the best support? Near my desk, I have an essential oil diffuser, candles, crystals, and photos of my friends and family. I’ve also recently added my vision board. Plants have also been a wonderful addition. A number of these woo-woo items are listed below. I also create different playlists on Spotify, based upon what energy I’m trying to evoke or type of work I’m doing. If background noise becomes an issue, consider noise-canceling headphones. Make sure to get one with a built-in mic, so you can also use it in your meetings.

Invest in Tools.

Let’s be honest, the majority of working professionals have always been taking their work home from the office. You may have already pieced together some resources to get you by in the evenings and weekends. However, it is much different doing it day after day. You’ll quickly realize you now have a need for a printer, increased wifi speed, furniture, a halfway comfortable chair and more. What I use is listed in the next section. Lesson: do not work from your couch/in front of your TV all day. It’s hard on your body and then you lose a “un-plug” location.

A note on advocating to your employer/supervisor:

Inquiry with your employer if they have any programs for work from home reimbursements (at least for now), for tools and/or what technology/supplies they are willing to purchase for you. Advocate for yourself and document why any tool(s) is necessary to complete work at this time. Weigh this against how any specific tool may benefit you beyond the required stay at home orders. If they do not offer discounts or reimbursements, this (and your entire newfound office space) should be tax-deductible. Keep those receipts!! 

Tools to Optimize Work from Home

What tools have you used or have recently discovered? Tweet at me @josieahlquist and let me know! 

Here is my current set-up – what is yours??

Below I’m listing all tools I have invested in over the years (affiliate links included). Many I use every single day and make work much more comfortable, efficient, and quality. 

Desk Chair: Serta My Fit Executive Office Chair with 360-Degree Motion Support

Adjustable Standing Desk

Anti Fatigue Comfort Floor Mat

Comfy Adjustable Height Foot Rest

Essential Oil Diffuser

Comfort Lumbar Support for Office Chair

Voluspa Yashioka Gardenia Large Embossed Glass Jar Candle

iPhone Tripod Mount for iPhone

iPad Floor Stand

Light Stand for Video, Photo

Dimmable LED Studio Camera Ring Light

Professional Grade Lavalier Lapel Microphone

Kana Salt Lamp

Nespresso by De’Longhi ENV135GYAE Coffee and Espresso Machine Bundle

Apple Magic Mouse 2

Heavy Duty Polycarbonate Office Chair Mat

Apple Wireless Magic Trackpad

Cordies Desktop Cable Management

Logitech MK550 Wireless Wave Keyboard and Mouse Combo

Portable Lap Desk 

Logitech C922x Pro Stream Webcam

Charging Station Stand & Multi-Device Organizer Charging Dock

Remote Work Resources

I’m confident this is not the first blog post you’ve come across that shares insight into the world of remote work. I hope the suggestions and tools I offered will be helpful, even when you finally go back into the office. 

Here are a number that I’ve found beneficial:

Stay Connected

After seven years of working office-free, I’ve finally found a happy medium that provides the tools I need, along with a community that keeps my heart lifted, even on the darkest days. Especially in these recent days.

Connection to your people is a tool you can not purchase on Amazon. While we must stay physically distant, at the very top of your to-do list needs to be social connection. Beyond the back to back work zoom calls or slack channels. You must prioritize connection to your community, but also very importantly – stay connected to yourself.

If you’d like to stay connected with the work I do, educating on digital engagement and leadership to college students up to executives, please consider subscribing to my newsletter. And of course, find me on all the socials: Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.

All of my programs and services are transforming to engage, connect and educate online. I offer speaking (Students + Higher Education + Organizations), consulting and executive coaching, which will be delivered through a variety of interactive and on-demand methods. Use my contact form and we’ll get planning.

About Josie

I’m Dr. Josie Ahlquist—a digital engagement and leadership consultant, researcher, educator, and author. I’m passionate about helping people and organizations find purposeful ways to connect, engage, and tell their unique story. I provide consulting, executive coaching, and training for campuses, companies, and organizations that want to learn how to humanize technology tools and build effective and authentic online communities.

My blog and podcast have been recognized by EdTech Magazine, Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. My book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education, was published in 2020 and was listed as a #1 new release for college and university student life. I have been growing my consultancy since 2013 and am based in Los Angeles. When I’m not helping clients lead online, you might find me training for a triathlon, spoiling my nieces and nephews, or exploring with my husband and our rescue dogs in our new RV called Lady Hawk.

I’d love to connect! Find me on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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Rebekah Tilley

Assistant Vice President, University of Iowa Center for Advancement

Rebekah Tilley is the assistant vice president of communication and marketing for the University of Iowa Center for Advancement (UICA). In that role she supports fundraising and alumni engagement efforts for the university, including its CASE Gold winning Iowa Magazine, and serves UICA in a variety of strategic communication efforts.

Previously she was the director of strategic communication for the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business, and the director of communication for the University of Kentucky College of Law. She is a Kentucky native and a proud alum of the University of Kentucky.

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