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COVID-19 Survival Guide: home office setup tips for developers

Jul 29, 2020 - 10 min read
Amanda Fawcett

After the onset of the COVID-19 crisis and mandatory work-from-home orders, you may have found yourself in need of a home office space to replace your former office. Around the globe, thousands of developers find themselves working remotely in conditions not suited for long hours of coding or collaborative work.

Without a preexisting home office space, developers like you are having to overhaul their setups to stay productive.

For our previous article in this series, we explored what kinds of devices for work-from-home life.

However, having an effective space is more than just the gadgets alone. It’s also about the environment you create and the routines you set for yourself.

Today, we will expand on that conversation and discuss 8 at-home office setup tips.

Today we will discuss:

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1. Create a healthy routine

One of the hardest challenges that remote developers face is curating a routine that mimics life in the office. Working from home should feel different than living at home, and this largely comes down to setting a healthy routine that closely matches the routine from a day at the office.

Routines are all about time management and organization. Other than having a dedicated space for work, which we will discuss below, you should have a clear understanding of how you spend your time at work and away from work.

Start by deciding a start time for your workday and a way to monitor when that time begins. What event in your routine signals that you are now starting for work? Have some kind of tangible marker that you are now in work mode.

Once you start your workday, keep a routine by using a list of daily tasks that you can schedule out throughout the day. And at the end of the workday, develop a habit that signals you are closing down for the day. Set your work notifications (i.e. email, Slack, etc.) to turn off after a certain hour. That way, you keep your routine for the following day as well.

2. Use a work computer or separate desktop

A key part of maintaining a work/life balance is by using devices or environments that feel different than your non-work tools. It is recommended that you use a work computer if your company provides one. This helps to separate your non-work life from work while preventing unnecessary clutter or data cross-over.

The last thing you want is to send a confidential file to a family member by accident! You can even consider creating multiple accounts on your laptop or desktop: one for work and one for non-work. On Mac, you could create an Admin user and a Personal user login.

It is also recommended that you don’t switch over to your non-work devices while you are working. Avoid logging onto your personal email or accounts when you’re “on the clock”. This helps to keep your head in work-mode while you’re at home.

3. Take advantage of different spaces

Some people’s homes are more conducive for working-from-home than others, but no matter the space you have, there are lots of clever solutions for setting up an effective workspace. It is highly recommended that you use a dedicated workspace.

Consider all these spaces in your home, condo, or apartment that easily be converted into a dedicated space for work:

  • Under the stairs (it worked for Harry Potter)
  • An unused attic can be converted into a loft office
  • A guest bedroom can be converted to a large office
  • A fold-down desk in your kitchen as an office desk
  • A large storage closet can be converted to an office
  • An old wardrobe can be converted to a desk that can close
  • Built-in shelves can be converted to a desk
  • A covered porch or balcony (so long as Wi-Fi reaches that far)
  • A converted garden shed makes an enclosed office

There are a lot of spaces in your home that can be used for an office. You don’t need to make it permanent so long as you have a reliable space to return to. Think creatively about how to convert even the smallest of spaces into an efficient workspace. You may even already have the tools you need to get it set up.

4. Keep your desk clear of clutter

Once you have a reliable workspace, it’s important to keep it clean and purposeful. This way, it is a pleasant place to return to every day that doesn’t hinder your workflow. Consider going paperless or invest in simple storage boxes. Even a simple organizing tray for miscellaneous items will keep your desk spacious.

You should consider investing in a good power strip with a surge protector. The last thing you want is dozens of cables strewn about your apartment. As developers, it is also important to keep your devices neat, especially cables.

Consider labeling you cords and buying clips to keep them flush with the desk. Even just binder clips can be used to keep cords together! This will prevent damage to your chords and make it easier to reorganize when needed. Messy cords mean a messy workspace.

5. Accommodate your learning style

One of the benefits of working from home is that you can curate a space perfect for the way you think. If you are a visual learner, consider getting a chalkboard or whiteboard for brainstorming, and reminders.

Do you like detailed schedules to get through the day? Invest in a giant wall calendar to organize your days. Do you work best by writing things down? Get a hearty stack of sticky notes or a magnetic strip to pin up notes to the wall.

If you are an auditory learner, change the settings on your clock to read you the time every hour. Or, if you feel motivated by art or music, consider putting up posters to curate a comfortable space. If you easily feel trapped inside, you can buy indoor plants for your desk to warm-up your work environment. Tiny changes like these can make a big difference!

6. Look for training opportunities while working

When you’re not in the office, it’s easy to miss out on training and skills from ongoing training courses or conversations with colleagues. Ongoing education is vital for the longevity of a developer’s career, so it’s important to look and ask for opportunities while you’re not in the office. Here’s how to do that:

  • Ask to be included in meetings so you can learn more about processes or projects. Advocate for yourself.
  • Set up meetings with colleagues to learn about their career stories or work interests
  • Request brown bag meetings to explore the roles of your teammates
  • Research online learning courses and suggest that your company purchase subscriptions
  • Take advantage of free online courses, like Educative’s COVID Relief Scholarship
  • Brainstorm a list of questions to bring to meetings or 1:1’s

The key here is to use your work hours for ongoing education. Managers should encourage employees to learn during work hours, not after you’re clocked-out. So, find a great online course, advocate for access, and learn a few hours a week! This is vital to the success of your career and the health of your company overall.

Curious about developer training programs? Check out my article Why Developer Training is Broken - and how to fix it

7. Set ground rules with your housemates

No matter who you live with, issues related to boundaries will crop up. It’s important to set ground rules with the people who share your space. Just because you are home does not mean you are available for conversation, favors, or domestic labor. People should not always have access to you. You are at work; don’t forget that.

Find a way to communicate the boundaries you need to be the best worker you can. Maybe that means:

  • Putting a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your home-office door
  • Creating shared quiet hours in your living space
  • Sharing your work calendar with your roommates
  • Creating a clear shared plan for doing chores and groceries
  • Sticking note on your door that explains when you have calls or video chats

This is also important for sharing domestic responsibilities, like cleaning, walking pets, etc. Working from home does not mean you can do chores at any hour, but it also doesn’t mean you’re exempt from them. Sharing a routine saves a lot of hassle, miscommunication, and conflict.

8. Schedule regular breaks

As a developer working from home, staring at the screen can be draining. Read up on your company’s policy about breaks, and take advantage of them. If you are self-employed, make a policy for yourself about the amount of time you can spend away from the desk. For full-time employees, it is standard to get an hour for lunch and two 15-minute breaks. Use them!

It is recommended that you actually step away from your workspace during a break. Avoid looking at other screens during this time. You don’t want to add unnecessary strain to your eyes.

Consider going on a walk around the block, drinking a cup of water on the porch, or doing a quick 10-minute workout. Move your body; stretch your legs, and leave your home for a bit (with a mask, of course). This will help recenter you for work while building a healthy routine.

Working from home is a bitter-sweet change for many developers around the world. Just like any work environment, it has its pros and cons. The key here is to lean into the potential pros and to think creatively about how to mitigate the cons. It may actually be a small change in your routine or workspace that makes the biggest difference.

I hope this guide has helped you with your work-from-home journey.

Continue reading about work-from-home solutions

WRITTEN BYAmanda Fawcett

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