In the spring of 2020, millions of people stepped away from their desks to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of those employees may have assumed they’d be back in their cubicles within months, but experts predict the shift to remote working may be permanent for many employees.
This transition may not surprise people who’ve watched the remote working trend grow in recent years. An estimated 56 percent of non-self-employed workers have jobs considered suitable for working from home at least some of the time, according to Global Workplace Analytics. And remote work was increasing before the pandemic. In Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace study, 43 percent of employees worked from a remote office occasionally. However, when it comes to working remote half time or more, the numbers are fewer. About 3.6 percent of the U.S. workforce made this claim as of 2018, according to Global Workplace Analytics’ analysis of 2018 American Community Service data.
The pandemic will undoubtedly expand all categories of remote workers. Businesses may eventually embrace a hybrid approach, where employees work from home two or three days a week. This model may allow companies and employees to have the best of both worlds. A combination of remote and office time offers workers the opportunity for collaboration and meetings in the office and the chance to burn through to-do lists alone at home.
Regardless of how often employees work at home, it will be beneficial for employers and managers to ensure teams have home offices that boost productivity. That’s especially important because remote working comes with some challenges for most people.
The challenges of working remotely
In a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 70 percent of companies reported the switch to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic was challenging.
What’s so difficult about it? The answer varies depending on the type of work, the employee, their home office set up, and their employers’ accommodations to help them create a productive remote team atmosphere. But workers commonly report similar challenges, including frequent distractions and interruptions, Wi-Fi connectivity issues, and feelings of isolation.
Employers may be able to address many remote work challenges by offering their employees strategic home-office accessories. For example, studies suggest frequent interruptions at work correlate with decreased job satisfaction and wellbeing. Thus, by providing employees with tools designed to minimize those distractions (such as noise-canceling earbuds), employers may make a big difference in workers’ productivity—and happiness.
Internet speed can be a real problem. Broadband speeds declined significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic due to increased internet usage because of stay-home orders. A newer router can offer faster speeds and multiple frequencies. Even if an employee’s general duties don’t require a speedy connection, a solid internet connection can make communication easier using software such as Slack or Zoom. These tools help teammates feel more connected and less isolated, which may make adapting to a remote work environment easier.
Office accessories for remote work success
Employers should consider the benefits of outfitting remote employees with the following products. And employees may want to spring for a few of them to make their own lives easier. Some you may consider essentials while others are in the nice-to-have realm. All have the potential to help employees thrive while working from home.
1. Noise-canceling headphones
Learning to focus in a new environment always takes some adjustment. It’s even more difficult when an environment regularly introduces new, distracting sounds—for instance, if you share your home office with a shouty Zoom attendee or have a cat who yowls when her bowl reaches the half-empty point. A pair of noise-canceling headphones can be a lifesaver. You can pop them in, pull up white noise or a playlist designed to help you focus, and get back in the groove.
2. Wireless charging pad
Workers may use their phones more at home than they did at the office, and it’s helpful to have a way to keep a phone and other devices juiced without having a thousand wires crisscrossing your desk. A wireless charging pad can make a huge difference in keeping batteries charged and desks clear of clutter. If you don’t have wireless charging capabilities on your devices, a charging hub may help you keep devices charged while organizing cables.
3. Laptop stand
For many people, a laptop can more than do the job. But if you plan to use your laptop long term, it’s best to design a set-up that supports good posture and hand position. Proper ergonomics is a key to pain-free working, and a laptop stand can help.
4. Wireless keyboard and mouse
In addition to a laptop stand, plugging in an external keyboard and mouse to a laptop can help you design a home set-up that’s easier on your body. And there’s no reason to plug in a mouse or keyboard these days with all the excellent wireless mouse and keyboard options.
5. Smartphone and cord holder
Don’t spend precious minutes of your workday searching for your phone. An organizer holds phones and chargers you use frequently in one place. It doesn’t need to have charging capabilities to be helpful.
We all know the meeting attendee who only uses their phone camera—and always aims it up their nose or walks around holding it. Don’t be that person. If you’re working from home, chances are you’ll take video calls. A webcam will help you appear more professional the next time your boss requests a virtual meeting. Even if your hands are shaky, nobody will notice.
7. Upgraded router
With slower internet posing a real problem, it’s important to do what you can to make sure you get the best connection possible. Many factors may impact the speed of your connection. So do you need to upgrade your router? It depends. A new router can help with Wi-Fi environmental issues, such as interference from too many people on nearby Wi-Fi networks, which is a common issue these days. Newer routers may also improve your connection if your old router only supports older and slower wireless standards. But before you buy a new router, test your current router to see whether a new one is likely to help.
8. Ergonomic office chair
The chair you dragged in from the dining room probably doesn’t offer the same support as your workplace’s office chair. Investing in an ergonomic office chair may help you prevent pain and other ailments related to improper posture.
9. Standing desk converter or standing desk
Even the most ergonomic desk chair has its limits, so many people who work from home invest in a standing desk or standing desk converter. Studies suggest standing desks can reduce the risk of shoulder and back pain and help blood sugar return to normal following a meal. Therefore, they may help you ward off health issues related to sitting, such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
10. Balance balls, pads, or boards
You may already know that engaging your stabilizing muscles—the ones that help you balance—benefits your health, but did you know some office accessories can help you engage those muscles while you’re working? Items such as stability balls (which you can sit on), balance pads (which you place on an office chair), or balance boards (which you stand on at a standing desk) can offer your muscles a slight challenge without causing much distraction. It’s not advisable to use these products all the time, but rather to incorporate them for shorter periods throughout the day.
A speaker that connects to your phone via Bluetooth isn’t just good for blasting your favorite productivity playlist on Spotify. The right one can also make conference calls more pleasant with quality sound and a built-in microphone, so you don’t need to wear headphones.
12. Espresso machine or coffee maker
If you find that you miss the fancy office coffee maker even more than you miss your coworkers, it may be time to invest in a better espresso machine or high tech coffee maker . After all, you may not have a break room to retreat to, but you still deserve a coffee break once in a while.
Whether these products are necessities or simply nice additions to your home office depends on an employee’s set-up and remote work challenges. Some of these tools are sure to help remote workers take productivity to the next level—and enjoy remote work a little more, too!