How To Improve Your Working From Home Game With These Hacks

Working from home for the last eight months has certainly created its share of challenges for me as an entrepreneur and I’m willing to bet that I’m not alone. It took me a short while to get myself and my team situated, and, thanks to their adaptability and dedication, we were able to flex to our new reality and demands rather easily.

As the months of working remotely wore on, I decided to begin adapting my home office to better meet my needs on a more sustained basis. I did a lot of research and was pleasantly surprised to find some key products that have made my home office a work environment that really supports both my work style and productivity as well as my comfort. I thought that it might be interesting to share some of the more innovative and helpful office enhancements that I’ve benefitted most from in 2020.

I realize that everyone has their own preferences and tastes and that the nature of work can vary quite widely so I am not suggesting my favorites would be a surefire hit for you but, if you’re interested in getting settled in the work-from-home situation over the long-term, then these might be worth checking out.

Productivity and Focus Perspective.

Getting focused.

With kids, animals, buses, and every other noise-emitting entity on earth doing its very best to distract and disrupt your calls and video meetings, a pair of noise-canceling headphones is an absolute must. While there seems to be a near-endless number of headsets and headphones one might choose from here are a few of my favorites.

Hands down the very best headphones, in my humble opinion, are made by Shure. Shure is no stranger to fantastic audio quality and their Aonic 50 noise-canceling headphones are simply amazing. The over-the-ear style makes them exceptionally comfortable for all-day wear and the sound quality is so good that I often think people are behind me when I’m all alone in the office. They are so crisp and clear-, in fact, that they put many other headphones to shame. If you (typically) spend a lot of time on the road, you may want to find more compact options for audio than the Aonic 50 but while confined to your home, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything that can stand up to these headphones.

For those of you who require superb clarity for meetings, podcasts, or other recordings, they can be hard-wired to a microphone like Shure’s MV5 which provides very high-quality sound input in a small package that can certainly travel with you.  Once removed from the small base, the round microphone is slightly smaller than a tennis ball and is light as a feather. Easy to operate with on mic controls, the MV5 makes a solid option for someone wanting top-quality audio without taking up a lot of desk real estate.

Another headset that has quite a bit of sound quality and versatility, in my opinion, is the EPOS ADAPT 560, an on-ear, Bluetooth headset that includes a very discreet and handy boom arm microphone that can be stowed away when not in use. They are also small enough that they may be a decent option to travel with. The sound and microphone quality are fantastic on the ADAPT 560s and they boast a very long (up to 46 hours) battery life giving them utility both in the office and on the road making for a great all-around headset.

If you are looking for a headset that can serve double duty during the workday and also support your after-work gaming inclinations, I would recommend considering the HyperX Cloud Mix. The Cloud Mix provides really nice audio quality, can be used in both wired and wireless formats and has a microphone that can be easily added or removed to customize to whatever you happen to be doing at the moment. They are light and, in my opinion, great value for the price. They are also small enough to travel with when, and if, you ever get back out on the road.

Staying focused (especially during those never-ending Zoom calls):

I pride myself on my ability to focus for long periods of time. This is probably a function of time spent in the military and my line of work consulting and coaching for so many years. One thing that I didn’t realize was the challenge of maintaining the same level of focus on hours upon hours of Zoom calls and the fatigue that can be associated with it.

Mindfulness exercises have helped but I’ve also come across some simple, yet elegant, methods for keeping myself present during long periods where I am not active on video calls. Calm Strips are sensory adhesive strips that can be easily secured to a desk, laptop, or phone (mine is attached to the side of my Fluidstance Slope). During those periods where I find my mind beginning to wander, I can rub my finger or nail along the approximately 2.5” strip and I find that similar to a fidget device, it provides just enough stimulation to keep my focus without anyone being aware.

Another product that I’ve grown to appreciate is made by Speks. This Brooklyn-based firm creates some really interesting desk “toys” that I’ve found to be helpful when working to stay present during long, back-to-back Zoom calls over the last months. They’re fun and surprising tough to put down. Speks has managed to scratch my itch for staying focus while also creating products that are just plain fun. They also come in handy if you have a young child who wanders into the office at an inopportune time.

What did we do before whiteboards?

In all my years, I’ve never met an entrepreneur who is far from a whiteboard. Unfortunately, in today’s work-from-home world, setting up whiteboards around your house may not be the best bet to ensuring peace with your family. I find that Fluidstance’s Slope is just the right mix of form and function without taking up a lot of space.

I work off of a laptop that sits atop a Nulaxy adjustable laptop stand. This gives me the ability to raise the laptop to a better ergonomic position while also raising my camera, so I am not sharing lovely under-chin shots on my Zoom calls. With this setup, the Slope slides right underneath, giving me a small, erasable whiteboard at my fingertips when that next bit of inspiration hits. My keyboard slides right underneath the slope when I need to clear some disk space as well making it useful and adaptive to my various work needs. Simple and effective.

As a consultant and executive coach, I need to capture a lot of notes. Nothing says, “cold and disengaged” like hammering away on a keyboard while talking with a client about sensitive or emotional information, so I prefer to take handwritten notes. A lot of notes. Trouble is, not only is it not very friendly to the environment but if oftentimes means needing to transfer those notes to a digital format for storing or to combine with other data and information later on.

Enter the reMarkable2 next-gen paper tablet. If you’re looking for a tablet with tons of diverse functionality (i.e. to replace your computer) this is not your speed. If you are a notetaker, doodler, if you live your life by lists, or if you just don’t want to be distracted by notifications, games, and other temptations you will find on other tablets, you may have found your next love.

At 0.19 inches thin, this tablet is smaller than an ordinary pencil. It’s sized like a full sheet of paper and the stylus feel against the screen is the closest thing I can find to the pen to paper feel of everything I’ve ever used. The reMarkable2 is the first digital notetaking product that has seemed to have solved the sensitivity of both my hand resting on the screen and the stylus sensitivity, allowing me to vary the pressure to write lighter or stronger just like I’d do with a regular pen and paper.

It also allows me to transfer my handwritten notes to text and to either sync those to my computer or email the file to where I need it. I can download files from my laptop to my reMarkable2 and mark them up by hand and the templates that continue to be added to via software updates are very helpful in organizing my work.

The only thing that I would love the folks at reMarkable2 to consider when evolving the tablet might be adding the functionality to integrate my notes to another note capture system like Evernote. That said, the remarkable is an absolute gem in my work-from-home life and I can’t imagine my life without it.

Comfort, Health, and Wellness Perspective.

Getting comfy.

Spending a significant amount of our waking hours working, many of us find ourselves sitting and plugging away at our workstations for extended periods of time. If this is your reality, you’ll understand the benefits of a comfortable and ergonomic chair. The X-Chair provides full customization of your office chair to meet your specific height, weight, and personal needs.

There’s something truly amazing about a chair that molds to you while also providing you with a heated massage via X-Chair’s Heat and Massage Therapy (HMT) Work Chair. I also appreciate the myriad of adjustments that you can make to refine your experience. As someone who has suffered from lower back issues for years, X-Chairs Dynamic Variable Lumbar system provides just the right amount of support as you move and shift throughout the day. Throw in the memory foam cushion and you may never get up.

As comfortable as you might be, we all know that sitting for long periods of time isn’t so great for you over the long-term. Having space in our homes to have a sitting and a standing desk setup takes up a lot of space and isn’t a feasible reality for many people. Thankfully, there are a variety of products available that can keep you from staying too stagnant during your work-from-home experiment.

Depending on your personal work setup, there are a variety of adjustable desk elevators that will allow you to transition from a sitting to a standing desk on the fly. The Mount-It! desk converter is an electric sit-stand workstation that makes the transition a breeze. These products do tend to make your workstation a bit bulkier and Transformer-like but the flexibility they provide will give you options throughout the workday to move your body a bit. Mount-It!’s design with this particular model is quite streamlined when compared to other sit-stand workstations, the electric elevator is quiet and smooth, and the mounting brackets can be ordered to support one, or two, monitors which can’t be beaten.

If you do work with multiple monitors, an on-deck sit-stand solution may not be feasible. If you are willing to make a bit more of an investment, the UPLIFT desk products offer users the ability to fully customize a workstation surface that elevates as a single unit allowing the user to move from sitting to standing without losing access to their entire desktop. The commercial model includes a stabilization crossbar that helps to keep larger UPLIFT desk styles rock solid regardless of the configuration. As a multiple monitor user, the UPLIFT desk keeps everything ergonomically optimized for me in any position with the push of a button.

If you do go with a standing workstation setup, I highly recommend investing in a balance board. A natural addition to a standing desk, I really like the Fluidstance boards which can be customized to provide more or less challenge depending on your comfort. Keeping the blood flowing, working your core and legs while you work, and helping you to develop your balance makes me feel like I’m being super productive while churning out TPS reports. I am able to increase the difficulty by simply increasing the distance between my legs on the balance board’s oblong surface.

Getting into the groove.

I’ve been a longtime fan of Sonos. They offer a number of fantastic speakers that have really amplified my work and personal life. I like the One SL for my workstation because it doesn’t take up a lot of real estate yet provides fantastic audio quality. Paired up with my Spotify subscription and the Focus Flow playlist and I’m off to the races!

Keeping the juices flowing.

Courant’s Catch1, Catch2, and Catch3 provide sleek design and functionality while keeping your various electronics charged throughout the workday without having to hassle with plugs and wires. Personally, I find the Catch2 really handy at my workstation as it has a small profile. It has five charging coils across its length, so I am able to charge all of my gadgets and devices at the same time.

The Catch3 takes up a bit too much desk space for my liking but it makes a fantastic option for my nightstand table where I’m able to charge while also keeping track of my wallet, glasses, and other personal effects. The Italian leather on these products really adds an element of class to my desk and the technology in each of them charges any device that’s compatible with Qi wireless charging, helping to ensure that I am able to reduce the total number of charging cables choking up my workspace.

If you’re looking for a wireless charging option to charge a bunch of products simultaneously, you may want to check out the ChargeTree by STM Goods. Capable of charging three devices at once, the ChargeTree also keeps your phone canted upright so it’s easy to read those incoming texts, etc. while you charge. If you’re tight on available desk space, the standing cant of the ChargeTree also has a minimal profile.

Setting the mood.

Face it, you’re going to be working from home for a while yet. Nobody wants to see a blank wall behind you and the fake backgrounds available on most video conference platforms have run their course. It’s time to start settling in for the long haul and creating a workspace that makes you comfortable while also creating a professional space in your home from which to engage in video calls. As more and more companies begin to come to the realization that working from home does not mean that productivity will tank, many employees may find themselves having to (or having the option to) work remotely post-COVID. Settle in.

Finding ways to shape your environment to best support your work from home during these times will not only benefit you now but will likely continue to benefit you as more people will find themselves working from home than ever before. Finding ways to make your workspace your own, maximizing your comfort, and focusing on keeping yourself productive are key. It will be interesting to see how creative companies continue to develop products and services that help us through this cultural transformation in the years to come.

With all of the time I am spending on video calls these days (and likely into the future), I decided to make the extra effort to create a bit of a higher quality and professional vibe by adding some supplemental lighting to my office setup. There are a ton of techniques and products in the lighting space and you can really get buried in it all.

I am not a lighting technician nor am I a professional YouTuber, so I don’t need a movie studio set up in my office. I find the Lume Cube Video Conference Lighting Kit really meets my needs. The Panel Mini is just slightly larger than a credit card and can easily mount to your laptop, monitor, or the wall (like I have it set up). It’s LED lights can be adjusted in brightness and warmth and an additional, rubber lighting diffuser helps to soften the light allowing you to have a lot of control in creating just the right lighting for your needs at a cost that won’t break the bank.

What’s right for you?

This pandemic has really ignited a passion in me to find the “perfect” home office setup. I have been really energized by the in-depth research that I’ve conducted over the last months as I work to find the best-fit solutions for me and my work. I fully realize that what works from me may not suit your work or style.

The more I dug into my research, the more rabbit holes I found myself diving into (you can spend hours just researching a good office chair!). It can get pretty overwhelming quite quickly. With all of this research under my belt, I felt that I should share my findings with others in the hopes of aiding them as they work to find the home office setup that is just right.

COVID-19 has forced many of us to adapt to working from home. Even when this pandemic is behind us, in all likelihood, many people reading this article will either continue to work from home to some extent or may find themselves working from home to be a permanent situation. Whatever your personal situation, finding the right setup to keep yourself focused, productive, and comfortable is key.

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.

Related Reading: Learning To Work In New Ways Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic

 

How Attending To The 5 Elements Of Wellbeing Will Make You More Productive At Work

Co-authored by Shawn Overcast

The events of the past 8 months have only added to the complexities of life and the stress of the work environment. Employers and employees across the globe met the transition from in-person to remote work with mixed emotions. Our collective recent experiences have changed the way we work and live. And for those who admit to feeling moments of depression coupled with a shot of elation, or feelings of freedom with a side of restriction and confinement, you are not alone.

The quest for balance is one that has been discussed and sought since the 1980s when the term ‘work-life balance’ was initially coined. As new generations entered the workforce, employers became increasingly more aware of the need to help employees navigate their complex lives and their work lives in more creative and flexible ways, in order to retain them. Work-life programs have become table-stakes for employers, and have been proven to boost morale, reduce absenteeism, decrease cost, and increase overall performance.

How can leaders promote wellbeing without sacrificing productivity?

Research and practice have shown that both productivity and wellbeing are key ingredients for organizational success. The tolls of COVID-19 on our lives and what seems to be like an enduring worklife from home requires us to show up differently in preparation for these levels of productivity.

This year has been a breeding ground for unchartered territory. Organizations have been forced to pivot to new ways of working that come with their own sets of challenges and impact on productivity.

While some organizations have struggled with productivity, we are seeing a surge in ‘productivity’ amongst others. JP Morgan announced that their sales and trading employees amongst those in other functions are being encouraged to return to the office due to increased productivity slips on Mondays and Fridays. However, the Boston Consulting Group found in a study conducted across organizations that 51% of respondents reported that they maintained or even improved their productivity. This variation sheds light on a very important point: Not everyone is measuring productivity in the same way.

Having a productive day? How do you know?

At the end of a day on which we’ve attended 8-10 Zoom calls, we may feel anything but productive. But for some, productivity is defined by visibility, where it is about showing your face whether it’s in the office or on a screen. For others, productivity is defined by the level of employee engagement. And one of the most widely spread ways in which productivity is being measured is by how many hours you’ve clocked into your working day. But in today’s world of blurred lines between our personal and professional lives, a full day’s work may feel like anything but productive.

When was the last time you took a vacation?

People are now working more than ever before. According to Business News Daily, remote employees work 1.4 more days per month than their office-based counterparts; which is more than 3 additional weeks of work per year. Moreover, given the risks and restrictions around travel, people are opting out of taking their PTO. Many of us have forfeited our vacations this summer. As mentioned in the Wall Street Journal, a Zenefits’ study of 3,000 companies found that there were about 63,000 requests for vacations in April and May, which is significantly less than the 120,000 requests made during that same period in 2019.

However, spending more time doing work and showing face on camera does not necessarily mean more productivity. A Stanford study has found that productivity per hour declines when a person works more than 50 hours a week. Further, those who work up to 70 hours a week are only getting the same amount of work done as those who put in 56 hours.

Our gas tanks become depleted. 

We run out of mental and physical resources that create optimal conditions to work and be productive. Our traditional measures of things like hours spent in the office, visibility, engagement, and drop-in PTO tell us that productivity is on the rise, but these are not traditional times.

Can wellbeing be the key?

The world of work has for the most part started to catch up with the necessity of taking care of the workforce, and investing in Employee Wellness Programs. However, employees continue to cite issues with stress, burn-out, and depression. Studies by SHRM and by the Total Brain’s July Mental Health Index show that 41% of employees feel burnt out and 45% feel emotionally drained from work and that the risk for depression among U.S. workers has risen to 102% and more specifically to 305% for those between the ages of 20 and 39 as a result of the pandemic. 

And employers are taking action. Just this Labor Day, Google gave employees an extra day off as a response to the increased levels of burnout and depression amongst their employees. Other tech giants, such as Cisco, also gave their employees a mental health day back in May, where Chief People Officer, Fran Katsoudas wrote: ‘There are few places to go, people need us, and we enjoy our work. Our weeks and weekends are blurring together. Yet there is one reason to unplug: ourselves.’ Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, gave employees a day of rest in June, emphasizing that ‘health comes first’ and to ‘make time for it’ because it is these kinds of days that ‘build strength’ to get work done.

How is wellbeing being defined?

Like productivity, the metrics for wellbeing are also flawed. One of the common metrics for measuring wellbeing is absenteeism or the number of sick days taken.

If productivity is being measured by the number of working hours and wellbeing is measured by the number of days off from work, and we know that some people are opting out of much-needed PTO, then we might be drawing some false conclusions around productivity and wellbeing going up.

 


With people’s daily lives and habits changing, there is a need to recalibrate our perceptions and definitions of wellbeing to ones that are more holistic and relevant to our current times.


 

Gallup uncovered that the common elements of wellbeing that need to be fulfilled for people to thrive are physical, career, financial, social, and community elements. How employees are doing in terms of physical health, career satisfaction, economic stability, relationships, and belonging in their community will impact the effectiveness of business outcomes. Employees thriving in all five elements are 41% less likely to miss work as a result of poor health and are 81% less likely to seek out a new employer in the next year. This is interesting news.

Common elements that people need to thrive in their lives

*Image by Gallup

 

What we are learning is that wellbeing actually impacts productivity. 

To ensure we are productive and prepared to deliver on our accountabilities in a sustainable manner, we will not only need to invest in our wellbeing, but we must also leverage and utilize it to cultivate productivity. 

How to cultivate productivity

We clearly need to recalibrate our perceptions of productivity and wellbeing to ones more relevant to our current times. And, we need to view wellness as a means to our productivity – as opposed to two elements that are mutually exclusive.

  1. Build a Life Pie. Encourage your employees to consider the 5 elements of wellbeing and assess where they are. Support them in finding ways to build out their satisfaction and quality of life in these areas.
  2. Include your employees in generating solutions. Your employees are likely to have ideas of what they need to feel well and in turn, perform better. Sourcing and sharing ideas from your constituents can go a long way.
  3. Build awareness of how wellbeing can be leveraged to enhance productivity. Discuss and define productivity together as a team.

Make a habit of revisiting the first two steps. If we have learned anything from 2020, it is that things can change at any moment and the only way to deal with the ambiguity is to adapt. Revisiting what wellbeing looks like in your organization can help you create the culture of adaptation organizations of the future will need to succeed.

Wellbeing makes strategic sense. It is important to maintain productivity in a ‘Work From Home’ environment and to leverage and utilize wellbeing to do so. Organizations need to get a better understanding of how their employees work to find answers that make sense to boost productivity and achieve their strategic objectives. This is not a one-time thing for your organization. The exercise of redefinition needs to be embedded into the organization’s strategy because productivity in the post-COVID era might look very different from what it looks like today.

If you are interested in learning more about how to leverage wellbeing to improve productivity, gothamCulture would be delighted to speak with your team.

Related reading: Yin/Yang Leadership: Seeking Balance

How to Actively Engage Your Remote Team Members

gothamCulture’s Kate Gerasimova discusses how to actively engage your remote team members on the Working with People podcast.

Host Harrison Kim and Kate address these questions:

  1. What are the most common reasons for employee disengagement in the remote workforce (are these reasons different than in non-remote workforces)?
  2. What are some tell-tale signs of employee disengagement in the remote workforce?
  3. What are some initiatives to engage disengaged, unmotivated remote employees, and maintain a positive company culture?

Podcast: Going Slow to Go Fast

In this episode, Chris Cancialosi talks with gothamCulture’s Shawn Overcast about her experience realigning teams after disruptive events. Like those of us who keep way too many applications open on our computers for too long, slowing our ability to get things done, sometimes our teams can experience the same effect when grappling with mounting priorities and disruption. When that happens, it may be time to reboot.


Show notes: Shawn references an interview with Storied CEO Michael Margolis titled Storytelling in the Age of Disruption

Podcast: Leadership Development: Leadership From Your Laptop?

In this episode, James O’Flaherty interviews Kevin Hyde, President, and Co-Founder of Layer 8 Security.

Leadership Development is being affected by technological innovation, teleworking, and multi-generational teams. Kevin discusses how he has navigated these issues both in his military career and also as president of a cyber-security company. He tells relatable stories and gives actionable advice about how he approaches leadership development in this changing environment.

Released: April 22, 2020