Is the perfect remote workspace a pillow-filled sofa? Perhaps it’s by a pool somewhere.
When thinking about where to work remotely, there are certainly plenty of options. If you search for hashtags related to location-independent work on Instagram or Twitter, you’ll likely happen upon a variety of envy-inducing images. Toes in the sand. A comfy hammock. Feet dangling in the air above a mountain pass. A sprawling foreign metropolis.
Then there’s the ever-present laptop, to remind us that, yes, these lucky folks are indeed working, despite the striking backdrop. (They’re on the clock, perhaps, but off the grid in a way unfamiliar to most home-based workers.)
For those who are relatively new to location-independent work, there can be some uncertainty surrounding how to design a workspace that’s conducive to concentration, creativity, and productivity. While it’s ideal to have your own dedicated space for getting work done, it doesn’t mean you must always be at home. You could spend your working hours in a coworking spot, or—if you’re feeling really exotic—a coliving retreat in another part of the world.
Here are five critical elements to consider when setting up your remote-ready workspace:
Just how much is enough? Naturally, this will depend upon the nature of your work. If you deal with sensitive information or topics that require discretion, you’ll want a space that affords you more privacy. The same goes if you have a lot of one-on-one calls to make, or if your income depends upon delivering impressive client presentations. These are situations in which variables such as noise, Wi-Fi issues, and other interruptions could damage your business, let alone destroy your concentration. In these scenarios, a home office or dedicated coworking space with a door is most preferable.
If, however, your role is more autonomous and doesn’t require a quiet, controlled environment, the bustling neighborhood café may work just fine for you.
Draw a circle of about two feet immediately around yourself. This is the actual spot in which you’ll get work done. Some physical prerequisites for a remote workspace include a comfortable chair, a solid desk (with storage) and adequate lighting. Beyond that, having an accessible power source means you won’t have to migrate to finish a project. You should have room for any notebooks, sketchpads, and writing utensils. Maybe you’ve brought along a portable standing desk to prevent you from sitting too much.
Now, zoom out from that personal work radius. Is there a bathroom nearby? Are there places to make or buy food and beverages? You’ll need to refuel, and as a remote worker, you’ll find that having healthy options nearby will help you stay focused longer. (It’s also a bonus if you’ll expect others to meet you in this space.)
I’m writing this post on a plane in a recliner with a blanket over my legs and a noise canceling headset blocking out the hum of two very large, powerful engines. While I’m usually a ruthless saver when it comes to any kind of air travel, this particular trip is a long one, so I’ve invested in the opportunity to rest. Naturally, the lighting and seating in business class caters to a more comfortable environment, and despite the usual dry air, I’m able to make better use of my time while here for 12 hours.
That said, ambience is a critical factor for remote workers anywhere; the environment in which you choose to work can inspire you or deter you from creating. Do not dismiss or minimize its importance when considering where and how you’ll work, even if you’re in transit. Know your limitations when it comes to exhaustion, climate, sounds, or aromas, and don’t settle for less if it will compromise your output.
If your role involves any sort of video chatting, you’d better look behind you. No, this isn’t the beginning of a thriller novel—it’s a reminder that whatever is there will be visible to your counterpart. (This could indeed be the stuff of remote work fails.) Your colleagues or prospective customers will draw conclusions about you as a professional based on a number of factors, and one is the environment in which you work.
From that perspective, cluttered bookshelves or busy-looking common areas send a very different message than a cleaner-looking backdrop would. And while it doesn’t have to be something elegant, there likely aren’t too many remote workers who get their most thoughtful tasks accomplished in, say, a dingy sports bar…but I won’t reject the idea altogether.
While avoiding the Internet can be quite beneficial, at some point you will need to connect. There’s code to be shipped, a few videos to upload, people to tag and update on a project, or social posts to set up and schedule. In those moments, you don’t just need web access; you need fast, reliable Wi-Fi in order to get the job done.
Both Internet access and speeds in public spaces as well as those found in accommodations like hotels and Airbnbs can run the gamut from insanely fast to “this feels like 1995.” Since your time is valuable, rather than taking a gamble, ensure that any space you plan to spend a significant amount of your workday in is equipped with adequate Wi-Fi.