Ben Crudo's home office.
  • Ben Crudo is CEO of Diff Agency and an ecommerce expert helping retailers win today and tomorrow.
  • Six months in, it's clear that we're not returning to the office anytime soon — and that means it's time to create a more intentional work from home space.
  • Crudo says it's worth investing in things you thing really need, including things that make you feel comfortable (like a good office chair).
  • You need to insulate from your distraction, both in your physical space and in how you spend your time and energy.
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So, tough love: Like it or not, we're not all going back to the office anytime soon. Six months into the pandemic, if you haven't set up a proper home office yet, it's time to step away from the kitchen table and create a real, dedicated work space.   

The number one priority — from my lens as an engineer and the CEO of a 100-plus person agency — has to be intentionality. Being deliberate about the office you set up is critical. In fact, the opportunity to do this is one of the unexpected boons of this entire work-from-home experience. The fact is the traditional office environment — from 9-5 to cubicles to dress codes — didn't work for everyone. If there's one unexpected benefit of the massive shift to work from home, it's that it has given us a unique chance to personalise how, where and even when we work. 

At home, we're free to tailor our space to what suits us and our needs. Here's a glimpse into my own set-up — not as a model to emulate, but as an example of what personalization and being deliberate can look like in practice.  

Invest in stuff you really need — and stuff that makes you really comfortable

As an engineer, I try to be pragmatic: You don't need the latest tech toy, but quality tools you really like will keep you dialed in. I've learned that simplicity goes a long way when paired with a few luxurious touches. 

Obvious one here, but an ergonomic chair might be the best investment you'll make. It will make your workday easier on your body and you'll be able to sustain longer work sessions and feel happier doing it. (At my company, we've provided Humanscale ergonomic chairs to all employees for exactly this reason.)

That low-res monitor? It's a waste of desk space. Cycling through windows (or worse, relying on multiple monitors) is unproductive and frustrating. With a high res monitor, I find that I don't have to split my attention as much. Even stuff like the right mouse and keyboard matter. I have an Apple Magic Keyboard that is light, wireless and portable so I can switch up my setting when I need a change of scenery.  

Building a great home office doesn't mean you have to spend a lot on gear. In fact, some of the things that make me happiest working from home are low-cost, but intentional, touches. My leather keyboard pad and mouse pad are small things, but whenever my hands hit the surface in front of me, it's a grounding reminder of where I am. I also have a Yeti coffee mug that keeps my coffee warm for hours. 

And let's not forget about art — your art, not some generic office art. I've got an art deco take on Sunset Strip on my wall that's a family heirloom. Contemplating art that moves you can actually help your focus, make you more hopeful, and improve your decision making.  

Outsmarting distraction

Whatever gear or decor you choose, your home office will fall short without one additional step: insulating yourself from distraction.  

Before the pandemic struck, employees were interrupted every six to 12 minutes. Now, it's got to be far worse, between juggling personal and work lives under the same roof, yet another Zoom meeting, and constant coronavirus updates. For all these reasons, building and sustaining focus is one of the most important parts of remote work.  

Step one: turn your notifications off. You don't have to go so far as giving up your smartphone like I did, but be disciplined about giving your undivided attention to the task at hand. Quick hack: I've started using a bullet journal instead of relying on digital schedulers or to-do lists. When I think of something I need to come back to, or an item for my to-do list, I jot it down by hand. An analog notebook keeps me mindful without derailing my focus. 

I've even found that it's important to be more intentional with my media consumption so I don't get overwhelmed by all the bad news. In the early days of quarantine it was easy to fall prey to information overload. Forty-three percent of Americans say the news makes them feel emotionally worse and I can relate. Particularly in a time of crisis, it's important to guard your mental space. Now I spend 10 to 20 minutes cycling through news from a few different trusted sources every couple of days. I focus on what I'm interested in and that's it — no more mindless doom scrolling

Ultimately, work-from-home success depends on something we've largely forgotten how to do: monotask. More than any technique, this is a mindset: the understanding (backed by science) that we get way more done when we're doing one thing at a time. Working from home can actually nurture this kind of focus if you take control of your environment. 

This also means setting clear boundaries for when work stops. Without the cues of the office, working hours have become more nebulous. During the pandemic's early weeks, the average workday increased by 8.2% worldwide. To keep my personal life separate from my work life, I think about how many hours a day I'm going to work and, when I meet them, I'm done. Communicate your working hours to your team and invite them to do the same for you. When your workday is over, turn your computer off — like all the way off, not just to sleep — to signal to yourself that you've clocked out. 

Getting to know your team beyond the water cooler

Remote work has reinforced the fact that we're all individual people, not cogs in a machine, and we work better when we're treated as such. As a leader, I've realized how counterintuitive it was to expect everyone to thrive in the traditional office environment. What's needed, more than anything, is choice. 

This experience has actually transformed how I approach my team. Instead of fixating on getting back to the office, at my company we are doing what we can to help people thrive at home. For starters, we've allowed anyone to take any gear from the office that they want to use at home, and we're also moving away from blanket policies that treat everyone like they're the same. We're working to find ways to meet our organizational goals by being more respectful of people's singular needs. This means being open to different work schedules or hours for different people on the team.

For all the challenges of working from home, we have a golden opportunity to start to redefine work on our terms. How we set up our home office is a big part of that. Whether that means fancy gear, cool art, or extra soundproofing, the point is that the choice is yours. Take it. 

Ben Crudo is CEO of Diff Agency . A retailer turned technologist, Ben is an ecommerce expert helping retailers win today and tomorrow.

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