Setting up a comfortable work-from-home space

Setting up a comfortable work-from-home space

It's a wild time, everybody. Thanks to the coronavirus (COVID-19), people everywhere are suddenly having to figure out how to work from home, in amongst dealing with unprecedented amounts of stress and anxiety. We feel you, buddies. We're all going through this together.

At Lettuce, we've always been a distributed team, so we thought we'd share our tips for how to quickly set up a comfortable space to work from home.

We're a global business with team members everywhere from Toronto to Cambridge, but most of us are based in Cape Town, South Africa, so expect this advice to be particularly relevant there.

The basics: internet & electricity

The most important thing to put in place is a stable, reliable internet connection. You'll have to do some research to find the best provider in your area.

You'll be doing a lot of video calls, so a 20Mbps or better fibre connection is ideal. Upload speed is important for the quality of your video (so you're more than just a pixellated blur).

If a fibre connection isn't available in your area and you have to rely on a mobile internet connection, get a data-only contract (RAIN is the most affordable provider in South Africa) and consider getting a dedicated router for your data-only SIM card. Mobile data is much more expensive than fibre and usually slower, so this shouldn't be your first choice.

A lot of our team is based in South Africa, where we have to contend with unreliable electricity as well. If you have a wifi access point, it can be worth buying a small UPS device (uninterruptible power supply) to keep your internet up during load-shedding. Bear in mind that you should plug only your wifi access point into the UPS, because charging a laptop or other devices off it will drain its power very quickly.

Getting comfy: desk ergonomics

Working from your couch might sound appealing for the first couple of days, but long-term, you're going to want to set up a dedicated work space that's more comfortable for long hours.

Invest in the best chair you can afford, and make sure it's something that can be adjusted so that your elbows form a 90-degree angle with the desk. Your feet should fit flat on the floor. If they don't, get a foot stand or put your feet on a box so that they're not dangling loosely.

Looking down at a laptop all day wreaks havoc on your neck and shoulders, so find make sure that the top of your screen is at your eye level. You can either do that by putting your laptop on a stand (or pile of books) or by getting an external monitor. Either way, you'll probably also need to get a keyboard and mouse or trackpad to make this work. We've found that it's more important to invest in a good chair than an expensive mouse and keyboard, but this depends on your own body!

This is a great video will some more tips about setting up your desk so that it's good for your long-term health:

Set reminders to stand up and stretch at least once an hour (this can pair well with something like the Pomodoro technique for doing focussed-work sessions). We liked these ideas for a quick 5-minute stretch break:

Tuning in: audio & video

If you're in a noisy home, the single most important piece of equipment to invest in is a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones. If you're going to be doing a lot of video calls throughout the day, it can be worth buying a gaming headset, that has a microphone attached to it. This will make it a lot easier for your colleagues to hear you clearly, and for you to hear them.

We've found that most built-in webcams are perfectly fine for Zoom calls and Google Hangouts, but that it helps to make sure that you're sitting next to (but not in front of) a window, so that your teammates can see you clearly.

Anything we missed? We'd love to hear your tips! Get in touch and let us know:

Special thanks to Shen Tian, who provided a lot of the insights for this piece.