Dave Michels On Working From Home

studio-office-chairLike many people, in recent years Dave Michels has taken to working from home. Not long ago he posted some advice garnered from that experience. In this post he offers makes some excellent observations. While I agree with most of what he offers, there are a couple of points that I’d like to add or emphasize.

You’ll need a good desk and chair. Don’t scrimp on these items. A desk needn’t be fancy, but it does need to large enough. In fact, usually the larger the better.

The chair is really an issue relating to your health & welfare. It’s easy to just run down to OfficeMax and get something affordable, but you will not be well served by such moves in the long run. You back will appreciate a more carefully considered approach.

As opposed to something solid or upholstered I like chairs with shock cord support. This reflects the fact that I live in an area with warmer temperatures most of the year. It’s easier to stay cool given this kind of ventilated chair.

TreadDeskSome months ago Dave and I discussed the idea of a standing desk. I’m told that it has considerable merit. When I was last in his office my doctor recommended a walking desk using a treadmill as a base. He pointed me to an NPR story about such things. He said that in just ninety days using such a rig I’d be tremendously fit.….not that I’m in bad shape to begin with.

Dave tells me that he rigged a standing desk based upon some guidance that describes using some inexpensive components from IKEA. His is a hybrid sit/stand desk, with two monitor-keyboard-mouse sets to accommodate the different sit vs stand positions.

I’ve not yet started down that path, but it’s still under consideration. One thing is certain, such strategies demand a reasonable sized home office space.

At my admittedly traditional desk I have found that I like to have my computer monitors removed from their bases and mounted on adjustable arms. This gives me back some desk space and allows greater flexibility in monitor positioning. I find that I like my monitor a little higher than the built-in stand permits.

technivorm-moccamasterIt’s better for me to leave the coffee machine in the house. That is, not have it too readily at hand. This ensures that I will get up from my perch and make the trek to get a refill. There’s serious benefit to getting up, moving about, stretching and getting your eyes off the monitors at regular intervals. For me, the trek to the coffee machine is justification for small break once or twice a morning.

I also agree with his comment about buying good coffee or tea. It’s a vice. Own it. Bask in the gratuitous self-indulgence. There’s no reason to cheat yourself.

One of the secrets to great coffee is getting the water hot enough. Few drip coffee makers accomplish this task. I think that the Technivorm Moccamaster coffee maker was one of my best office equipment purchases in memory. Actually, Stella bought it for my birthday. She certainly “gets” me.

Bonvita Cofee makerMore recently I’ve heard very good things about a less costly coffee maker, the Bonavita BV1800TH. At $150 it’s half the cost of my beloved Moccamaster, but uses a very similar means of heating the water to over 200 degrees.

If you have a choice get the insulated thermal carafe over the glass one. That allows you to take the pot to your desk on those rare occasions when you need your supply close at hand. That has been handy when I occasionally have a guest.

“Background noise can be a problem in a home office, and there is probably more than you realized. Lawn mowers, barking dogs, doorbells, vacuum cleaners, etc. are incessant reminders you aren’t at the office any more.” –  D.M.

Dave is absolutely spot-on when it comes to noise. Noise is a tremendous cause for concern. You need to accept that there are things you can control and things are simply beyond your control. This has at times been difficult for me.

Around my neighborhood there seems to be a never-ending stream of yard companies doing their best to interfere with my productivity. What I don’t understand is how they manage to coordinate their arrival with the start of a multi-way video conference call. It’s uncanny. It’s also more than  a bit troubling. It’s like they know my calendar.

Most video conferencing end-points don’t support cordless headsets, a convenience that’s commonplace with traditional desk phones. There are times when I will plug a lame old analog headset into the HDX-4500. In that fashion I can avoid sending my ambient noise issue to everyone else on the call.

Of course, judicious use of the mute button is good standard practice. If you have to actually engage in the conversation a headset keeps the potential of disturbance by nearby noise to a minimum. I have found that people do appreciate the gesture of consideration.

Frequent use of video calling actually diminishes the utility of a cordless headset. On a normal conference call you can walk away from your desk without causing a disturbance. On a video call such clandestine activity simply can’t be done. So, I keep my DECT headset connected to my desk phone, where video seldom comes into play.

no-leafblowerI also find that I am becoming very militant about the abuse of leave blowers. My neighbor to the north, a nice older fellow has an old Black & Decker electric leaf blower. Being retired he tends to tidy the yard more often than most. That electric motor is sorely in need to new brushes. I swear it gets louder every week.

I may yet gift the good fellow a new and quieter model. It would be in my own self-interest.

When I need to buy something for use around the office it’s heat and noise output are key considerations. That’s why we have a relatively pokey LaCie NAS where we once had a small PC server. In fact, the NAS has twice had it’s disks upgraded. It’s no performance champion, but it’s dead silent and cool running.

In recent times working from home has meant more consideration for time zones. I live in Central Time, which means playing catch-up with the UK and East Coast, while waiting for the West Coast to rise & shine.

Work-From-Home-MugIt’s critical to consider where someone else on the team lives before you reach out in an invasive manner. It’s best to attempt an initial contact via a non-invasive channel like IM, before trying to phone or worse, place a video call. Get confirmation that such direct engagement is convenient. Hopefully you’re coworkers will return the consideration, and not try to call you late in the evening.

Dave’s observations and advice are very sound. In most ways they mirror my own experience. Working from home can be a blessing. Take advantage of the flexibility it presents, but make the effort to stay connected to your co-workers. When in doubt, you reach out. Being proactive about staying in touch will ensure that your work-from-home situation is never viewed as a liability.

  • I’ve begun to settle on office hours of 10-2 twice a day. It works well for me. The morning shift is calls, conferences, emails, and other interactions. The second shift if writing and deep thought. The break in the middle is errands, dog walk, kids, dinner, and maybe a show or something. The split shift is a viable option for the work at home crowd – just not effective for commuters.

    • mjgraves

      How do you like the standing desk? Which mode do you find yourself using most often?