All About Getting Your Home Office Set Up (So You Can Stay Home During the 2010 Winter Games)

In part 1 of the Vancouver Observer Telelympics Tutorial, I talked about setting the stage for working at home during the Olympic games. Here in part 2 we're going to roll up our sleeves and get stuff in place and working. We've got a little over a month to go before the throngs pack our fair city to the gills, so time is of the essence.

Because working out the software bits might get a little detailed, I'm going to stick to hardware and office set up for the most part, next week we'll get geeky with it and set up some software to help you collaborate with your co-workers and the rest of humanity while you live in Olympic exile for a few weeks.

(Side note: In all honesty, I'm not going to completely hide out during the games. I have been practicing my German and Spanish to help travelers and look forward to some parts of the experience.)

Get that home office in shape!

You're going to be spending a lot of time at home in your "home office" if you're telecommuting. If you don't have a regular office at home you're going to have to make do with what you can put together. If you do have an office in your home, now is the perfect time for a few upgrades. Let's start from the bottom (literally) and work up, shall we?

Get. A. Good. Chair. Seriously. Spend the bucks and get a descent chair. Go to Staples, Ikea, wherever and try a few out. One of the things I learned the hard way is that being cheap on your chair doesn't pay off at all. The next thing not to skimp on is, you guessed it, your desk. Okay, if you're only doing this work at home thing for a short bit a fancy shmancy computer desk, but you do need a good place to work. Part of the whole thing about a computer desk is that it should be at the right height so you can type and work and not lose use of your arms and neck after an hour or two. I use an external keyboard and mouse (on a keyboard tray) combined with a stand to raise my laptop to the correct height. This is one flaw in computer desks (one I hope Ikea or someone will fix soon)—they were all made of to have monitor on the desk and a big desktop computer below. The problem is that laptops are outselling desktop computers 2 to 1 right now (even though I'd really love a 27" iMac) so lots of people are working in pretty bad situations.

According to ergonomic experts you should be sitting something like this:

The key is relaxed. Arms relaxed, head relaxed and not looking up or down more than is natural or comfortable. It has taken me years of being cheap and making due before I sucked it up and bought the right stuff so I was comfortable at my desk. I'm going to save you the trouble. So here is the office list:

Good chair

Good (sturdy) desk

If you have a laptop get a stand, riser or similar to lift it off the desk to be used with an external keyboard or just lift it up enough so that it stays cooler and is more comfortable to type on.

Good lighting. Friends don't let friends squint.

I like to use an external keyboard and mouse. I happen to be using the Apple aluminum wired keyboard and new Magic Mouse right now. Both are just awesome. I love the keyboard and the mouse is just … wow. I am a real keyboard snob. Hey I write for a living, I like to have a keyboard that is good, solid and comfortable. If you're going with the external keyboard or your desktop computer's keyboard is due for replacement, shop around. Try the keyboards out. Don't go for looks or features, go for key feel and comfort. I like ergonomic keyboards a lot, and only stopped using the one I had because it wasn't entirely OS X compatible. I chose the wired version of the Apple keyboard over the wireless one because I found the wireless one to be a little too cramped for my hands and fingers (I have pretty big fingers so I like a little extra room between the keys).

Have a place to work? Hmm, right where is the best place to work? I have one word for you: doors. The best home offices have doors. It's not being antisocial to your family to close your door, it's a fact of life. You have to concentrate. You have to take phone calls. Closing a door is a good thing, a very good thing. If you can't close a door, see if a room screen might work for you. If you're really stuck for space, sure the kitchen table will work for a while (I've done it), but it isn't great (and believe me getting syrup off keyboards is no fun).

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