When I first started Little Grey Box, I worked hunched over my laptop whenever I could. Ergonomics didn’t factor into it at all! Like a lot of people, my blog started out as a hobby and a fun thing I could do from my couch or even in bed. When Matt and I both left our jobs and Little Grey Box became our full-time business, we also moved out of our tiny one-bedroom apartment into a house. It gave us the space we needed to establish a home office and grow our business. Unfortunately, we didn’t know nearly enough about what makes a great home office set-up but, over the years, we’ve learned a lot!
Similar to my previous post where I shared all the camera gear we use, I want to share with you our current home office set-ups. Just like with our camera gear, we’ve gone through a lot of trial and error with our home office. We’ve tried different things, made mistakes, realised what we really do need and things we wasted money on. If you’re thinking of setting up your own home office or just want to sneak a peek at how we do it, here’s some insight into ours, what works, what doesn’t and the things we wish we’d done differently.
Matt’s Home Office a.k.a the videographers lair
Out of the two of us, Matt spends significantly more time in front of his computer so he gets to use the actual office in our house! One thing we’ve both learned is really important, is to have natural light and the windows in Matt’s office allow plenty in. Not only that, but our garden is like a jungle so Matt’s constantly surrounded by lots of greenery, which goes a long way towards good mental health.
The first thing you’ll probably notice about Matt’s office is his desk! For the first few years, he was working sitting down at his desk. But there are times he can spend all day and all night in his office editing videos for our Youtube channel and clients and working on freelance graphic design work too. It got to the point where he started having severe neck, shoulder and arm pain. The pain then started to go through his entire body! My mum had the idea to get Matt a standing desk, something I never would’ve thought of. Low and behold, Matt became the new owner of his very own Varidesk!
The desk goes up and down easily, using release locks and handles on the side. It’s important it’s easy because if it were too heavy or clunky to move, it’d be unusable. But, it slides really well and is easy to move. Matt spends part of his day sitting in his office chair editing and then when he feels he needs a change mentality or physically, he stands. His physiotherapist, who has been helping him with his ankle and knee pain (from a previous injury), suggested we get him a stool as well, so he has a third option too so we’ll be looking into that soon. After around six weeks of use, he’s really enjoying it. I think he was a bit hesitant at first because he wasn’t sure if it would be useful or help him but now he really enjoys the change it gives him. Importantly, his mental and physical health have both improved from making one simple change. He also feels it helps him with his posture as, when he’s standing, he can’t be hunched over!
The actual desk (below the Varidesk) is nothing flash. I can’t even remember if we bought it new or it was a hand-me-down from Matt’s sister! I’m pretty sure it’s just a very basic desk from Ikea and while it’s probably fine for sitting at for shorter amounts of time, if you’re working long hours at your desk like Matt does, the ergonomics just aren’t good enough without the Varidesk on top and as I said, Matt was having problems with neck and shoulder pain. By raising his monitor up to a better height, that pain has improved significantly and only appears again if he pulls an all-nighter (surprise, surprise!).
One thing we overlooked in our office set-ups is the importance of a great office chair. It has become very clear Matt’s chair isn’t quite up to scratch and it’s really old so all the support is busted. For us, a new office chair is a high priority and if you’re just starting out and looking to set up your own home office too, I would say it’s very important to get the best desk and chair you can for your budget. I would also recommend you do some more in-depth research into essential home office ergonomics and pick and choose things which are best suited to you and will meet any needs to ensure you don’t do a Matt and end up in bad pain!
To bring a bit of colour and life to Matt’s office, we made the decision to create a book wall on top of the shelves behind him. We collected some of the books over the years but most of them were purchased from a thrift store. I thought Matt might like to have a few plants in his office to try and care for (he has a finely-honed skill for murdering plants). As you can see, they’re not faring too well and this photo is a reminder to me to step in and save the poor things. We also try to collect little mementos from our travels and put them up here too. You can see the Cape Kudu Hotel postcards from our recent trip to Thailand and the TinTin print is from our trip to Vietnam.
One thing we quickly realised we needed in Matt’s office was a chair for me to sit in. I’m in and out of Matt’s office during the day and if we need to have a meeting about something, that’s where we do it. We’re often working on things together, reviewing videos or chatting about upcoming work for clients. I started looking for a great chair for Matt’s office but, to be honest, they were all incredibly expensive! As luck would have it, I found the chair below on the side of the road in our neighbourhood. I pulled over, shoved it in the back of the car and drove it home. I sanded it down to get all the scratches out of it and stained the timber. I sewed new covers for it, moved a few throw cushions and a spare ceramic stool. It’s the most comfortable chair and such a good spot to sit when I go in to visit Matt.
Of course, we both love when the cats come in and visit with us in our offices. Matt has a little nest set up for them on his shelves and, in the colder months, puts on a little space heater to entice them in. They love being able to sit up high in his office, look out the windows at all the birds and lizards or just curl up and go to sleep. We also have a huge whiteboard-style wall calendar we use to keep track of all our travel/bookings. We also use it as our YouTube scheduling spot so we can see which videos we’ve got coming up and any gaps we need to consider. It is absolutely essential to helping us plan our business and just offers something our electronic calendars don’t.
Phoebe’s Home Office a.k.a the writer’s den
Unlike Matt, I don’t spend nearly as much time in my office. He’s the kind of person who works in long stretches whereas I prefer to work in short, intense bursts. I also like to move around a lot! So, I might do a few hours work in my office then get up, do some cleaning around the house, cook something then relocate to our sunroom for an hour. Working on a laptop suits me best and gives me the freedom I need to constantly change scenery to help me stay focused and refreshed. I also like to break my day up with activities like running errands or actual running and bushwalking.
With Matt in the actual office, I started out by setting up my desk in the middle of our house in the living area. But, when anyone would come to stay with us (my family!) I would be constantly distracted by them walking around, cooking or watching tv. In the end, we decided I needed a little space to retreat to when I need to focus. Setting up an office space in a spare bedroom isn’t ideal, I would say, but there are a few things you can do to make it work. We try our best to keep the room as clear and tidy as possible. The window is essential as it allows plenty of natural light and fresh air in for me. Similar to Matt, I’ve got plenty of greenery to look out over and keep my mental health in check too. I used to have plants on my desk but my naughty cats kept chewing them! So cheeky!
Unlike Matt, I don’t really spend enough time in my office to warrant a fancy desk. Mine was most definitely a hand-me-down from Matt’s amazing sister but I believe, initially, it came from Ikea. I love the glass and light colouring of my desk as it keeps my space light and airy. I try not to allow too much clutter on the desk but it inevitably builds up over time. When it’s clean (like it is for these photos haha) I like to have a pot of pens, one little pull-out draw where I keep my USB sticks and headphones. A couple of books, a crystal dish where I keep my glasses, a notebook and a desk lamp.
Like Matt, I’m constantly trying to entice the cats to come in and spend time with me so I have a stick-on window hammock which they absolutely love! They curl up on it and nap in the warm sunshine or chase leaves brushing up against the glass. I also have another little nest set up for them on the spare coffee table we store in the room and I keep some water on my desk, just in case one of them ever gets locked in my office by accident (it happened once and I spent a week apologising to Figgy but still haven’t entirely forgiven myself haha).
Easily my favourite thing about my office is the two drawings I have on the wall. Our very good friend and amazingly talented artist, Laker, did them for me. He wasn’t even trying that hard, he was just having his morning coffee, watching the cats and scribbled these out on a couple of bits of A4 paper. They’re unbelievably good and I ran out to buy frames and get them stuck up on the wall. Yep, I’m that person who’s totally obsessed with their pets.
Just like Matt, I’m in desperate need of a new office chair. At least Matt’s is nice and plush, mine is pretty much rock hard and definitely a purchase I regret. We got it for me from Ikea and, being on a very tight budget, went with the best we could afford. Honestly, we should’ve shelled out more for a better one because it’s pretty rough and I can’t sit in it for too long without getting a sore butt. I guess that’s another part of why I move around the house and work in different spots a lot. Sometimes I’ll stand at the kitchen bench, work at the dining table or head outside and work at our coffee spot.
Working from home was really overwhelming at first. When you don’t have a manager or boss looking over your work or a team in the trenches with you, it can be difficult to get a good sense of whether you’re doing enough. I found myself pushing myself too hard and wasting time, just to prove to myself that I was working hard enough. It actually took me a good few years to get into a good work-from-home rhythm. Now, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It gives you the freedom to craft your work days around your work style, which means you get the best out of yourself. Like I said, Matt can work longer hours in the comfort of home and take all the time his perfectionist mind needs to get his work exactly where he wants it. I can work in short, intense bursts, breaking my day up as I go and moving around the house to work in different spots whenever I need. For both of us, it has significantly improved our mental health.
5 Top tips for setting up a home office successfully
- Before going out to buy one, think about how much time you’ll actually spend at your desk. I recommend taking the time to try out your new home office life before rushing out to buy things like we did. That way you’ll know exactly how much time you’ll be spending at your desk and can buy a desk that meets your needs perfectly.
- Get yourself a really good quality chair that meets all your needs. This can include specific things like lumbar support, neck support and so on. The perfect office chair is a worthy investment so be sure to take your time and find the best one possible.
- Once you start working in your office you will most likely find little extras you need. For example, I started getting bad wrist pains and had to get one of those special mouse pads with a gel pad to support my wrist and Matt needs something to rest his feet on when sitting at his desk. Be sure to identify and then treat those ergonomic areas of concern before you do serious damage to your body.
- Find ways to take care of your mental health! That can be things like plenty of natural lighting, adding lamps to create warmth, putting up your favourite photographs or incorporating living plants into your space. Whatever you do, just make sure your office space allows you to stay on top of your mental health.
- There are plenty of clever ways to stay organised and I think it’s important to identify ones that work for you. Keep your office space organised and free from clutter, keep your business organised and well planned! Use electronic tools and, if you need them like we do, old-school ones like yearly calendar whiteboards.