The healthy home office

If working at home is your new reality, it might be time to evaluate your workspace to see if it’s as healthy as it can be.

While many professionals in healthcare and higher education necessarily continued their in-person work routines since the onset of the pandemic, many others transitioned to working from home, at least part of the time. And now, more than two years later, it’s become the long-term plan. If you count yourself among them, this might be a good time to take stock of your space.

The environment that you spend your time in can directly affect your well-being. That, in turn, can impact your ability to be productive and ultimately your financial plans. And what was fine as a temporary fix—say a kitchen table, or bedroom corner—may not be an effective ongoing strategy. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Working Remote

Expectations amongst remote-capable employees

About 53 percent of remote-capable employees expect to work hybrid long-term, and 24 percent expect to work fully remotely.

A healthy workspace needs the right equipment

Standing desk vs. sitting desk. A wall full of plants vs. a wall full of pictures. A healthy office can look many different ways, depending on your preferences. But good-quality furniture is almost always a must.

“I would highly recommend getting a good chair—that’s not where you want to skimp,” suggests Rob Stevens, a TIAA Financial Planning Strategist. Certainly, lower-back pain and other chair-related troubles can lead to missed work and disability. According to a paper on office ergonomics by the University of North CarolinaOpens in a new window, some things to look for in a chair are adjustable seat height so your thighs can be parallel to the ground, an adjustable backrest for proper lumbar support, and a seat pan that’s a good depth for your frame, and that can tilt, so you don’t spend the day in one static position. 

But don’t replace your old chair (or any office items) without first checking to see if your company will foot the bill. “You’ll want to go through your human resources department to make sure you won’t be stuck not being reimbursed,” says Stevens. Many companies will pay for a proper chair or computer monitor, but only from an approved vendor list.

“Large companies often have resources on their internal networks to list items that are covered and where to buy them,” notes Mark Schrader, TIAA Financial Planning Strategist. That also goes for replacing damaged or defective equipment, such as headphones. If you would call the IT or facilities department for help when working in person, you might find that support is still there. “It may sound simple,” says Schrader, “but the best thing to do is to ask somebody.”

It’s worth noting that those same internal networks may be where online employee-wellness portals live: If your company has one, staying tapped into it can keep you connected with all sorts of healthy-living benefits and incentives that your in-person colleagues enjoy.

You should choose a healthy spot—and stick with it

One healthy-office ingredient nearly everyone agrees on: natural light. The Harvard Business ReviewOpens in a new window calls it the number one office perk, and if you’re going to be spending 8-plus hours a day in this space, choosing a spot with good natural light can not only have a huge impact on your mood, it can also help regulate your circadian rhythm, which is essential for getting good sleep (another must for productive days). 

Wherever your workspace is, boundaries—both physical and mental—are essential. Having them will help you avoid what psychologists sometimes call home office syndromeOpens in a new window, which according to Psychology Today, refers to “significant stress and uneasiness due to a blurring of boundaries between work and home life.” 

Sticking to regular office hours and communicating those with your family and colleagues, as well as not working all over the house (despite the temptation to take your laptop to bed with you), will help you keep your work and your life in their respective places and stave off that at-home angst.

Is the healthiest workplace a whole new location?

For some people, changing the entire home part of work-from-home is the ticket to a better sense of well-being. Maybe you’ve always thought you’d be happier and healthier in a geographical area with nicer weather, or better proximity to your extended family. Or maybe improving your financial picture is the stress-fix you need. A remote office might make this possible. “There’s been a bit of a trend of people changing locations, such as moving to a state with no income tax,” says Daniel Ruppel, TIAA Financial Planning Strategist. “You may get a financial benefit from working from home if you’re still paid at the level of [your previous] state, but you’re able to work remotely from a low- or no-tax state.” The nuances of the laws are very location-specific, though, notes Ruppel, so it’s important to look into the details of a state’s tax laws to make sure that you really would save money.

If you’re considering a big move, your TIAA advisor can help you crunch the numbers and get a clearer picture of how it will impact your long-term financial plan.

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