Setting Up Your Home Office and Environment for Remote Work Success

Gusto Editors

Is your home office set up for maximum efficiency? 

The prospect of making your schedule, avoiding a commute, and the overall comfort of never needing to leave the house for work appeals to many professionals. However, some find the challenges of working from home to be more significant than they anticipated when beginning their virtual career. Distractions, disorganization, and the lack of a designated work space create difficult obstacles to overcome without the proper direction. If you and your team find your home offices surrounded by a flurry of distraction, this article is for you. 

Together with our friends at CPA Academy, we were pleased to bring you the Gusto webinar, “How to Manage and Motivate Your Remote Accounting Team in 2021. ” It addressed how to overcome the obstacles that interfere with the ideal remote work setting, and was hosted by  Jeff Phillips.

Jeff is the CEO of Padgett Business Services and a co-founder of Accountingfly. Throughout his career, Jeff has provided accounting firms with the tools they need to solve accounting problems through remote accounting solutions. He is passionate about remote work and creating the best home office environment possible to achieve success. 

This article will cover home office essentials, making the most of a virtual work environment, and communication tips for working remotely. 

Home office essentials for the remote workspace

Choosing to work remotely does not magically turn the entire home into an office. The noise and distraction that existed before working from home will still be there. Instead of allowing those distractions to overwhelm your firm, arm yourself and your team with the tools needed to overcome them.

“The mindset is to remove roadblocks so [your team] can increase productivity. … Distractions happen at home. Dogs bark and kids cry. It is part of life.”

– Jeff Phillips

Four of the most prominent roadblocks while working remotely and participating in virtual meetings are physical distractions, poor sound quality, improper video angles, and bad internet connection. For you and your team to overcome those hurdles, everyone needs four things: a dedicated office space, proper audio equipment, an appropriate camera setup, adequate lighting, and the right wifi speed.

Make a dedicated office space

Designate a specific area of your home as the office to encourage proper work-life balance. You need to have a place that you, your family and/or housemates understand to be your workspace. One key aspect of your home office should be a door you can close. A physical door will isolate you from the rest of the house and cut down on distractions during virtual meetings: 

“The home office is not your living room, kitchen, or bathroom. It’s not your car or at the park. It is an office in your house. It’s a room, and if you live in a one-bedroom apartment, there needs to be a desk positioned towards a wall with a professional background behind it, so it appears that they’re in a home office.”

– Jeff Phillips

This designated space also creates a professional setting when utilizing virtual conferencing software. Choosing an office space displays a professional environment rather than broadcasting your daily life to clients and coworkers while in meetings. 

Drown out the noise around you

Another invaluable piece of equipment to add to your home office toolbox is a quality headset. When the world around you gets loud, the right headset will isolate you from noise in your home and keep your meetings interruption-free. Jeff suggests the Jabra Evolve 40 headset.

“Everybody needs a headset or their Apple earbuds. This eliminates background noise that happens as distractions. It helps you hear your team better and almost guarantees better communication. [I recommend] the Jabra Evolve 40. They’re $115 from Amazon, and you can record high-quality podcast interviews on these headphones. I get made fun of sometimes for wearing them, but you’re not going to hear my kids downstairs while I’m wearing these babies.”

– Jeff Phillips

You can also keep outside noise from becoming an issue during virtual meetings by using a sound machine. Whether you purchase a physical white noise machine or a white noise app, your sound quality will be much better when drowning out the noise around you.

Woman sitting in home office chair speaking on her cell phone at desk

Find a good angle for video conferencing

The next vital piece of equipment in a home office desk setup is a laptop riser. Laptop risers give flexibility within the home office. Bringing your laptop off the desk allows you to have a better viewing angle of your work, keeps your laptop cool, and drastically improves the laptop’s built-in webcam angle on video calls. 

“When you’re on Zoom calls, it’s best that your clients aren’t looking up at your nostrils. We want to have the camera in your laptop at eye level so it looks like you’re in a newscast. Get a laptop riser; they are about $15.”

– Jeff Phillips

In addition to making sure your webcam is at the right angle during video chats, keep your surroundings in mind. Remember, the background your clients see while working with you is the only window they have into your firm. If the room behind where you sit is cluttered, consider using a virtual background to hide the mess and position you as the professional you are. 

Mind your lighting

Once you get your camera at the right angle, be sure your lighting is on-point as well. We’ve all been in meetings where participants are drenched in shadow. That approach is not exactly a winning strategy for inspiring client confidence. Instead, position lighting at eye level at a 45-degree angle to your face, preferably on both sides. Install bulbs with a warm color temperature and consider adding a dimmer to your light, if you don’t already have one. 

Ring lights are a good lamp alternative, coming in many sizes and models, all specifically made for on-camera use. When properly lit, you will project a more professional,prepared image to your clients and set your meeting up for success.

Set your office up for speed

When considering the optimal wifi connection for your office, keep the total amount of devices used within the household in mind. The more devices your family uses, the more bandwidth you will need. Generally, the fastest available wifi is the best answer to internet connectivity problems:

“The fastest home wifi that you can afford is the right answer to, “What home wifi do we need?” You’re running a VPN or cloud accounting software and Zoom, and there are possibly kids at home also running devices that all pull from wifi. I have many clients who give their team a stipend per month to increase their home wifi. You don’t want your team talking to your clients and be glitchy or drop calls. I feel like fast wifi is essential.”

– Jeff Phillips

Addressing physical distractions gives you and your team the best chance to create an efficient virtual work environment. Once your firm overcomes physical obstacles in the home office, the next step is to implement proper software solutions to keep everyone on the same page and promote healthy communication.

Male working remote from his laptop from the living area

Software solutions for virtual work environments

After your team members create distraction-free home offices, the next step is to utilize software to make the home office flow like a physical office. When your firm transitions to remote work, software takes the place of many activities that generally occur face-to-face. Daily check-ins by walking up to a coworker’s desk cannot happen when working remotely. Consequently, project management software needs to fill in the gap created by being physically separated.

“It’s a mindset shift. You must plan to move toward automating all the routine tasks in the firm to eliminate doing administrative work that can be repeated electronically. … The key action here is to buy project management software. Always be looking for ways you can automate your work.”

– Jeff Phillips

The first way to utilize project management software is through document collaboration. The Google Workspace platforms and Microsoft 365 offer great solutions for real-time document collaboration:

“Collaborative documents like a Google sheet or Google doc, or saving it in Microsoft 365 eliminate all the wasted time of figuring out where the document is, and which version [you] are looking at. “

– Jeff Phillips

Project management software like Asana or Trello also give your team ways to connect with each other and stay on the same page. Instead of confusing, inefficient email chains, your firm will be able to see task progress, meet deadlines, and update one another on projects:

“Project management is essential. [Always ask], “Who does what by when?” I recommend looking at a couple of options. There are generic products like Asana or Trello (what I use personally). There is also accounting firm project management software like Karbon. … These are fantastic tools.”

– Jeff Phillips

Choosing the correct software for your team and dedicating yourself to implementing it within your firm will give everyone the best possibilities for success in a virtual work environment. When the home office becomes a place where software and hardware work harmoniously, the stresses of remote work become significantly less.

Staying Connected When Working Virtually

One of the most significant hurdles to overcome when transitioning to remote work is a sense of isolation. Forty percent of people who work from home feel like they are isolated when working remotely. To overcome this obstacle, find ways to be creative with the technology available.

“Focus on engaging your team and creating a sense of belonging. Let’s not hide behind the video; let’s turn the camera on during our Zoom meetings. … One thing we do [at Padgett Business Services] is we have bi-monthly coffee breaks. We get together on Fridays at 8:00 AM over Zoom, have coffee together, and don’t talk about work. … It’s good to hear how my colleagues are doing personally and how their kids are doing. I think they need somebody to talk to and so do I.”

– Jeff Phillips

Learn more about communication tips for working remotely and home office setup ideas

Being creative with available technology and taking the time to properly establish home offices gives you and your team the ability to collaborate between each other and build personal relationships. When everyone on the team feels comfortable with their work environment, your firm will grow.

If you want to learn more about home office setup ideas and virtual work environments, you can watch the entire webinar here. Also, be sure to check out the article “How to Communicate with Your Remote Workforce” for more communication tips for working remotely.

Our mission at Gusto is to help accountants and their clients throughout their accounting journey. We currently partner with over 4,500 firms nationwide to cultivate a positive remote work environment. Be sure to look into our People Advisory Program to learn how to connect with your clients beyond their finances. We also provide a partner blog full of resources for all your advising needs. Visit our Gusto for Accountants page for more information on utilizing people-based accounting within your firm.

Gusto Editors Gusto Editors, contributing authors on Gusto, provide actionable tips and expert advice on HR and payroll for successful business management.
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