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How to work from home if you don’t have room for an office—or even a desk

March 27, 2020, 12:00 PM UTC

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Configuring your own home office space often requires a bit of flexibility and ingenuity. And now that millions of workers worldwide are required to work from home while on self-quarantine amid the coronavirus pandemic, it’s forcing many of us to get creative with carving out a place to work, whether it be sharing the home office with family or roommates, or finding a place to work when you can’t even find a flat surface for your computer.

Here are some of the best tips and hacks for squeezing out whatever kind of workspace you can within your home, according to Fortune writers and editors.

A woman participates in a conference call from her living room in Stuttgart, Germany, on March 18, 2020.
Sebastian Gollnow—picture alliance/Getty Images

I don’t have a desk at home (or room for one, as I live in a studio), so I configured my own standing desk arrangement at my kitchen counter. I’ve propped the laptop on top of some of my favorite cookbooks so the computer is at eye level, saving my neck a bit of extra stress. And it has the added bonus of looking Instagrammable. (Yes, a #deskie is a thing now.) —Rachel King, editor

I don’t have any special equipment in my home office: I sit on a plastic chair, at a plastic table, and I’m probably going to develop terrible back problems. But in months of mostly working at home (long before the coronavirus), and especially now that I’m sharing space with others, I do have one tip: Pick a room, and mark your territory. The kitchen, for example, is mine. If someone else needs to cook, I’ll move—but I won’t accept any other reason, and I only tolerate occasional visitors. I could work at a proper table, of course, but I chose the kitchen for its amenities: loads of natural light, a view (at least) of greenery, the chance to take conference calls while making lunch (on mute), and most important: snacks.—Katherine Dunn, associate editor

If you have any windows in your home, try to position your workspace as close to them as possible. Windows make a huge difference in making a small space feel much larger than it actually is. Right now I’m working in a nook with just enough floor space to fit my desk chair. But whenever I need to take a break from the computer, I just turn to my left and look out my window, which makes me feel much less confined and much more relaxed. Also, the natural light improves my mood and wakes me up gradually with the sunrise. —Jake Meth, editor

A Reprise Digital employee works from her home in Shanghai, on March 9, 2020.
Qilai Shen via Getty Images

When I work at my laptop I like to sit, not stand. And I don’t like to sit on a couch with the laptop in my, er, lap. I like to have it on a table. We have precisely two such tables in our house, the kitchen table and a desk in an office nook. My best suggestion of a “hack” is that I like to move around a lot. So I’ll shift from table to desk and back again. I try to read in other places, like in a comfy chair or in bed. And if I don’t have to look at screens or papers during meetings, I like to walk while I mostly listen. Just remember to go on mute. —Adam Lashinsky, executive editor

I live in a Brooklyn apartment without enough space for a desk or a cushy desk chair like the one I am lucky to have in the office. Now that I’m sitting at my kitchen table all day in a rickety Amazon chair, my back is really suffering the consequences. And due to the stay-at-home order in New York, I can’t even think about going to the chiropractor for the foreseeable future. I went on the hunt for a compact solution to my problem and found this little beauty. It straps onto basically any chair to support your spine ergonomically without taking up any extra space in your apartment, and it only costs $18!—McKenna Moore, assistant audience engagement editor

I’m a glutton for screen space. I have two 22-inch screens connected to my home computer. I’m able to have two, three, or four (!) documents or pages open and readable at the same time, saving the extra clicks of opening and closing tabs and windows. It’s not only an immense time- and hassle-saver, I think it actually improves my work by letting me cross-reference data more holistically. —David Z. Morris, staff writer

Having an external monitor can completely change your work-from-home workflow. But if you don’t have access to another display, your iPad might be able to help. Sidecar, a Mac OS feature compatible with relatively newer Apple computers and iPads, lets you use your tablet as an external display. The free feature works both wirelessly or via USB, and I use it as a pop-out window to keep my Slack conversations always on-screen. If you have older gear, and Sidecar isn’t an option for you, Duet Display, which was built by ex-Apple engineers, may be able to help, but at a cost. — John Patrick Pullen, tech editor

A woman telecommutes from her home in Paris on March 16, 2020.
Chesnot/Getty Images

Punctuate your workday with activities, Pomodoro Technique–style. These can be chores (do a load of laundry), exercise (bang out a set of push-ups), or something else (break for coffee and tea). An occasional respite, however brief, restores the body and mind. —Robert Hackett, senior reporter

My wife and I like to cook but seldom bake. That changed after the “shelter in place” era began. Since then we’ve been averaging about three batches of cookies a week. (We eat half and give the rest to neighbors; we’ve joked darkly about gaining “the quarantine 15.”) A range of psychological research has indicated that baking can relieve stress—both because the completion of small simple tasks has a meditative quality, and because sugary aromas release mild opioids in the brain.

So, to sum up: Bake cookies. Your house smells great, you feel better, and you get to eat cookies. – Matt Heimer, senior features editor

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—Some of the most extreme ways companies are combating the coronavirus
—How luxury designers in Italy’s fashion heartland are facing the coronavirus
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—Why Dollar General thinks the coronavirus can help business
—The coronavirus may not be all bad for tech. Consider the “stay at home” stocks

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