Should You Hire a Freelance Developer?

This article was originally published by LightStep

Your developer talent is directly related to the quality of your application and getting functionality out the door. A common path to quickly on-boarding new dev talent is to consider freelance developers. In this post I cover what I’ve learned about vetting and recruiting freelance developers, and when it does and does not make sense.

I address the need to hire someone outside your company, most likely part-time, to build your applications. For the purpose of this post, however, I don’t talk about the difference between on-shore and off-shore freelancers – two distinctly separate models for freelance services.

Been There Done That

Over the last 10 years, I’ve hired six freelance developers and eight full-time devs. My experience is that there are clear benefits to both formats of the role. To realize those benefits, however, it is critical to first assess your company’s work environment to determine if it is conducive to the success of freelance dev talent, or if it is more favorable to onboarding full-time employees in this role. With that knowledge, you are then ready for the secondary challenge of finding a good developer to meet your specific needs.

Most organizations neglect that first introspective step. Consequently, all too often, good talent is destined to fail simply because of a poor fit with the company’s environment. It can be challenging for even the best freelance developer to succeed if the company doesn’t provide a dev environment where they can hit the ground running.

Understand Your Developer Environment

On a fundamental level, assess the dev environment by defining primary objectives and then differentiating each as either strategic or tactical. The strategy needs to be owned by the organization, and nine times out of ten should be the responsibility of full-time members of the team. On the tactical side, a freelancer could be expected to learn the delivery chain, get briefed on the backlog, and start coding. I.e., freelance developers should be hired to execute, not build strategy.

At a more granular level, recognize the differences between development strategy, application architecture, DevOps and coding.

  • Strategy: Building applications has a conceptual element. This includes how you build, and what is included in your application. Strategy is everything from feature definitions to design patterns. It requires creativity and intimate knowledge of the value your application is bringing to the user. Strategy should be conceived by those who own the application and its concepts.
  • Architecture: Applications, like buildings and cars, are designed based on plans for how things should be put together. More advanced applications include complex algorithms. Architecting involves making decisions about where your application should run and if, for example, you should use microservices or not.
  • DevOps: This is where your organization defines tactics for how it will deliver its application, including how its release is automated and how it’s tested. Larger organizations may also include application security. DevOps should also comprise your monitoring tools, APM tools, log analysis tools, incident response tools, etc.
  • Coding: Coding is tactical, and is where a strong developer takes the requirements of functionality and turns them into code in the language specified, with the stack specified, in the process specified. This is the most tactical element of building any application, and usually does not contain much subjectivity, nor requires much creativity.

Strategy and architecture determine what your application is; it will become your core IP. DevOps is an execution component of building an application, as well as part of the delivery chain; it is inherently expected to evolve. Responsibilities in these three areas – strategy, architecture, and DevOps – are most appropriately owned and managed by staff in the company.

Involving freelancers at these levels should be avoided as it has the potential of introducing an unnecessary knowledge management challenge. A common mistake, especially by organizations with little to no application development experience, is to expect the freelance developer to take over from a strategic perspective.

Ideally, freelancers should be hired only for coding. In some cases, you might ask them to help guide the delivery chain (DevOps). They should not, however, be hired for strategy or architecture.

Setup for Success

Any developer new to the company will need to understand how to collaborate with the broader dev team; or, if there is no broader dev team, the product owners and visionaries.

An environment that is set up for success for either a new full-time developer or a freelancer will have:

  • Vetted and approved dev environment and stack: You should know in advance where your application runs (e.g., AWS or Azure), what programming language you will use (e.g., Node or Go), and what your backend is (e.g., MongoDB vs Postgresql).
  • Established software delivery chain and process: You should already know your desired release cadence and how you deploy and test your application. For example, do you use Jenkins for release automation? How are you testing the front-end, and running unit tests? How are you monitoring and measuring application success? The freelancer should be told how you expect them to deploy their application, not be left to decide on their own.
  • Clear feature backlog: Verbally communicating the features you want the developer to create is ineffective. You should have a backlog tool that clearly defines features, with user stories that describe the features in as much detail as possible so that any dev can pick it up and know what to build.
  • Clearly defined architecture and design patterns: If you have specific ways you want code written such as naming conventions, class structures, etc., you need to have those documented and clearly communicated to any new developer. A developer – even a good freelancer – can help define these, and the organization should try to establish conventions moving forward.
  • Policies and security practices: Depending on the size of your organization, you may have security as well as compliance considerations that require you to have policies and security practices in place, and in a format that is easy to communicate to a new dev.

What to Look For

A good freelance developer will:

  • Be familiar with your stack: You can and should be very specific with your freelance developers. Seek people who have experience with your stack. If your application is NodeJS with a MongoDB backend, expect your freelancer to have healthy experience in both.
  • Be full-stack: To be a full-stack developer means being experienced in front-end development, backend development, and (in my opinion) application testing and release automation. I.e., someone who can look at the development environment they work in, holistically.
  • Be mindful of application security and quality: This goes hand-in-hand with full-stack and is very important. There are documented case studies of organizations leveraging freelance developers that take shortcuts. The most common one is storing passwords in a database clear-text (unencrypted). These types of shortcuts put the organization at risk. Your freelancers – and everyone in the organization – should be accountable for the security of what you deploy, and mindful of quality. Bad application quality and exploits will put you out of business. This is as much a technical understanding as it is a cultural alignment that you should look for even with outside contractors.

Every Company is a Tech Company

In order to compete in the modern world, every company must become a tech company. As such, they quickly identify the need to build an application, and they know its value to their users. What they often neglect to realize is that the way the application is built is as important to its success as is its core functionality.

Hiring freelancers is a great way to fast-track functionality in existing applications, build your dev resources, or get new applications into production quickly. But there are a lot of critical considerations that go into hiring a freelance dev, above and beyond just their ability to code.

Chris Riley GUEST WRITER

Chris Riley is a technologist who has spent 15 years helping organizations transition from traditional development practices to a modern set of culture, processes, and tooling. In addition to being an industry analyst, he is a regular author, speaker, and evangelist in the areas of DevOps, BigData, and IT.

Equip Your Home Office With These Tips

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How amazing would it be to be told that you can work from home? Working in the comfort of your house is something that most people only dream of, and it’s something that you can choose to do with the support of your boss. If they are willing to let you head home and work remotely, it’s going to be one of the best things that they do for you this year. The chance to be in your own surroundings, with no commute, is one of the best feelings! 

Not only do you get the refrigerator space to yourself, you get to set up a home office that works for you without anyone else out there telling you how to work or where to sit. The equipment in your home office is all yours, too, which means that you can use it to your heart’s content. Being motivated and productive at home is only a problem if you aren’t equipped properly, and so you shouldn’t embark on this new adventure without having the right office printers, photocopiers and computers that will work for your workload. You need the best furniture and you need a space that is well-lit and functioning as a proper office space. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most important equipment that you need to have in your home office.

You Need… A Comfy Chair

No home office is perfect without a properly supportive, comfortable chair. Your spine and hips need to be properly seated and balanced so that you don’t have pain while you work. You want to sit as comfortably as possible so that your back is able to keep you upright while you work. You should be able to enjoy your job and you can’t do that if your back and muscles are in agony. With the right lumbar support and armrests, you’re going to be able to sit and work without issues.

You Need… The Right Desk

There are a number of health issues to think about when you are working from home, and hunched shoulders and back are another. If you are sitting for hours on end at a desk, you need it to be the right height to avoid straining your eyes, your wrist and your back. Get a height-adjustable desk so that you can work well without any worries that you are going to be in pain!

You Need… Flowers

Plants make the air more breathable and add color to your office. You can feel happier with the right flowers in the office and you can stay motivated to work when you have the flowers and plants around the space. As natural air filters, you’re going to feel way more motivated to work hard because you are breathing in great air to fuel your lungs and your brain!

You Need… Color

The office at home doesn’t have to be boring. With the right artwork in the office, you can feel at peace and ready to work. You don’t need to spend a lot – some beautiful prints are really low-cost. You don’t even need to make your office chair a black one; go for a pop of color to help you to feel more motivated to work. The right upholstery or cushions do make a big difference to the way that your office feels, and it’s so important that you WANT to work at home!

You Need… Good Lighting

Placing your desk under the window is one thing, but you really need some well-placed lamps around the place, too. Think about the way you work and add as much lighting as it takes to make this easier for you. You want to see the room and not strain your eyes when you are working at the computer. You can make sure that you don’t have the worry of not being able to see with a shopping trip to get new LED light bulbs and removing the net curtains from the window to let the natural light flood right in.

You Need… Snacks!

A refrigerator is already in your kitchen, but what about having one in your office? You can fill it with healthy and nutritious snacks so that you can keep up with your workload. You could even fill it with bottles of fresh water so that you are refreshed while you work. If you have snacks in the office, you won’t have to leave the desk if you get peckish.

 

A Natural Rhythm: Reducing Distraction When Working Remotely

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For many people, remote working is the ultimate situation. It gives you the freedom to work in a manner that suits you without the dreaded commute. But working remotely is a challenge unlike any other. You’ve got to function under your own steam and if you are working at home for a very specific reason, such as having children, it can be harder than going into an office. There can be so many distractions when we work remotely that we’ve got to figure out the right ways to keep ourselves on task. What can we do to retain and improve our productivity in this environment?

Set Up An Office Space

This is rule number one! If you are working in the kitchen or in your bedroom this is going to decrease your productivity. You need to set up an office space exclusively for the purposes of working. This is somewhere that gives you the opportunity to switch into work mode. This means that you’ve got to be very protective over this space. It should only have the bare minimum of items. This could mean a desk, a computer, and a chair. But you’ve also got to make sure that the space isn’t going to cause any niggling doubt in your mind. If you are someone who likes everything neat and tidy before you go into work every morning grab your cleaning products and give the place an efficient wipe down. Even if you cannot get a spare room you’ve got to set aside one corner for working that won’t distract you. You have to remember that even though you are at home you need to work! Do whatever you can to get into that work frame of mind.

Find Your Productivity “Sweet Spot”

It can take some time to get rights because there are so many different variables at play. If you are someone who likes to sleep in and doesn’t get productive until the middle of the day you’ve got to work with your abilities, not against them. They could prove beneficial to find out your chronotype, which is where your sleeping patterns can dictate how productive you are at certain times of day. The most important thing to remember is that when we find the sweet spot that we can easily switch our brain into working mode. It may not necessarily be at home. But if you can start to look at the right time that you do certain tasks perhaps you check emails over a cup of coffee at 7 in the morning but you do your longer writing tasks in the middle of the afternoon you can start to structure your day accordingly.

Establish Boundaries

The most effective component of working remotely is communication. And when you start to designate specific hours for checking emails or collaborating with other workers you’ve got to establish certain boundaries. If people keep emailing you this will interrupt your workflow. This is why schedule is crucial, but you also need to be firm in your boundaries. If you are working with others, try and block a specific time for meetings. If you do this in the morning everybody can get on with their day.

It’s definitely a challenge but as more companies are working in this fashion it is crucial to find your natural rhythm.

How To Save Money On Energy Bills When You Work From Home

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Remote working is becoming more common in business and there are a lot of benefits for both the employer and the employee. We often hear about the financial advantages on both sides because businesses do not need to spend as much money on office space, and there are a lot of opportunities for employees to save money. You don’t need to spend money on your commute, and you’ll save a lot if you can cook at home instead of buying lunch every day. However, it’s not quite as simple as that because remote working can cost you more in other ways. If you are at home working all day, your energy bills will be significantly higher than they would be if you were at the office all day. This is a big problem for remote workers, but there are ways to get around it. These are the best ways to cut energy costs when working remotely.

Improve Insulation In Your Home 

If your home is expensive to heat, you will feel the impact of remote working a lot more. That’s why it’s a good idea to improve the insulation around your home if you plan to work remotely in the long term. Adding more insulation in the roof cavity is one of the most cost effective ways to do this. You should also get in touch with a company like Naimor, inc. and have them make a sheet metal roof for your home. It’s the most energy efficient roofing material because it reflects heat in the summer and keeps the home cool, and it gives you better insulation during the winter. If none of this works, you may need to consider adding more insulation in the walls, but this can be expensive and disruptive, so you should try to avoid it where possible. 

Work Shorter Hours 

You will use a lot of electricity if you are using a laptop and other devices all day long. But if you can work shorter hours, you will notice a big drop in your energy bills, which is why efficiency is so important. Your work day will be a lot longer if you spend half the time looking at social media and distracting yourself in other ways. It’s far better to work a shorter day, but work harder during those hours. If you break up the day into smaller sections and set yourself small targets, you will be far more productive. 

Let Natural Light In 

If you are productive, you should be able to get all of your work done during daylight hours. If you can let natural light into the home, you don’t need to have the lights switched on all day long, and that will save a lot of money. When you are designing your home office, try to pick a room that gets plenty of sun. You should also paint it in a light color so the light is reflected around the room and it stays bright in there all day. 

These simple changes will help you to save a lot of money on your energy bills, so you still get the financial benefits of working from home.

Creating Unity Within Your Team

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Your team is going to be the driving force behind your business. They will be the people facing, code writing, and hive brain that help your company run smoothly. That goes for a remote team or one that is in a store or an office. Team unity matters a lot. It means that people will be willing to step up to the plate to help their colleagues, and it allows for the flow of skills to cross over between job-roles too. Not to mention the increase you will see in productivity.

Let’s take a look at a few ways to create a sense of unity within your team.

Community

Bring a sense of community and belonging to your team. Humans are pretty keen on being part of something, and a team fulfills that need. You can cultivate that further in the following ways:

  • Uniformity: you don’t need to have a full uniform if it doesn’t suit your business, but the option to wear a range of printed t-shirts can put people on an even playing field. Get more information here about some of the available options.
  • Celebration: Enjoy things like birthdays, new babies, and high-sales months. Celebrations for life and work achievements can keep productivity and work ethic high. 
  • Collaboration: Create a work environment that caters for collaboration on projects that might be outside of people’s traditional roles. 
  • Communication: Set the example when it comes to communication within your team. Have an open dialogue about things that are work-related and those that aren’t. Communication is key in your working relationship but can strengthen the bond of your team too. 

Forward Motion

When a group has the same goals, they are more likely to meet them. When you instill the direction, visions, and values of your company early on in the team building, those will become the basis for everything you do. 

  • Values: Consider the core values that you had written in your business plan during the early days, see if they have grown, and use that as your guide. 
  • Direction: Have the business goals as the guiding lights for the direction that your company and team should be working towards
  • Vision: A single vision for a group of people. Make sure that your vision is the basis for everything, and that each team member takes ownership of what that vision is and where they fit into it. 

There are other things that you can do to help your team be cohesive and productive too. Booking things like teamwork events, evening meals, friends, and family days can all bring a more profound sense of where they fit within the company. Clarifying that, and giving people feedback regularly will change how they tackle work in the future. 

And, any business owner worth their salt knows that training and positive reinforcement are not only brilliant for business, but they give purpose, confidence, and skills to your team members too. 

Treat your team as people, and not resources to get the very best of everyone.

Do You Need An Office To Run An Effective Business?

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Part of what makes a happy working environment in this day and age is the flexibility. When you are working in an office, everything seems somewhat regimented. But when you are in charge of a business or trying to set one up, a lot of your working life may very well be at home. But this begs the question, do you actually need an office in order to run a business effectively? Or is it about a little bit of give and take, so you can benefit financially, but also get the work done?

Look At Your Clients

It all depends on making that solid impression as well as the industry that you work in. When you are trying to manufacture components, many clients may not necessarily care where you are operating from, just as long as you keep up your end of the bargain. In terms of the manufacturing industry, there are companies like WES Ltd that provide assistance for businesses in terms of engineering and welding. And when you start to look at your client base, you may feel somewhat sheepish that you don’t have an office or a base, but does this really matter? Sure, for some people, impressions count for everything, but this is where something like a virtual office can really come in handy. Just as long as you provide that impression that you are a fully functioning business, and you are delivering the goods do you really need an office? It doesn’t seem like it.

Can You Build A Culture Of Remote Working?

While you may very well need clients dotted around the world, when you have employees that are able to do everything from the comfort of their own home, it’s possible to build this culture of remote working without an office. The fantastic thing about remote working is that it gives you the opportunity to liaise with people in so many different ways and now due to various collaboration tools like Slack, it’s not as important to be in the same room. Building a culture of remote working is partly to do with the technology you have, but it’s also about how you communicate yourself. Just as long as the work gets done, and you provide that degree of flexibility that’s imperative to remote workers, you provide a business framework that can get more done. A lot of people prefer to work remotely for this very reason.

What If You Need An Office Sometimes?

This is a very common issue. If you need an office for meeting up in person, it’s never been easier to hire a space for meetings. Because we can run a business without a location, just as long as the internet is working effectively, it’s possible. The fact of the matter is now that so many businesses are starting from a remote location, and try to keep it that way, you could do exactly the same. It can improve the culture but it can also improve the bottom line.

Remote Working Tips When You’re Just Starting Out

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If you are someone who is able to work remotely, or work from home a couple of days a week, then you will need a few tips and tricks to help you to improve, especially if you are new to it. There can be a feeling that you won’t get any work done as you’ll be much more distracted, but you need to know that when you do things in the right way, then it can help you to get work done. But how can you help yourself to stay productive, be creative, and be inspired to live up to the lifestyle that remote working can give to you? Here are some things that can help you to get all the work done that you need to, and can smash that remote working life.

Reliable tech

When you think of working remotely then you will think of a good WiFi connection and how it is essential to help. But there is more to having a good setup to work with, than just your internet connection. If you have the ability to take calls or video calls, without losing any kind of connection, then it can be a simple thing that can make a difference. The tech that you use, as well as the internet connection, will make such a difference. Things like a pair of noise-cancelling headphones can help, and then you could work literally anywhere, like a coffee shop or down by the pool on vacation. A good laptop is a must too, as well as a mouse, and perhaps even a second screen if that would help when you’re based at home.

Keeping things secure

If you want to make sure that you’re able to send over information securely, as well as access files sent to you, without the risk of hacking and so on, then keeping things secure is really important. You could think about getting a VPN (virtual private network) as it helps you to use a private network, which keeps things like hackers at bay. There are different ones to choose from, but checking out something like an Opera browser VPN review will give you an idea of what you’re looking for. Taking steps to keep things secure is a must for your business, or the business that you work for.

Lean on your community

One of the things that can occur when you work from home is a feeling of loneliness, as although you might call people or video call people, it isn’t quite the same. So to make sure that you’re feeling supported and connected to the working world, then you could work in a local co-working space from time to time, or perhaps just heading to somewhere like a coffee shop for a bit of ‘noise’ and connection to other people. When you are surrounded by other people who are all working remotely, or just being around other people from to time, then it can help you to stay productive and keep you motivated. But find what works for you and what makes a difference to how well you’re able to work.

Taking Care of Your Tech When You Freelance

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When you freelance, you are pretty reliant on your tech. After all, the majority of freelancers will work from home, from their laptop. They will also incorporate other tech like tablets, smartphones and gadgets into their working routine. So, it’s important that you really take care of your tech if you’re reliant on it  to make a profit! Here are just a few pieces of advice you might want to take into account!

Insurance

Safety first! All of the products that you use for your work should be insured. This is an absolute basic requirement. Tech that your company uses can often be extremely pricey. But at the same time, tech can be easily damaged. All it takes is a spilt drink, dropping something on the floor, or even leaving something in a space that is excessively humid or hot, for tech to break or become unusable. These pricey possessions can also be prone to theft. So, make sure you aren’t left having to fork out for new laptops, tablets, smartphones, cameras, or other equipment by making sure all of your tech is insured under a policy that has you covered for absolutely everything. It’s always worth using price comparison sites for your different policies. This will get you the lowest cost cover and premium out there.

IT Support

Sometimes your tech can go down, just at the moment you’re about to do something important. Maybe you were about to launch a blog post or vlog post that viewers and subscribers were waiting for. Perhaps you were about to reply to an email about an important collaboration. You may have a deadline coming up and need to submit a substantial piece of work. Having IT Support on hand can help to resolve network issues and other problems that can get in the way of your work. Consider working with a company like F1 Networks who will be able to provide you with all the IT support and network solutions you could possibly need.

Upgrading Software

You’ll find yourself using the same software on a day to day basis. Whether that’s Adobe Suite, Microsoft Office, or anything else. It’s always worth looking at the latest versions of the programs that you use. If there’s an upgrade on offer, you might want to consider taking it. These major companies are always working to improve the services and programs that they offer you. So new versions can help to improve your work! The latest versions of software are also less prone to problems and hacking, as they’ve been optimized and cyber criminals haven’t had as much time to familiarize themselves with the newer software.

These, of course, are just a few tips that can help you take care of your tech when you’re freelancing. But seriously consider implementing them into the way you work! They can make all the difference in the long run!

Using Lessons From Remote Working To Run A Better Office

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One of the hallmarks of a successful business is listening to your employees and ensuring you take on their feedback. But these days there are so many out there are scattered all over the place, that you can’t have them all under one roof. Remote working is so popular now, but for all of the veritable pros and cons, you may very well want to bring everybody back together. What can we learn from remote working to ensure that we run a better office?

Being sociable works wonders for positivity

If you’ve been working on your own for a long time, you might find that remote working means you lose that social aspect. By encouraging that old fashioned approach to the water cooler, and having a conversation about last night’s television, you start to solidify a bond between the employees that goes beyond the work. So take it upon yourself to install a water cooled chiller and encourage people to talk because this means collaboration becomes effortless.

Communication and collaboration works across many lands

In running a remote team, or if you work by yourself at home, you realize just how easy it can be to get in contact with others. There are so many different communication tools out there that it’s very easy to get to speak to someone, either via Skype or email. But when it comes to this office environment, we can very easily ping over an email to someone, but this could interrupt their work flow. Set about finding the right communication tools and collaboration so everybody still has that working flow. It is a very difficult thing to get right, but when you want to inspire collaboration and communication ensure that people get up off the chair and wander over to their colleagues, especially if they’re only on the other side of the office! Some businesses frown upon this because it takes people away from the desk but if you want to run an office driving, culturally sound, and where people communicate effortlessly, that human contact is also essential.

People can be disciplined when they want to be

When you run an office, that temptation can be to bark orders and everyone so that they follow the rules. But when you bring people in from a remote working environment they have to function under their own steam. As a result of self-discipline is a fantastic tool, not just because people figure out their own way to get a task done as quickly as possible, with great quality, but it also inspires trust. If you can entrust your employees to do the job that them to do without them feeling that you are watching their every move, they shall work better, are more relaxed, and everybody wins.

Many people find that remote working is a heavy burden on a business, but others can’t help but go down this route due to the cost-effectiveness aspect. But there are things we can learn from remote working that we can apply to an office environment. That lack of sociability from remote working means that employees will make the most of developing relationships with employees, communication is better and more comprehensive and also, that idea of self-discipline is arguably the biggest asset of any business when you transfer remote workers to an office environment.

Make Your Office Work For You

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If you work from home, and most people do. Either they are freelancing, running a business, or taking work home regularly from the office. What your office looks like and how it functions matters. You want to make sure that you are your most productive in there. So there are some things that you should pay attention to when it comes to making your office work for you.

Light

You want to have as much natural light in the room as possible. Natural light gives us energy and makes us more productive, and that is something you really need to be aiming for in a home office. The time you spend in, there should be focused. So if you have a window that is usually covered, or you often have the curtains closed – it is time to ditch that habit. Of course, for privacy purposes, you might want something. A light voile will do the trick. 

Light Part 2

If you have space, then think about adding some strip LEDs into the room. And swap your yellow or warm-toned bulbs for something that is closer to natural light. 

Walls

The lighter and brighter you can make the walls the better. You are looking at white realistically. It’s cheap and easy to do. But you could go for a dark, moody space if that is what gives you inspiration. If you have a lot of books in your office, then fit some shelves and see your walls as storage. Add some interesting art on there too. Try and take the time to find things that get you in the mood for being creative, inspired, and focus. 

Desk

Your desk should be clear of clutter at all times. If it is messy, stray papers and pen lids might catch your attention. From a productivity perspective, you really want to minimize the number of distractions. It would be beneficial if you had a draw that could store things like notebooks, pens, and files. 

Computer

Your computer doesn’t make you money, but you make money with your computer. So it makes sense for you to really pay attention to it. Once a week, make sure that you that your run all updates and other things on your computer. Next time you sit in your chair, consider if your screen is too high or too low for you. This will cause you to either crane your neck or slouch. Using a monitor mount arm will be you can move the screen around as you need to. 

Green

Green is used in offices all over the world because it is known for its productive vibes. Plus they are great at cleaning the air in your office. So not only are they great to look at, they provide a useful service too. So consider adding a few easy to take care of plants into your office space. 

 

It is often said that the best way to make sure that you are focused in an office is to ensure there is a door or something to separate it from the rest of the house. So when possible make sure you have that capability.