Working from home (WFH) has been trending for quite some time.
As businesses and offices have shuttered due to Covid-19, remote work has become “the new normal.” That’s likely to backtrack as economies and businesses reopen, but there’s no question that the trend toward remote work will continue.
WFH is everywhere, and it’s here to stay.
For some, working remotely is an entirely new challenge to adapt to. However there’s a lot of adjustment needed even for those of us who work from home regularly. Our home-office sanctuaries have now been invaded with kids home from school, roommates, spouses or life partners, all doing their own version of distance learning or working at home.
Fortunately, we have some great tips for staying focused and productive while working from home (and a few entertaining WFH memes to keep things interesting). Read on to learn how to make working remotely work for you!
1. Set boundaries with a dedicated work space
It’s important to keep your work and home life separate. This is even more challenging if other family members are now at home due to Covid-19. One way to ensure you get work done is to claim a physical space as your own. And no, we don’t mean your bed.
If you have an office with a door, that’s wonderful. If not, there are still ways to designate your own space.
- Set up a folding table and chair in a remote spot in the house.
- Close the bedroom door and use a small desk and chair in there.
- Clear the dining room table of everything but your work items, and inform everyone else that the space is off limits.
- Take over a utility room or extra room in the basement.
- Last resort if you don’t have young kids: Put on headphones and face a window.
I don’t know why everyone is complaining about working from home with kids home.— Craig Wilkey (@CraigWilkey) March 17, 2020
I can barely tell they’re here. pic.twitter.com/5HBReC3S7V
With your own space, you can limit disruptions and focus. When you have that physical separation, it will be easier to enter your work space in the morning, and shift into work mode.
Now that you have a space for your home office, do what you can to improve that space. Here are some things to add that will make remote work more comfortable and productive:
- Invest in a comfortable office chair, or lumbar support pillow.
- Replace cheap light bulbs with higher quality LED bulbs.
- Add a plant, photos, or other joy items.
- Get a dedicated lamp or overhead light for your desk.
- Buy a wrist rest and gel mouse pad for comfort.
- Work near a window for natural light and fresh air.
- Keep a bottle of water and a healthy snack in reach.
Finally, buy proper office supplies. Dollar store pens and scrap paper may seem okay now, but you’ll appreciate having the nice stuff once you’ve been working remotely for a few weeks.
2. Create morning and evening transitions
Without even thinking of it, many of us do things on our way to and from work to prepare us to start and end our days. When you remove that commute, it can be difficult to make that transition. Try creating morning and evening routines to help you transition between working from home, and living at home.
Do you have a favorite, ‘morning zoo’ radio show that you listen to each morning? Do you put in earbuds on the train to listen to a podcast? Do the same at home. You can also add in other activities to help. Take the dog or the kids for a walk around the block, if you are able. Get in a morning workout.
Don’t forget your evening ‘commute’ as well. The ride home can help you unwind, and improve your mood. At the end of the day, take a bit of time to play a few video games that you like. Read a few chapters of a book. Call a friend for a quick video call. This transition will help you make sure you’re in a great frame of mind for the rest of the night.
3. Be prepared for sharing resources and sending documents
One of the hardest things we have to adjust to when working from home is not being able to work face-to-face to review documents, whiteboards, and other information.
We also lack photocopiers, printers and fax machines that help us deliver these documents in a timely fashion. Therefore, it’s vital that you plan ahead to make sure you can still collaborate, review, and transfer information.
Miro is a fantastic tool for creating remote whiteboards that you can share and work on with other people.
Slack is great for quick communication and as well as sharing of documents of all kinds.
Video and screenshare applications like Zoom and Google Meet facilitate face-to-face discussions and meetings.
In an ideal world all information could be shared digitally and we could encourage our colleagues and clients to go paperless. Of course, physical documents are still widespread, and some businesses are still dependent on faxing for daily communications.
It’s important to find a way to send documents without ordering a brand new fax machine to your house. Faxburner makes it easy to send faxes from your phone or computer, using a mobile app or your email. If you find yourself needing only a one-off or occasional fax, a free account may be sufficient.
If not, affordable monthly packages are available that allow you to send 500 or 2000 faxes per month. With your own permanent fax numberyou’ll be able to send and receive faxes from anywhere without hassle.
4. Be open, honest, and communicate like never before
This working from home experiment is new for everyone. It impacts you, your family, your roommates, and your coworkers. Expect rough patches and difficult adjustments. Then, use communication to stay on top of things, and make others feel like you are taking their needs into consideration.
Let’s start with your boss and coworkers. Here, clear expectations are the best thing. Get and give very clear feedback from your boss and underlings as to how often communication will happen, and when. Come to an agreement on the tools and technologies you’ll use to communicate as well. As time passes, you will likely need to make adjustments, but getting everyone on the same page will help you maintain positive working relationships.
Don’t forget that communicating with members of your household is also important. When you work at home, your schedule impacts everyone. Be sure to keep one another informed of various activities, and schedule changes. Consider using a shared calendar or other tools to ensure that your home life runs smoothly. It only takes a little time to update a calendar or send a text.
5. Get dressed for work
During your first few days of working remotely, you might be tempted to live in your pajamas. Unfortunately, you might find that’s a bit too comfortable. It’s easy to relax a bit too much, and have a slower start to your day. When you work remotely, try dressing for the job a bit.
That doesn’t mean you have to wear business attire. More than anything, it’s the ritual of changing into designated work clothes. These can be anything you might wear to go out and be productive. Comb your hair and wash your face while you’re at it. You’ll feel awake, confident, and ready to work. It’s also a good way to restore some normalcy that you’ve lost.
There’s another benefit to this. Do you really want to be in your grubby clothes when people from your office suddenly loop you in for a video conference? If nothing else, make sure you’re wearing a decent shirt.
6. Stick to a clearly defined schedule
When you’re working from home, day and night can run together if you don’t have a schedule. Yes, working remotely usually means a flexible schedule. However, as you learn how to work from home, you’ll realize that time management is important. This is especially the case if your work is collaborative in nature. Stick to a similar schedule as your coworkers to make sure you can communicate effectively.
Many people find that the accountability of a time schedule works well for them too. Having a designated time for getting up and going into the office can really help. Conversely, having a clear end to your day is also important. It clearly designates when it is time to stop work, and enjoy some hours with the people you care about. Burnout is a legitimate concern when it comes to remote work. You need time off each day.
But in between is where the magic happens. Use a calendar to block off meetings. Give yourself set times for lunch and breaks (see tip 7). Then organize the remaining hours in a way that maximizes productivity and flow. Consider when you are most productive and prioritize high-value, high-focus activities during those times.
Your predictable schedule not only helps you, but the people in your household as well. If they must avoid disrupting you, or entering your work space, it’s important that they know when those restrictions are in place each day. If you have younger children in particular, it’s good for them to know what time you ‘get off of work’.
7. Take breaks
People who work in an office need breaks. That’s equally true for those of us who work from home. Give yourself the freedom to take a mental vacation every now and again. Without a commute, you probably need some extra physical activity as well.
Get up. Listen to some music. Stretch. Dance. Play a game. Meditate. Unwind. Then get back to work with a clear refreshed head.
8. Don’t let distractions become too distracting
Breaks are one thing. Unplanned intermittent lapses are another.
Inexperienced remote workers are often surprised at how easy it is to get distracted. That’s why one of the key tips for working at home is learning to avoid and eliminate temptations. Avoid the call of cleaning, social media, or catching up on the news – as tempting as that may be during the Corona-virus pandemic. Leave these distractions for post-work time instead.
One tool that might help while you are working remotely is a timer. Considering downloading a Pomodoro app for example, which helps you practice the Pomodoro technique. Twenty-five minute periods of work are followed by 5-minute mini breaks. After four work periods you get a longer 15-20 minute break. It’s pretty effective.
Of course, you can alter the technique or time to suit your style and workflows. As long as you’re systematic about avoiding distractions you’ll be ahead of the game.
9. Social interaction is key to remote work success
We’ve provided plenty of tips for working from home successfully. This one is just as important to your productivity and well-being as any other. When you go home to work, you miss out on many of the day to day social interactions that you enjoy at the office. At the time, these short interactions in the break room or passing coworkers in the hallway don’t seem important. In reality, it’s a way to feel connected to others.
You can help meet your need to connect by finding other ways to reach out to your coworkers. Use Zoom, Skype, phone calls, text, slack, FaceTime, and other tools to stay connected. Even just reaching out for a five-minute chat can really help.
Do you have a work best-friend? If so, try to carve out even more time for someone on one connection with them. Meet over zoom for lunch. If you’re in an area that allows it, you can even have a social distancing meet up in a parking lot or your driveway.
When you get off of work, you also need time to socialize with the friends and family members you can’t see in person. Use the same technologies mentioned above to connect with one another. Create a group chat. You can even use JackBox to get everyone together for a great game night. Of course, you can create a watch party to catch up on your favorite show together. Making the effort makes isolation that much more manageable.
10. Stay flexible
Keep in mind that working from home is an adjustment, for everyone. Understand that things won’t go perfectly. People won’t always cooperate. Things will go wrong.
Try to stay flexible with your expectations for yourself, your coworkers, and those around you. It might take some time and getting used to, but you’ll find your happy place.
Hopefully these tips will help you make the adjustment to working from home. That’s a major adjustment to tackle, and the addition of Covid-19 related stress can make things seem more overwhelming. Fortunately, with a good plan, some ways to relieve stress, and a commitment to productivity, you should be able to find your stride as a remote worker.