There was a time, not so long ago, when the idea of working from home seemed like a pipe dream for many people. However, as technology improves and companies come around to the idea, remote work has become a reality for many of us. (Not to mention a global pandemic that forced many workers to stay home while still being productive.) Workers across a wide range of industries and professions can now work from home.
At first glance, working from home looks like a dream come true. There’s no commute, no office distractions, no pants — what’s not to like? As great as remote work can be, it does present a set of unique challenges. If you’re not careful and prepared, these challenges can quickly derail your productivity. To help manage your work from home experience like a pro, here are some tips to get the most out of remote work life!
Setup a Designated Work Space
Priority number one when preparing for remote work life is to establish an area in your home from which to do it. Yes, it’s possible to do work from your couch or bed. Over the long term, though, not having a designated work space is a recipe for failure. Having an office helps create boundaries between you and your home life. It will ideally give you a comfortable, quiet place to do your work.
Of course, not everyone has the luxury of being able to designate an entire room as an office. If space is limited, get creative. As long as it’s functional, you can set up a work zone in a corner of your living room, kitchen, or bedroom. Looking for some ideas? Here are some creative solutions to setting up a small home office when space is at a luxury.
Wear Whatever Pants You Want
If you’ve spent any time researching work from home best practices, you’ve likely noticed that one of the biggest points of contention has to do with pants. Specifically, the question of whether or not working in your sweatpants (or underwear) is okay. Many people will be quick to tell you that you need to “dress for success” while working remotely. Some even go so far as to espouse the virtues of working in full-on formal attire.
Now, there are certainly benefits to getting dressed for remote work. According to a study first published in Human Resource Development Quarterly, participants reported feeling more authoritative, trustworthy, and competent when wearing formal business attire. On the other side of things, being able to work in your pajamas can be a liberating experience too. It provides a source of comfort and flexibility unavailable in a traditional office environment.
When it comes down to it, just do what works for you. If you find you can’t get in the zone while wearing sweats, switch things up and get dressed. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution here. Experiment until you find an optimal dress code for yourself. As long as you remember to put on a nice top for Zoom meetings, it really doesn’t matter what you’re wearing below the midriff.
Give Yourself a Morning Routine
One of the great benefits of working from home is the time you get back from no longer having to commute. For anyone who’s experienced the daily frustration of being stuck in traffic on the way to the office, it can be tempting to use this extra time to sleep in. After all, you can just start working the second you roll out of bed, right?
While there will be days you’ll hit snooze one too many times and have to scramble to log on in time to make a 9:00 am conference call, it’s best to not make it a habit. Instead, establish a morning routine as if you are getting ready to leave the house. Wake up early. Make breakfast. Go for a walk. Grab a coffee. Shower (please remember to shower). Use this “commute time” as a gift to take care of yourself. It will also create some distance between your work and personal life.
Set Specific Work Hours (and Stick to Them)
Building off the previous point, maintaining a healthy work/life balance is a constant struggle for many remote workers. Having a flexible work schedule is one of the great benefits of working from home. However, if you’re not careful, your work can easily start bleeding into your off hours. Even if you flipped to remote work to escape the 9-5 grind, setting a schedule will help you avoid working nonstop.
If your employer has set hours they expect you to be available, then this task is made much easier for you. On the other hand, freelancers or solopreneurs need to be extra disciplined. No one is there to keep you accountable other than yourself. However, you can use this flexibility to your advantage. Set up work hours that maximize your productivity. Find you work best early in the morning? Start work at 7:00 am and finish in the early afternoon! If you’re self-employed, remember there’s no rule saying you need to work eight hours a day. If you find you can get everything you need done in five hours, do that!
No matter your situation, the important thing is to set a specific start and end time. You need to keep your personal life separate from your work.
Remember to Get Up and Move!
Anyone who’s worked a desk job knows how difficult it can be to remember to get up from your chair and move around at regular intervals. Unfortunately, working from home presents the same challenges, especially since you likely have less room to move around in than you would in an office.
Research has shown that sitting all day is really, really bad for your health. According to a 2017 Columbia University study, getting up every 30 minutes to move around can help extend your life. Of course, actually remembering to do this can be a challenge without any sort of prompt. Try scheduling five minute movement breaks into your online calendar. Or pin a sticky note reminder to your desktop. Use your smartphone to set reminders. Anything that will get you up and moving!
Leave the House
Being stuck in a cubicle all day is a good way to drive yourself mad. Keeping yourself shut in your home office isn’t much better. Remote work can quickly turn into a claustrophobic, socially isolating experience if you’re not careful. In addition to regular social interaction, making time to leave the house at least once a day can do wonders for your work from home experience.
Simply going for a walk and getting a change of scenery can help boost your creativity and productivity. If possible, work from a cafe or other public place once a week. It’s another great way to get out of the house for some much needed location refreshment.
Video Chat is Your Friend
While going outside and spending time at a coffee shop are great mood lifters, maintaining regular social interaction is also essential for a healthy work from home life. If you work remotely as part of a team, video conferencing is likely baked into your daily schedule. Rather than dreading these virtual hangouts as a distraction from your “real” work, try recognizing them for what they are — a chance to connect with teammates as co-workers and people.
If you’re self-employed, you’ll have to work a little harder to replicate this sort of socialization. But it’s still possible. Consider joining a freelance community in your particular niche. Find a mentor or peer in your industry and schedule regular video hangouts with them. No matter your situation, touching base with colleagues on Skype, Zoom, Google Meet, or FaceTime will help keep you accountable and sane through the ups and downs of working from home.
Stay the Heck Off Social Media
There are many ways to get distracted while working from home. Netflix, video games, scrounging for snacks in the kitchen — they’re all sitting there, ready to eat up your time. What these activities have in common is they require you to at least get up from your desk to engage with. On the other hand, clicking over to a new tab and opening Twitter is something you can do absentmindedly. Before you know it, you’ve lost half an hour so mindless scrolling.
If you’re the type who gets distracted easily, you’ll have to work extra hard to stay off social media and other time-sucks while working from home. Putting your phone in a different room is a good first step in curbing mobile browsing. However, you should also strongly consider getting a site-blocking app like SelfControl. It’s Mac-only, but lets you set custom parameters, such as which sites to block and for how long. There are PC equivalent programs available too.
Set Boundaries With Family, Friends, and Pets (If You Can)
Distractions in the home aren’t limited to technology and food. Other members of your household can be a productivity killer if proper boundaries aren’t established. Pets and small children can be especially disruptive, as they will demand your attention as much as possible. In the case of children, it’s best to organize their days around your work time. Find a way to keep them busy with activities that keep them engaged while you work. If all else fails and you’re stressed about falling behind your work, just give in. Hand them the iPad or the Xbox controller and let them do their thing. You can’t be the perfect, screen-free parent every single day.
If your spouse (or other adult members of the family) work away from home, make it clear that your work time is just as valuable as theirs. It can be tempting to handle household tasks during the day while you’re home. However, it’s not fair to you if these tasks start cutting into your work time. Remember, working from home is a real job too. You need to communicate your work hours to other members of your family so they can properly respect your boundaries.
Keep in Touch
Working remotely can often feel lonely. Even the most hardcore of introverts can start to miss the social aspect of being around co-workers. Without the watercooler chit-chat, group lunches, or occasional trip to happy hour after work on Friday, working from home can be pretty isolating. Make an effort to send your co-workers the occasional friendly email or Slack message. If your co-workers arrange for an online social meeting or game, make a point to join in. You don’t have to be a productivity robot, 100% of the time. You’re allowed to be human too.
On the non-social side of things, you also need to keep in touch professionally too. Without being able to have in-person meetings or speak to your managers directly, it’s extra important to keep in touch when you work from home. You’ll want to make sure you know exactly what is expected of you. In the same vein, you’ll want to seek out some feedback to ensure your efforts are on track and appreciated by your bosses.
We already mentioned the dangerous distractions of social media. Working from home presents a bunch of other distractions too. You may be tempted to put away the tedious paper pushing and just go fold the laundry. Or do last night’s dishes. Working from home takes a much larger degree of self discipline, since no one will be there to keep you focused on the proper tasks.
Creating a consistent schedule — whatever it may be — is an important aspect of working from home. If you pause every day at noon to work out, that’s fine. If you need a mid-afternoon break to clean the kitchen and prep for dinner, that’s okay too. Carve out a productive routine that works for you, and then do your best to stick with it. Once you get used to it, you’ll find working from home gets easier.
…But Embrace Change
Establishing a routine is important. However, it’s also valuable to stay flexible while working from home. You never know when your daily meeting schedules will shift, business needs will change, or new tasks will be required of you. Remember that working from home is still working, so you’ll still be expected to evolve, pivot, learn, and grow as the needs of the job dictate.
You may also need to adapt on the personal side of things. For example, many parents who were working from home suddenly had to deal with their children trying to navigate remote learning when schools were closed. It was a time-consuming (and stressful) addition to most people’s daily work schedule. If you find yourself needing to switch things up (doing more work in the evening, for example) due to a personal reason, communicate it with your boss. Ultimately, figure out the flow that works best for you and still lets you get your job done.
The Bottom Line
If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that society is much more capable of working from home than most people ever imagined. Many companies were reluctant to allow remote working before, fearing that productivity would drop. If 2020 and 2021 proved anything, it’s that plenty of employees are more than happy (and even happier, in some cases) to be working from home.
As the pandemic finally starts to die down for good, the idea of working from home is probably here to stay. Some companies are telling their employees they don’t have to fully return to the office. Having some work from home options will be an attractive perk to attract new talent, too. Whether you’re choosing to work from home or were forced into it over the last year and half, we hope this article helps you stay happy, healthy, and productive.