The Coronavirus pandemic has flipped professional life as we know it on its head, with millions of Americans suddenly working from home for the first time. For many, it means figuring out how to work remotely on the fly, which is a tall order.
From the technology, like conference calls and file sharing, to the logistics, like working with the background noise of a screaming toddler, working from home can be a jarring change that’s not as easy of an adjustment as you might imagine. Whether your work-from-home situation is temporary or you’re making the transition for good, here are seven tips for working remotely to help things go a little more smoothly.
Tips to Effectively Work from Home
Set up a dedicated workspace
The biggest difference between working in an office and working from home is the environment. When you arrive at work, it’s a physical signal to your brain that it’s time to go into work mode. When you’re still at home, though, you don’t have that same visceral cue.
Mimic the mental effects of going into the office by creating a dedicated workspace. Ideally, this will be different from the places where you spend the most time at home, like the couch, since your brain associates those places with relaxation. A kitchen table or spare room work well, but if these aren’t an option, at least pick a space that you can use consistently from one day to the next.
Working from the same dedicated spot every day not only helps shift your mind into work mode, but creates a place where all your work-related materials—folders, files, pens, etc.—can live instead of being strewn about the house.
Look the part
When you don’t have to go into the office, it can be tempting to stay in your pajamas all day and forego all of your normal “getting ready” rituals like shaving or putting on makeup—after all, isn’t one of the biggest upsides of working remotely that no one can see you?
While taking a break from getting ready is fine from time to time, try to avoid making it your regular habit. Like physically going into the office, getting ready is one more way we signal to our brain that it’s time to kick into high gear for the day.
While it’s probably not necessary to don a suit and tie or wear a full face of makeup (unless, that is, you want to), one of our top tips for working remotely is to make yourself presentable the same way you would if you were, say, meeting a friend for lunch. A good rule of thumb is to be “video conference ready”—you never know when a colleague is going to want to hop on a call, and if everyone else is turning on their cameras, you don’t want to be the one that’s caught with bedhead and a five-o-clock shadow.
Actively limit distractions
While you might assume that being at home, away from ringing phones and loud colleagues, would make it easier to focus, you’d be surprised how many distractions are lurking around every corner. From the television to the refrigerator and even the front door, your house is full of easy targets for your attention, especially if you’re prone to procrastination.
Limit distractions by actively removing their source. Hide the remote and set a no-TV rule. If you’re someone who needs background noise to focus, try a streaming radio station at a low volume. Turn your personal phone on silent and put it in a drawer. Or, if you need to take calls for work, set a special ringtone for those numbers so you can avoid others.
Stick to a schedule
Humans crave consistency. In a study of retail workers, who typically have very inconsistent shifts, researchers tested the effects of providing more consistent work schedules. They found that not only did more consistent work schedules lead to a dramatic increase in productivity, but the workers were more enthusiastic and—get this—sales increased. Maintaining a consistent schedule even when you’re not working in an office helps you plan your day, get more done and avoid getting overwhelmed.
You don’t need to schedule your day down to the minute; we’ve found it’s helpful to break time into blocks dedicated to specific tasks or categories of work. For example, maybe you answer emails from 9-10, take meetings from 10-12, take a break for lunch at noon, and spend the afternoon on client projects. Giving yourself some wiggle room and building in breaks ensures you have the flexibility to move between tasks depending how your day unfolds while still fitting in everything that needs to get done.
This tip for working remotely is doubly important if you have kids at home so you’re able to balance your workload with their care. As every parent knows, kids thrive on routines. From sleep to story time, structure gives kids a sense of security and helps them learn to manage their behavior. Use this as an opportunity to help teach them about work time versus play time and the value of each.
Don’t neglect personal interaction
A major downside of working remotely is that you miss out on the creative collaboration that happens when you’re in a room full of people working together toward a shared goal. An important tip for how to work remotely is to strive for a healthy dose of human interaction each day.
Research has shown that collaborative work increases creativity, boosts individual team member efficiency and leads to faster innovation, all of which are beneficial no matter what field you work in. So, it’s necessary to actively seek out opportunities to interface with colleagues and like-minded peers, even during this unique time when our ability to be physically face-to-face is limited.
Use video conferencing rather than audio-only calls when holding remote meetings. Instead of lunch dates, chat with coworkers via Facetime. Take part in one of the many virtual social gatherings being offered right now, like digital book clubs or fitness classes. It takes a bit more effort to have meaningful interactions when you work remotely, but it’s essential for both your motivation and your state of mind.
Set boundaries with friends and family
As soon as friends and family members learn you’re working remotely, an interesting phenomenon happens. Suddenly, relatives are calling to catch up at 10 in the morning, spouses are asking you to run extra errands, and friends are left feeling puzzled when you don’t text back immediately, even during work hours. Though your loved ones mean well, it can be surprisingly taxing to try to juggle personal calls, messages and commitments while at the same time managing your professional workload.
To successfully work remotely, you’ll likely need to set some boundaries with the people in your personal life. Gently remind them that even though you’re physically at home, you still need to be fully present and productive at work. That might mean only taking personal phone calls in the evenings, holding all text messages until your lunch break, or making a no-personal-errands-during-the-workday rule.
Of course, some companies are much more flexible than others; it might be perfectly feasible for you to chat with your great aunt in between conference calls. If that’s not the case, though, you should feel perfectly comfortable putting the boundaries you need to be able to do your job in place.
Switch ‘off’ at the end of the day
Another downside of working remotely that many are surprised by is that it can be more challenging to disconnect from work at the end of the day. When you don’t have a clean break from work, like leaving the office and commuting home, it’s all too easy to stay in work mode even after the close of business. This is a surefire way to get burned out quickly.
To help set a healthy boundary between your work life and your personal life, create a new transition that signifies the end of your work day. Take your kids for a walk around the neighborhood. Pour yourself a glass of wine or tea. If you have a home office, shut the door and don’t go back in until the next morning.
Even if you continue to check in on emails in the evening, as many workers do, maintaining a concrete ‘end’ to the work day will help you decompress so you can show up fully recharged the following day.