By: John Bonoff
In 2017, roughly 5% of Americans, or about eight million people, worked completely remote. The number has been steadily rising, but in a few short weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic has made remote work the status quo. Millions more are settling into their home offices, spare bedrooms, and quiet living room corners. Children, spouses, and pets have become watercooler companions. The lines between work and home life blur, even disappear.
For those working from home for the first time, distractions can be plentiful, and challenges are inevitable. Luckily, those eight million seasoned remote workers had some time to test these waters and come up with lots of ways to make working at home more productive, and more enjoyable. Compiled below are the boiled-down versions of dozens of listicles on the subject, designed to help you make the most of your time at home.
Carve out an office
Let’s start with where exactly you’ll be working. The goal with the physical at-home workspace is to create an environment that allows your brain to click into “work mode”, and stay there. Think supportive chair, ample desk space, and the supplies you need to perform your duties. Stay away from foot traffic and other visual and auditory distractions. Creating your own miniature office replica might seem overboard at the outset, but these elements enable productivity in the long-term. If you don’t have what you need on hand, consider asking your manager if the company will help you invest.
In addition to the space itself, address the people living in your new office. Whether it’s young children, roommates, or a spouse—some of which may also be working remotely—you’ll want to set some ground rules that help normalize the situation. Communicate your needs for space and quiet, and specify any sensitive times of the day, like client calls, virtual meetings, or big deadlines. It may be helpful to utilize a group chat for updates and work alerts if your home contains multiple “office” mates.
Without the ability to hop to the nearest coffee shop, everyone needs to be on the same page. It’s up to you to clarify your expectations.
Establish a rhythm
There is a lot of great information online when it comes to creating a productive work-from-home schedule—wake up early, keep your normal office hours, take breaks often, and more. These have all proven to be useful, but the most important thing is consistency. Again, you want to convince your brain it’s time to work, even though it sees, hears, and smells lots of cues that tell it to do the opposite. Decide on the hours that will keep you most productive, and stick to them.
Just as important as the schedule itself is the way you start each work day. Whether it’s taking a shower, going for a walk, brushing your teeth (always good), or changing out of your pajamas, do something that marks the beginning of work. For a more ritualistic approach, try setting a timer for 10 minutes and journaling non-stop until the clock hits 0:00. It’ll help wake your brain up, clear out the debris, and give you a small sense of accomplishment. Without a clear starting line, you can find yourself sleep-typing through an entire morning.
Finding a rhythm can be one of the hardest aspects of remote work, but a consistent pre-work ritual, followed by steady hours, is a great place to start. Once you get in motion, it’s easier to stay in motion.
Make a point to connect
For those of us entering the remote work arena for the first time, we do so under a strange pretense. Namely, it isn’t by choice. But the fact is, most remote employees are in the same boat, and we have the power to make the situation more ideal for each other. Whether you are an extroverted happy-hour champion, or a wallflower that grows in peaceful climates, connecting with coworkers can make a huge difference in collective employee engagement and productivity. It also heightens the extent to which you and your coworkers still enjoy coming to work.
Sending a message, taking time for a call or video chat, or scheduling a weekly stand-up with your virtual team will allow everyone to stay more closely synced, and sane. And it should go both ways; make sure your coworkers know you are accessible for a call or chat, and don’t stray too far from a device where they can reach you during your work hours.
If you notice that a certain team member is not as active in communication as usual, or seems despondent during team meetings, make an effort to connect with them. There may be more going on than you’re able to perceive over email and instant messages. For the managers out there, check in with each person weekly at the very least, keeping in mind this is a difficult time to be productive. Try to ensure that every team member, even those on cross-functional teams, feels comfortable advocating for themselves amidst the uncertainty.
Working during a global crisis affects everyone differently, and while we are all in isolation, work has become one of the few dependable sources of interaction. Give yourself and others permission to feel out-of-sorts during work. Keep an eye on those you work with every day.
Optimize video chats
As even the most important conversations will have to be held virtually for the time being, it pays to perfect them. There is a lot about video chats and conferences that is beyond our control (glitches, timing, sounds, etc.), but here are a few things we can stand to improve upon.
First, do your best to limit distractions during video calls. Put away your phone, snooze notifications, and stow your desktop messaging app. Now, more than ever, these virtual meetings make up the most authentic connections during the course of our work day. Give these moments your full attention.
Speaking of authentic connection, video chats are a great opportunity for personal check-ins before getting down to business. In this remote work era, setting aside the first few minutes of a face-to-face to see how one another is doing can make for more productive conversations, and allow your team to retain its cultural fabric.
Finally, with all meetings being held virtually, it becomes easier to lose information in the fray, and forget what exactly was said and put in motion. Each meeting should be followed by a quick summary of what was discussed and any action items, to ensure the conversation continues.
In Fast Company’s list of 5 things people who love their job have in common, coming in at number 1 is, “they enjoy their coworkers.” In the absence of a shared office, we have to take it upon ourselves to foster that sense of belonging and camaraderie for each other.
Hubspot’s list of 20 great WFH tips includes this gem: Use your laundry cycle as a work timer! Working in increments will help keep you motivated to grind, and remind you to take breaks here and there to stay fresh…like your clothes!
In order to get as much done at home as you would in the office, you will need to change your habits. Using these remote work tips, and the tricks you’ll develop on your own, you’ll start to become less and less distracted by working remotely. In fact, without the long commutes, unpredictable drop-ins, and redundant in-person meetings, you may find that you’re able to be more productive than ever. Of course there will be obstacles. But by starting each day strong, staying consistent, making a point to connect, and mastering virtual communication, you put yourself in the best possible position to support your team, and get the most out of each day.