New to Working from Home? Here's 7 Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Remote Work Environment
The advent of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic has created a new wave of remote workers, many who are new to working from home. Making the shift from your 9-5 daily commute and work routine can be a little disconcerting if you’ve never done it before.
As a remote worker and veteran of the work-at-home scene, I know settling into to home office life can be both a blessing and a challenge. Working remotely carries the potential to become super productive, but on the flip side it can be fraught with distraction and interruptions.
If working at home is your new normal, how do you stay focused and productive without driving yourself (and your loved ones) crazy in the process?
Read on for 7 practices that have helped me make the most of my work from home routine.
Structure The Day: One of the biggest challenges that comes with working from home is a lack of structure. It’s a strange feeling to roll out of bed and walk down the hall to your workspace if you’re not used to it. When your television and kitchen are just steps away from your desk it can be tempting to sleep in, lounge a little longer over that first cup of coffee or catch up on Good Morning America before starting your day. Commit to the same kind of daily structure you would have if you were still in the office:
- Take advantage of what used to be your commute by using the time to get ahead of your day.
- Plan your day, review your calendar and set daily goals. Know your essential tasks and avoid overload by committing to no more than two major deliverables in any given day.
- Set a hard start and stop time for your workday in line with your normal in-office routine. Start your day with the same focus you would give at the office and commit to shutting down at the end of your workday. When you're working from home it can take extra discipline to turn off your computer and step away, but know that the work will still be there in the morning when you return.
- Schedule regular breaks into your day and take your lunch hour. When working from home it's easy to lose track of time and work through breaks. Give your mind time to reset and recharge by scheduling 10-15-minute breaks between big tasks to allow your mind an opportunity to shift to the next project – and don’t forget your lunch break.
Create a Dedicated Workspace: Even when you don’t have a dedicated home office, you can create a dedicated workspace. A kitchen table or spot in your living room or bedroom can make a good temporary workspace. A few workspace must-haves:
- A space for your computer and handy access to power outlets
- Room to spread out for writing or taking notes
- A spot where others won’t disturb you during the day and where you don’t have to pack it all up at the end of each day.
Leverage Online Tools: Stay in touch with your work community by taking meetings online and using work collaboration apps. Some common apps:
- Online meetings, webinars and video conferencing: Skype, Zoom and Go To Meeting
- Team collaboration: Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Docs, Trello, Asana
- Scheduling/organization: Google calendar, Outlook calendar, Any.do
- Large file share/team access: Box, Dropbox, Google Drive
Set Ground Rules for Others in Your Home: With schools closing, the added distraction of having kids and family at home can interrupt your workflow. Take time to set ground rules for work hours. How will you handle conference calls? What is the plan for when you need to focus on a project without interruption? How will you manage breaks? Have clear work boundaries and be sure everyone is on the same page.
Eliminate distractions: Identify your biggest distractors and have a plan to minimize them.
- Put down the phone: Avoid the temptation to pick up the phone every time the familiar ding of an incoming text grabs your attention. Turn off your notifications and steer clear of social media and news feeds. If picking up your phone every few minutes feels like a compulsion, try using an app that encourages no-phone time. I use an app called Forest that rewards you for staying off the phone for a set period of time from 5 minutes to an hour or more.
- Clear the clutter: Keep your work area clean and clear of random papers, coffee cups and food wrappers. Invest in a desk organizer and file storage for important papers.
- Win the morning: Tackle priority tasks and big projects early in the day. The more you can knock out before noon the better. Develop a consistent morning ritual to begin the day: meditation, journaling or a cup of tea can start you off on a positive note.
- Avoid procrastination: We all have mundane aspects of our work that aren’t the most exciting part of the day. When you’re working from home it’s super easy to give in to the urge to watch ‘just one’ episode of that show on Netflix that you’ve been waiting for instead of diving in to administrative or repetitive tasks. Don't give in to the urge to put off those day-to-day tasks, because before you know it, one episode turns into a whole season. Suddenly you're faced with a mountain of work, looming deadlines and unnecessary stress.
- Dress for the Day: Going to work in your pajamas sounds pretty awesome, but there’s something to be said for dressing for success. Even when you're working from home, changing into casual work clothes can help you step up your mental game as you shift from a home to a workday mindset.
- Cut the Silence: The silence of working from home can seem deafening. Cut the silence with background music or stream a podcast in the background to bring a human element to your work environment.
Leaning into new ways of working during these trying times can be a challenge as you adapt from your office community to a solo work environment. On the other hand, it can bring new opportunities to increase productivity and focus, while cutting out your traditional commute time. If you’re new to the work-at-home world, use the tips above to create a home office environment designed to deliver less stress and more success.
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