Working from home is getting more and more common. It arguably brings a lot of benefits, like more work/life balance, more time with friends and family, reduced need for taking days off or sick days, and extra flexibility. The practice is growing steadily too: an analysis by FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics found that remote work has grown a whopping 159% between 2005 and 2017.
However, not everyone finds it easy to transition into a remote working environment, and some find it particularly difficult to keep their productivity up and balance work with everyday life - including childcare, housekeeping, chores, etc. Right now, a lot of people have also unexpectedly transitioned into working remotely, several of whom have never done so before and whose colleagues are all fully remote too.
If the world of remote work is still relatively new to you, you might be struggling with some drawbacks and challenges, like procrastination, more distractions and a drop in productivity. A lot of people find it harder to focus in a place that isn’t your normal work environment, or you might find that you're more easily distracted when you work from home.
Working from home calls for a certain amount of self-discipline and a flexible approach - so we’ve put together a few tips to help you cope with these challenges and make the best out of your remote working situation.
Productivity tips to work from home
1. Have a set work routine
Even if you normally have a flexible working schedule, you probably still have a routine to go to the office every day. That’s even more the case if your company has fixed working hours. Likewise, you should respect a set working routine when working remotely, or you might find yourself missing deadlines, not completing projects or working until late just to finish your daily checklist.
This is also important because the lack of fixed hours can mean you’re never offline, and that you constantly check your emails or Slack. It’s important to set limits, switch off and clearly separate work time from personal time.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be the exact same hours you would work in the office, and they can even be on-and-off hours - for instance, if you need to look after your kids, help them with homework or take the dog out for an afternoon walk. Figuring out a daily routine that works for you helps you have a sense of normalcy while working from home full-time.
2. Get dressed in the morning
It might be tempting to spend the whole day in your pajamas - and while it’s probably okay to do that once in a while, it’s best to treat your working-from-home schedule like a normal day at the office for most of the time. Having a routine of taking a shower and getting dressed for work helps you mentally prepare for the day ahead and get into a working mindset, which will probably help with your productivity too.
3. Have a designated ‘work area’
If possible, designate an area of your home as your office, ideally a room with a door to avoid interruptions. Pick an area that’s away from the TV and any other distractions - this is especially important if you need to have video conferences or calls. Get a spacious enough desk and a comfortable chair. If you don’t have an area that can be used only for work, try to work in a place where you can sit comfortably for most of the day to avoid neck, back and shoulder problems.
4. Keep your family and friends in the loop
Having too many interruptions during your working hours are enough to undermine your productivity. If you live with other people, keep them in the loop about what your working hours are and how to reach you in a way that doesn’t interfere with your focus.
Don’t forget to keep your coworkers and managers informed too so they’ll know when you’re working and what you are working on.
5. Stay organized
While working from home, keep track of your schedule and of your progress in tasks and projects. You can do this by making to-do lists, using project management tools like Trello or Asana, and fixing goals for yourself.
6. Take a break
Don’t forget to take breaks, just like you would in the office. Take a proper lunch break, make yourself some coffee or tea, take a short walk outside, do a short meditation or go play with your pet for a few minutes. Ideally, you should get up from your chair every hour and stretch your legs for a bit. Looking away from your screen every 20 minutes or so isn't a bad idea either. It's a great way to de-stress and reboot.
One of the biggest drawbacks of working from home - especially if you do it for a long period of time - is being isolated. You can feel cut off and disconnected from your colleagues, and communication is the only thing that can bridge this gap. Communicate often with your coworkers, managers, clients and partners, and keep in touch with friends and family too. You can even look for online forums to chat with others who are also working from home, so you can support each other and share tips and stories.
8. Be comfortable
A relaxed mind is the most powerful tool for a productive work day. Wherever your office is, make sure you feel comfortable and relaxed. If you feel best on the couch, sit there and work. If music peps you up, listen to light music while working. And, above all, have a positive attitude about your work.
9. Develop your network
Going to the office and to work events is the easiest way to meet new people and develop your network, so you might feel a bit stagnated if you can’t do either of these things. When working from home, you can continue to make and maintain connections online: find people you want to meet on LinkedIn, search online forums and business websites for like-minded people, send out emails and invite people for e-chats on Zoom or other video conferencing platforms.
Keep upskilling by taking online courses and webinars that are related to your area. Stay on top of what’s new on your field with newsletters, top industry websites and blogs. Know your industry in and out. Investing in your personal development is important too, so you can also learn about things that aren’t necessarily related to your work - like an online language course, or even a course on astrophysics.
11. Be kind to yourself
There will be tough days when you just can't sit in front of your laptop, you might feel too cooped up at home, or being unable to be around people for too long is starting to weigh on you. Be kind to yourself and respect your limits: if you need some time for yourself, talk to your manager and prioritize your well-being. Working remotely is easier for some and harder for others, so talk to other people if you feel like you need help to make it work.
And most importantly...
Remember that no one has the same rhythms and schedules, and what may work for most people might not work for you - including some of these tips! Find the routine (or lack of) that works best for you and stick to it, always keeping your comfort, health and best interest in mind. Good luck!