The pandemic has brought our world to a halt. If you’re one of the many employees who are currently in need of working from home tips, I have some suggestions for you. What started as a temporary solution is turning into a long-term situation. For a lot of people are struggling to stay productive with no clear end in sight.
Some people thrive on working from home. Personally, I love it. I have been working from home full time for the last two years. I’ve also spent a significant amount of time working remote. I find I’m noticeably more productive when I am in control of my day than when I’m at an office full of unpredictable co-workers who like to find ways to kill time and enjoy dragging a meeting on for an hour (or more) longer than necessary.
However, I can understand the appeal of working from an office, especially if you don’t have a designated office space in your home or you have young children at home. (I’ve dealt with both over the last decade.) Plus, we can’t discount the mental health benefits of seeing and interacting with your colleagues. Not to mention the thrill of coming home to an utterly non-work environment.
The pandemic has taken the option to work from the office away from most of us. If you are going to be working from home for the long haul, here are 12 tips to help you stay sane and productive.
Working from Home Tips from Someone Who’s Been There
Even though I’m used to working from home, having my entire family at home with me has been a challenge. I have two school-age kids and a husband who works from home when he can. These are the strategies I use to stay sane and productive when I can’t leave my house.
1. Establish a routine
Your routine from home is going to be different than if you were going into the office. When I first made the leap to 100 percent remote work, I’d wake up and think I had to jump right into my workday. It went about as well as you’d expect (in that, it did not go well). I didn’t recognize that I needed a healthy morning routine at first.
Over time, I’ve adjusted my routine to give myself some time to wake up. I like to read the news and have a cup of coffee before sitting down at my computer. (Avoiding checking emails is key until it’s time for my workday to begin). I also make sure to change out of my pajamas. Sometimes, I put on work clothes. Other times, sometimes I just need a simple change into a daytime version of pajamas (lounge pants and a comfy tee) to signal the transition from “relaxing time” to “work time.”
The same is true for ending your workday. It’s tempting to check your emails until all hours of the night. It’s especially difficult when you have clients and co-workers in multiple time zones. Set work hours, and do your best to stick to them. Most calendar apps allow you to set work hours so that your colleagues can’t schedule meetings when you are unavailable.
2. Schedule breaks
I think one of the major challenges we all face when we work remotely is getting away. When you’re in the office, you can step out, and people know that you’re gone. When you’re at home, nobody knows what you’re up to. They will call, email, Slack, or text you no matter what you’re doing.
Schedule breaks, including lunch, and let your co-workers know when you will be back. On you’re your break, do something that recharges you, like taking a walk or playing with your dog. You might want to practice mindfulness to reset before jumping back into work. Switch things up, so you aren’t doing the same thing on every break. These working from home tips his can help avoid the monotony that can arise.
No matter how you want to spend your breaks, it’s essential to check out for a little bit throughout the day, instead of always feeling “on.” Set an alarm, and don’t go back to work until it goes off. Mute your notifications or set your phone to the side. Your messages can wait.
3. Set up a designated office space
You will need to have a designated office space somewhere in your home. Whether you live alone or are in a full house this is important. In our house, we managed to set up spaces so every person could work behind a closed door. If that won’t work for you, designate an area in your home as your workspace so you can physically walk away from work at the end of the day.
4. Establish ground rules with your household
The hardest thing about the pandemic for our household was figuring out how four of us were going to work and attend school from home when we only had one office (that I wasn’t willing to give up). My husband and I spent all of spring break setting up separate working spaces and creating a schedule so the kids could stay occupied while we were working. We even set up a family Slack channel. This allowed the kids to ask us questions about their schoolwork without needing to break our focus or interrupt a Zoom call.
Notify your household when you have meetings, and make it clear when you will need uninterrupted work time. You’ll have to figure out what works for your household. This is especially important if you have school-age kids who will be attending virtual school or young kids who don’t understand (or care) that you have a Zoom call with an important client.
Check-in with your household at the end of the day to see what is and isn’t working. Remember, we’re all in relatively unchartered territory. It’s OK to make changes, as long as you are putting work as a priority during your scheduled work hours.
5. Get the equipment you need
If your company has sent you home to work, then they should provide you with the equipment that you need to do your job effectively. One of the most important working from home tips – don’t be afraid to ask for equipment, whether that’s a mouse, keyboard, printer, or headset.
Some equipment, like a chair or desk, will have to come out of your budget. If you’re planning on working from home, it’s worth the investment to be comfortable in your home office.
6. Don’t zone out during meetings
I know, I know. This can be easier said than done, especially if your company or team loves to have a meeting about everything. But it’s more important to tune into meetings when you’re communicating over a computer than when you’re in person. It’s easy to miss important information if you’re clicking on other tabs or focusing on how great your hair looks instead of on what your boss is saying.
I like to take handwritten notes during meetings to help me stay on track. When I take notes, it’s really obvious when I’ve missed something. It’s easier to ask a question during the meeting than it is to try to follow up later. Don’t be shy to ask questions during your meeting.
7. Overthink your messaging
As a chronic overthinker, this tip comes to me naturally. What I mean by this is to think carefully about how you may be coming across when you write messages.
When you’re only communicating via messages, it’s really easy for your tone to come off wrong, depending on who you’re communicating with. If you’re talking to a close colleague who knows you reasonably well, then you can probably get by with short, concise messages.
If you’re a supervisor, though, your direct reports might benefit from an emoji here or there or the occasional exclamation point.
For example, sending the Slack message “Don’t forget today’s meeting” could come off as hostile and possibly insulting to a new employee. Add some flair to make it non-threatening, e.g., “Don’t forget about today’s meeting! 😃”
8. Embrace the flexibility
Have you tried going grocery shopping at 10 AM on a Tuesday? It’s an entirely different experience than going at 2:00 PM on Sunday. Embrace the newfound flexibility that comes from working from home (when you can).
Whether you run errands during the weekday, give your kitchen an extra scrub, or make homemade bread that smells amazing throughout the day, enjoy the extra time you have at home! Even though there are challenges that come with working from home, there are also a lot of perks. Some working from home tips can help you from getting flustered. When you start getting frustrated, slow down, and figure out what positive thing you can do from home that you couldn’t do if you were at the office.
9. Get some alone time away from home
Sometimes, you just need to get away from the people you live with, no matter how much you love them. While we are all limited when it comes to finding fun things to do outside of work, we aren’t completely out of options. Even just going for a drive, sitting outside with a good book, or taking a walk can do wonders for your sanity. If you have a partner who is working from home with you, make sure to return the favor.
10. Learn something new
By this point in the pandemic, your brain might be feeling a little like mush. Give it some stimulation by learning something new. It could be making a new recipe, taking a fun new online class, or getting some training for your job that can help you advance in your career.
11. Recognize how little work gets done at the office
One thing that always bothered me about working at an office was the expectation that I was going to be productive from 8 – 5, except for my lunch from exactly 12 – 1. Even on my most productive days, I probably didn’t get more than six hours’ worth of work done. Think of all the little distractions that come up on any given workday—pointless meetings, gossip at the coffee maker, your co-worker’s speakers blaring annoying music, I could go on and on.
Don’t expect to work a productive nine hours a day, every day, when you’re remote. You might find that you can get as much done in five or six hours at home, without all those petty distractions, as you used to at the office.
12. Find ways to stay connected
You might be sick of Zoom meetings, but it’s crucial to find ways to connect with people when you’re working remotely. If you want to meet new people, consider joining an organization. A lot of organizations have moved their events and meetings online, and many of them need volunteers now more than ever. This could be the perfect time to volunteer for an organization that matters to you personally or professionally.
When it comes to staying connected, don’t forget to make time for quality time with your family. Just because you are all inhabiting the same space 24/7 doesn’t mean that you are spending time together. Another working from home tip is to eat dinners as a family. Also plan weekend activities that shake things up and give you all space to let loose and unwind.
The cool but challenging thing about working remotely is that it’s still a relatively new concept, which means there isn’t one established way to do it. What works for me might not work for you, and that’s perfectly OK! Don’t compare yourself to others and instead find what works for you.
Be kind to yourself on the hard days. If you get frustrated, acknowledge that you’re in a frustrating situation, especially if you have been forced to work from home because of the pandemic. Stay open to adapting when you find that something just doesn’t work for your household or your productivity.
No matter how long your company requires you to work remotely, you’ll come out the other side with a newfound appreciation for remote work. You might even find that you love it!