Welcome to remote work! Whether you’re doing this by choice, like me, or you’ve been forced to work from home due to the COVID-19 epidemic, we’re all making sacrifices and adjusting to the new normal of what work looks like in 2020.
I know it might be frustrating, but if you’re in a job function or industry in which remote or work from home is a viable option during coronavirus, count yourself lucky, because this is going to be a tough year for a lot of folks who don't have the same luxury.
Fortunately, we have no shortage of tools and technology, many free, to help teams collaborate effectively not matter where they are in the world, but if this is your first time working from home or working remotely from your colleagues for an extended period of time, it can still be a challenge to remain productive while your office is off limits. In no particular order, here are a few remote work/work from home tips I’ve learned the hard way!
1. Designate a comfortable workspace somewhere in your home
This may seem obvious, but to me, it makes a big difference. I’ve worked remotely from different countries or had a home office for about 5 years now. When I walk into a hotel room or Airbnb rental, one of the first things I do is to look for a space I can set aside for working on projects. I like to set up my work space with any notepads I use, pens, chargers, and snacks. I won’t use that space for anything else.
As a lifelong sloucher, finding a chair or other place to sit that forces me into a healthy posture really makes a difference. As tempting as it is to work in bed sometimes, I know from experience I’ll pay for it when a week later my shoulders are tight or I start suffering from headaches. I often travel with a posture brace, so that when I don’t have the most ergonomic chair at my disposal, I can at least maintain good posture by wearing it for a couple hours a day. I always travel with my own water bottle and when I’m at home, I keep that same bottle in my workspace. I find that keeping one bottle nearby for water at all times helps me stay hydrated.
2. Home office is too quiet? Take advantage of free background noise to boost your focus
I grew up in a big family, so I find it distracting when my workspace is too quiet. As a student, I realised that libraries didn’t have enough noise for me, and I worked more productively in busy a café or coffee shop. If you find the silence of your home office or flat is deafening, don’t venture outside (social distancing!), turn on some ambient background noise. You want nature sounds? Check out YouTube or your preferred music streaming service.
My go to ambient listening for years has been a site called Coffitivity (nothing to do with covfefe). On it you can choose from a few free tracks. Listen to the murmurs of background conversations and the sounds of coffee being prepared to help boost your productivity. If you want access to premium tracks like Texas Teahouse (yeehaw!), it’s only $9/year.
3. Working from your personal computer? Create a separate internet browser profile using your work e-mail
I use a lot of cloud-based tools to help keep me organised and communicate with work, but when I started my freelance journey, the clutter of combined personal and professional bookmarks on Chrome made it difficult to navigate the web efficiently. To solve the problem, I created a second Chrome browser profile using my work e-mail, so that I can quickly access the links and tools I need and keep them separate from my leisure links. Keeping my bookmarks separate also reduces the temptation to look at distracting websites until my work hours are over!
4. Stick to a schedule and be sure to take breaks
I was chatting to a friend last week about her readjustment to working from the house, and one of the struggles she mentioned, didn’t surprise me. She wasn’t any less productive; she actually found herself working more hours than she normally would.
If you’re used to working in a busy office, you’ll be familiar with many of the distractions, or time spent away from your computer, chatting by the coffee machine or lunches away from the office, and all the side conversations in a day you find yourself pulled into that might distract you from your work or get you up out of your chair and moving around the office. You may find yourself actually accomplishing more without all the interruptions (unless you have kids, in which case, you may be more distracted than ever).
I find that when I work from home, I start earlier, because I have no commute, no need to put on makeup or do my hair, and I have to remind myself to take a lunch break. I can easily crank away until my stomach starts growling at 2 p.m., because I don’t have the lunchtime cue from the beeping of the breakroom microwave and no coworkers around to suggest a stroll to the café around the corner.
This friend I spoke to said she found herself closing her laptop later in the day than usual. The fact is that regular breaks are good for productivity and extended periods of sitting are also a health risk. So to help you stay on track, set alarms to remind you to get a glass of water, take a stretch break, etc. Once you’re in the zone of being focused, it can be tough to snap out of it without the natural routine of your office culture.
For those of you who have the opposite problem and struggle to stay focused without your team in the room with you, building in pre-set blocks of work time can help keep you accountable and productive throughout the day. Ever heard of the Pomodoro Technique? There are plenty of simple, free Pomodoro timers online that can notify you when your work block is over and it’s time to take a break.
5. Take advantage of free workouts on YouTube until the gym reopens
I am not a gym person. I never have been. I like hiking, yoga, running, cleaning the house, pretty much any physical activity that doesn’t take place inside an actual gym. I’ve always kept a few workout DVDs and weights around the house, but a few years ago, I started doing more traveling for work and discovered the wealth of free workouts available on YouTube. POPSUGAR Fitness and Yoga with Adriene are two of my favourite channels, but there are others out there you can do at home with little to no equipment.
Don’t like working out alone? Video chat a friend, coworker, or even a customer so that you can hold each other accountable. A few months back in Portugal I met a Romanian woman in a coworking space who also likes yoga, so I found a temporary workout buddy!
6. Carve out purely social time online with colleagues to ward off isolation and stay connected
I can’t take credit for this tip and it’s one of the best ones. Nick Ramsay, who I work with at Junction-18 messaged me on Microsoft Teams two weeks ago to let me know that we were going to be setting up a few half hour blocks each week to connect as a company and just jump on video chat. I like to call it the “Quaranstream Social.”
So far Junction-18 has hosted a digital happy hour, we’ve shared embarrassing photos from childhood (see my girl squad below at our first middle school dance), put our pets on display, and I led us in a game of Cards Against Mundanity, a workplace icebreaker game developed by my friend and business coach, Jason Treu. Though meant to be played in person, we made it work online with a few adjustments.
We have another Quaranstream Social scheduled today, when we’ll be welcoming our newest animator, who we’ve managed to hire and onboard during this tumultuous time. Your company may be too big to host online socials for everyone, but you can host a session once a week for your team or direct reports. If you don’t already have a video chat app, check out House Party and play trivia and other games with your coworkers. These sessions have lifted my spirits the last few weeks and they give me something to look forward to in my workday.
7. Finally, make time to reflect on what works and doesn’t work for you
I know working from home is a really big adjustment, particularly if you’ve spent your entire career in a traditional office setting. You might even be sceptical about how much you can really accomplish. Try to keep an open mind, though. You might be surprised by some of the creativity that comes from these difficult circumstances (maybe Dennis from accounting will finally realise those weekly meetings aren't necessary after all!).
And if you’re new to remote working, I would encourage you to carve out a few minutes the first few weeks to reflect on what routines and productivity tools work for you and make adjustments where necessary. Be patient, you’ll find your work from home groove soon enough.
Keep calm and learn on, y'all.