Tips to master working from home
Updated: Mar 18
As many people are suddenly finding themselves in a situation of working remotely due to CDC recommendations to prevent the spread of COVID-19, I wanted to pass along some time-tested tips that I’ve learned from working remotely for most of the past 20 years. It’s definitely an adjustment, so let’s get started whittling that 20 years down into a short read so you can hit the ground running.
Keep your routine.
Set an alarm. Get up, shower, eat on schedule and get out of those pjs to start your day! You are going to find all kinds of tempting distractions, so establishing a structure can help tremendously. Don’t let yourself get into a habit of staying up later to watch TV or hitting the snooze button multiple times. You will need your rest and energy to maintain your good health.
One of the big benefits to me is that I don’t put on makeup and I let my hair dry naturally (much healthier locks too!) But this may not be the best course of action for everyone. If you gain confidence by putting on makeup and dressing up, do it! It’s all a balance that you have to find for yourself.
Overcommunicate with employers or clients.
Employers who aren’t used to having remote employees sometimes don’t trust that you are doing your work. I overcommunicate to build up this trust. Make sure you answer calls, texts and emails promptly. It’s also helpful to send status updates. I try to respond to email requests that the project is done so the person on the other end has peace of mind that you received the message and completed the task.
You are going to find all sorts of new distractions from noises to kids setting up a hockey rink on the street outside your window. It’s so easily to get into the distraction mindset, so you have to set up some healthy habits. You may have to close Facebook or Instagram so that you don’t get into a habit of mindless scrolling. My pets really don’t understand that I’m trying to work, so you may have to close the door to pets, children, spouses and roommates to have dedicated time to working.
I’d also recommend setting up a designated work station. This helps to keep yourself in that mindset that you are going to your normal job and you have tasks to finish. It helps me to make my workspace as neat, colorful and attractive as I can make it to keep my creative juices flowing.
At the same time, don’t be afraid to pick up that laptop and move to an area that makes you feel more creative from time to time. If I’m writing, I do my best work under a covered patio out in the fresh air or just by moving to the kitchen island to work.
Use available technology!
Dropbox and Box have been life savers for me over the years. If you are now working on a personal computer instead of the employer’s computer, you are going to want to keep those files collected so you can move them back over to your work computer. In the past, I’ve used Chrome Remote Desktop. This doesn’t work for all employers, but it can give you remote access to files or software if you can’t access them at the office. Asana is another great program to keep your to do list under control, and to work with a small team to delegate tasks and keep projects rolling when working remotely. There’s a lot of time-tracking apps as well. Really, there’s an app for nearly anything so check out the options that you need.
If you work from home, the sound of the crickets may distract you. When I’m designing, I need some white noise of some kind. I listen to Apple podcasts, Pandora or Amazon music a lot. I’m a history buff and Dateline fan, so sometimes I’ll load up a YouTube playlist so that I can listen to something all day. The trick is to find something that provides background noise, but doesn’t destroy your concentration. I’ll admit I don’t hear everything about that Dateline podcast but it helps me to fill the silence when needed.
Working from home means you aren’t getting up to go to a meeting or walk into a co-worker’s office to ask a question. Your muscles can get oh-so-painful because you may not be getting up as much as you would in the office. You may want to set an alarm on your phone to get up every so often, or download a Google Chrome app like StandUp! Timer to remind yourself to take a break. I love Denise Austin’s 5-minute Wake Up Workouts that you can find on YouTube. She puts a new video out every month so I’ve built a playlist on YouTube. Here’s her latest video! Don’t feel guilty if you get up and throw a load of laundry in the washer. You just have to get up sometimes and this is where those time-tracking apps can come in handy!
If you are going to be working from home on a longer basis, I highly recommend a standing desk or a stand-alone product like a Varidesk converter. Not all of these are created equal, I’ve used other brands, but Varidesk (now Vari.com) is very sturdy and stable.
Exercise is important when working from home. It’s also one of the main advantages I get from the process. I put the time that I would have spent commuting into exercise. I do a 5-minute workout to start the day, a 20- to 30-minute aerobic or Zumba workout at lunchtime and a 10-minute workout at 3 p.m. I also stay active doing my chores in the evening.
Close down that kitchen.
When I said to move, I did not mean to that kitchen! I’ve already seen several newbies posting about out-of-control snacking. This is a common problem with remote workers because it is so easy to get up and open the frig and binge. It’s not unusual to start packing on the pounds when you work from home. I don’t have all the answers to this one, but it is important to stock your house with healthy snacks and just say no to that refrigerator. Put a note on the refrigerator if that helps. I often do some snack prepping on Sunday nights so I have little bags of healthy, but limited snacks.
Personally, I think the lack of social interaction is the hardest part of working from home. During normal times, I would recommend going out to eat with friends or taking your dog to walk at a nice park. With social distancing recommended to combat COVID-19, you can still stay in touch with people by making an effort to call or message others. Find others that are working from home and keep the Facebook or IM chat going throughout the day. Isolation is tough, so don’t fall into a bad habit of seclusion. If you are lucky enough to still have grandparents, call them in the nursing home or call that friend you haven’t talked to in a while.
One of the challenges I’ve faced in working remotely is that I don’t get as much feedback from others on projects. You may have to pick up the phone more to talk things out or brainstorm with a co-worker or someone who inspires you. It’s also harder to stay in the loop when you work remotely, so work with your employer to develop an effective communication plan.
Stimulate your mind.
Working in isolation can sometimes kill your creativity. Find out what moves and inspires you whether it’s learning to paint, learning new yoga moves, getting fresh air, teaching your dog a new trick or learning a new skill.
It’s not always an easy transition to start working from home, but it can be very rewarding. I wouldn’t do it any other way at this point. You’ll probably find that you are much more productive and efficient when working from home, leaving new time in your schedule to do things that matter like spending more quality time with family or working on a better you. I hope these tips will help you make a great transition to remote work.
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