Many of our companies are shifting to a work from home structure for the foreseeable future. For most teams, this is a major change to both company wide dynamic and individual lifestyle. Those of us who work in industries that are capable of functioning with a remote work structure should consider themselves fortunate as there are thousands of occupations that aren’t quite as flexible. Fortunate as we are, there will be a period of adjustment and it’s important to prepare for this new way of life.
Included here are a number of tips on how you and your company can perform their best while working in a remote, work from home, environment.
Create a dedicated workspace for yourself
The first key to productivity while working from home is creating a dedicated workspace for yourself. This doesn’t mean you need an actual at-home office, but it should be somewhere that you can work without distraction, where you can feel like you are ‘at work’ while you’re seated. It can be tough to distance yourself from the comforts of home if you aren’t used to it being a place of productivity which is why this first step is key.
Find a place in your home where you can feel “in the zone” and work energetically. This might mean setting up shop on your seldom used dining table. It might mean finally cleaning off the desk in your bedroom that rarely gets any used as it was intended. If you own a larger house, perhaps you have a spare bedroom where you can set up a folding table as a makeshift desk. Whatever works in your living space, be sure to find a nook that can become your place of work. Make sure that it is clean of clutter, has good lighting, and is distraction free.
If your significant other is also going to be working from home, and you have the space, it might be best to find two different places to work so that you don’t distract each other. This might mean one person gets the spare bedroom while the other is left set up on the kitchen table, so you’ll have to work that one out on your own. Similarly, if you’re children are going to be at home or if you live with parents, other family members or roommates, be sure to set yourself up in a room where you can close the door for those moments when one, or both of you are on a phone call or in the middle of a video conference.
Prepare with the right equipment.
If you just work from home on rare occasions, a laptop might do the trick, but if you’re used to working at your office on dual monitors, with a mouse or a keyboard, with specific speakers or headphones or anything else that gets you through the day, you should do your best to replicate this setup at home. If that means grabbing a few items from your office so that you can work from home for an extended period of time or requesting a budget so that you can purchase equipment to build a duplicate home office, you should jump on it as soon as possible. Productivity is important and if working on a dinky laptop at home is going to make you a slow and inefficient worker, it is worth the cost of a few additional elements to set you up for success.
This one almost seems silly, but it’s extremely important. Start your daily routine just as you would as if you were going to the office. Productivity begins with the mindset that you’re in it to win it and getting up and ready for the day will take you to that mindset. Set your alarm and wake up as you normally would. This isn’t a day off! Sure you can sleep in an extra 15 minutes given that your commute just got cut down from 20 minutes to around 8 seconds, but you shouldn’t be waking up right when you’re expected to begin work.
Take a shower and put on clean clothes before sitting down at your home office desk. It can be appealing to just roll out of bed and boot up your laptop while still in your pajamas, but once you get caught up in your day to day work and look down to realize you haven’t showered yet and it’s nearly lunchtime, you’re just going to feel depressed, like life isn’t making sense. Getting set for the day will wake you up and prepare you to produce quality work. Plus, the last thing you’re going to want is a message from your boss that they want to jump on a video chat and you’re still wearing a Ninja Turtles t-shirt covered in holes and haven’t even combed your hair!
Plan Your Day Out.
Start your day with a plan, both for work and for breaks. Schedule out your day for office time and break time so that you don’t find yourself constantly shifting to the television or cooking yourself a snack. It’s important to run your day similarly to being in the office. While you’re obviously allowed a bathroom break or a trip to the kitchen for a glass of water, you’ll find yourself being far more productive if you script your functionality out as if you were back in high school. Know that the first two hours of the day will be dedicated to sitting at your desk, catching up on emails or managing your daily “must do” list of tasks. Then, perhaps, have a scheduled 15 minute break where you play with the dog or do a quick house chore. Chat with your roommates or spouse, just as you might in the break room at your office with a coworker. Then have it scheduled in to get back to your desk for another 2 hours before taking a scheduled break to enjoy lunch. Keep a similar routine for the afternoon and set yourself a cutoff time to be done for the day when you know it’s safe to switch yourself off from work mode.
You know best how your typical day is organized. Do what you can to replicate your standard day while at home.
It’s Okay to Enjoy Your Home.
It might seem like you’re being a bad employee if you make yourself a sandwich and watch an episode of The Office during your lunch break. You obviously would never watch an episode of television at your own office and this activity might seem like a fireable offense, but it’s okay to enjoy the luxuries of working from home when appropriate. When at your office, you might go out and enjoy a 45-60 minute lunch at a local restaurant and you wouldn’t feel bad about it, so there is no reason to feel weird about taking a few minutes at home to decompress midday. Sometimes this little escape can make you that much more efficient and productive in the afternoon as it gives your brain a chance to think about something else for a few moments.
While it is okay to take these breaks, you should set rules for your common distractions. It can be tough trying to get work done when your Playstation is sitting in the next room beckoning you to a quick 30 minutes or knowing that you’ve only got 2 episodes left of the show that you were binging on all weekend. Set rules for these distractions that you can live by. No video games until 7pm! Only watch your favorite shows at night so that you don’t get sucked in! If you set a rule for yourself ahead of time, it’s easier to talk yourself out of the desire to drift away from your desk.
Set Work Boundaries.
Just because you can work from home, doesn’t mean you are always working from home. It’s very important to set boundaries for your work moments just as much as it’s important to set boundaries for your distractions.
Set your work hours and be sure that your colleagues and superiors understand those hours. You might find that people expect you to always be online, ready to answer an email, just because your office no longer exists, but you shouldn’t feel pressured into doing work at 9pm just because your computer is only steps away. This concept of setting boundaries while working from home is extremely important for your well being. Just as you are planning out your functionality throughout the day, plan out when your work day begins and when it ends and do your best to abide by those rules. If the work day ends at 6pm, say goodbye to your colleagues at 6pm and go spend time with your family or friends. Life is about balance, so be sure not to lose that balance just because there is no physical demarcation between work and home.
Remaining in contact with your colleagues is one of the most difficult parts of working from home. It can feel isolating to work in silence and you might feel as though important daily chatter has been laid aside. Luckily, there are hundreds of communication tools that make communication while working remote almost seamless.
When AOL first launched chat rooms and instant messaging in the mid 90’s, we never realized the effect that it would have on the office place 25 years later. Today, using instant messaging systems such as Google Chat (aka gchat), Slack, or even the connectivity of iMessage if you’re working on a Mac, can keep us in constant communication with our work teams.
Slack is typically considered the best instant communication tool for the office as you can not only type to one another, but set up specific groups focussed on different projects, transfer files and photos, or even make calls via WiFi. If you’re new to Slack, you can read a few quick startup tips directly from their blog.
When it comes to using these services as a regular form of communication, it’s key to let your coworkers know if you’re stepping away for lunch or when you’re done for the day so that they don’t expect an instant answer when asking a question. If this were your regular office situation, they would easily see that you aren’t at your desk. Now that you’re working for you, you need to let people know when you aren’t at your desk.
Beyond instant messaging, there are many tools available to allow you to feel like you’re right there with your team. Zoom, Google Hangouts, Slack, FaceTime and other similar services allow you to video chat one on one or even have a virtual meeting with your entire company. At Flippa, we often use these services for meetings across continents even when not in a work from home situation. It allows our team in Australia and our team in Austin to interact as if they are right there next to each other and our customers worldwide to feel like neighbors.
Set Up More Meetings Than Usual.
A lot of business happens in the hallways, but when everyone is working from home, those hallways no longer exist. If you work with a small team, set up a daily meeting just so that you can catch up with each other. It doesn’t need to be a structured event and you might not go into the meeting with the goal of finalizing a project or brainstorming something in particular. If you have a scheduled chat with your team each morning or afternoon, it will become a replacement for the normal office chitchat. A moment when you can ask each other about your days, see if anything of interest has come up that might not otherwise get discussed, or just casually talk about a project to see if some questions, issues, or revelations arise.
You Can Still Take a Day Off.
Just because you’re working from home, doesn’t mean you can’t take a day off. If you’re not feeling well or you just feel the need for a personal day to spend with your kids, you can still take a day of leave. Obviously Paid Time Off (PTO) or sick leave varies from company to company, but assuming you are allowed a day off, you shouldn’t feel afraid to use it. And, if you do take a day off, take it off! Leave your computer closed, set your Slack app to “away” mode, and use the day as you see fit.
Enjoy an End of Day Routine.
The final piece of advice that we’ll wrap up with is to create a routine for the end of your day. Typically you’ll have your commute home, maybe a stop at the gym or grocery store, a trip to get your kids from daycare, or perhaps a happy hour beer with your coworkers. Now that you’re working from home, it’s nice to have a transition phase as well. This might mean making a cup of tea and watching the news for 20 minutes, taking your dog for a walk, or spending 30 minutes of dedicated time playing with your kids. Whatever it may be for you, just give yourself an activity that removes you from your work environment and settles you into being “at home”.