Are you struggling with how to be productive working from home? You’re not the only one.
As COVID-19 continues to spread rapidly around the globe, workplaces everywhere are undergoing an unprecedented shift to remote working in an effort to slow the rate of infection.
The good news? Extensive research, including a two-year study by Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom, suggests that working from home could significantly boost your productivity. Plus, if Buffer’s 2019 State of Remote Work report is anything to go by, 99 percent of people discover that they enjoy the remote-working experience.
Remote working is new for the majority of employees and will require a steep learning curve. It’s therefore understandable if you’re finding that your first voyage in the realms of remote working isn’t what you expected. After all, the COVID-19 pandemic means you are not in the position to leverage the much-lauded benefits of working from home, such as:
- working from your favorite local café
- working from anywhere (such as an Airbnb rental overseas), or
- meeting up with fellow remote workers for a lunch break or after-work drink.
Perhaps it’s your first time working from home, and you are worried about how you will stay productive working from home. Or maybe you’re a seasoned remote worker struggling to adapt to the new restrictions on your (usually) extremely flexible lifestyle. Either way, the following working from home tips will keep you on the straight and narrow as you navigate the coming months.
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1. Start the day right
No one would blame you for being tempted to slip into a few, indulgent working-from-home habits. Why not sleep in until one minute before you’re due to start work, roll out of bed, throw on your dressing gown on, and work from the sofa? After all, you’ve suddenly got all the time in the world, and there’s no-one to impress.
In reality, you will find that starting the day as you usually would will put you in a much healthier frame of mind. Allow yourself a little extra sleep, perhaps equal to the time you have saved by not commuting, then adhere to your usual morning routine. Make your bed, do some exercise, take a shower (please!), and get dressed into something that is not your pajamas. Then, eat a nutritious breakfast before you sit down at your computer, feeling fresh and ready to work.
2. Separate work and play
Aside from popping outside for groceries or a quick breath of fresh air, the four walls of your home are pretty much it for the foreseeable future, which means it’s all the more important to create some work-life boundaries.
If you’ve got the spare room and the resources to set up a complete home office, that’s great. You might even consider investing in a decent desk chair, some noise-canceling headphones, a lifted computer screen, or upgrading to a better internet connection.
In smaller spaces, setting up shop at the kitchen table might be your only option. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still set up a clearly defined workstation and minimize any distractions. Sit on a proper chair, turn off the television, and keep your workspace tidy. You might even prefer to pack away your work station at the end of each day to help delineate the moment you’ve logged off.
A note about the news
The rapidly developing COVID-19 crisis is undeniably fascinating. It’s easy to spend hours watching updates from world leaders, hypnotized by the spiraling infection rates around the world, and distracted by the antics of people creating funny videos in self-isolation.
Try to limit your news checks to a few times per day, perhaps as a “reward” (albeit a gloomy one) between blocks of work. If you find it difficult to look away, consider downloading an app from this list, such as SelfControl or Anti-Social, that blocks distracting websites for a set period.
A note about kids
If you are attempting to work from home with children in the house, you are facing an entirely different level of challenge. But with many governments opting to shut schools as part of their virus countermeasures, this is a reality faced by many parents. Options include:
- For younger kids, spend time each night setting up a series of activities that will (hopefully) keep them occupied the following day.
- If your partner is also working from home, take turns to mind younger kids while the other partner works.
- For school-aged kids, consider adjusting your work and break schedule to align with their home-schooling. Work at the same time, have a lunch break at the same time, and so on.
3. Make a schedule and stick to it
According to Buffer, 40 percent of workers value the flexibility working from home brings. But that doesn’t mean scheduling should go entirely out the window. Write yourself a daily to-do list, and be sure to stick to it. Split your day into bite-sized chunks and focus on output rather than judging your productivity by time spent at your desk.
Design Manager and Business Blogger Becky Batch favors the Pomodoro technique when it comes to task management. “I time block in 25-minute blocks. For five minutes between the blocks, I walk around or stretch. I also batch my work so I can focus on one type of task at a time.” Of course, it’s essential to find an approach that works for you.
Fill up your calendar just as you would if you were in the office. Share your schedule with the other people in your household so they know when you’ll be taking breaks and when you would prefer not to be disturbed. “You should establish that it’s ‘work time’ with your family, roommates, or needy pets and do not waver,” says Ty Hughes, Account Coordinator at Etched Communication.
4. Keep in touch with your colleagues
Something you won’t miss about office life are the endless meetings. Indeed, Doodle’s 2019 State of Meetings report revealed that poorly organized meetings in 2019 would cost U.S. organizations $399 billion. But that’s not to say you should scrap contact with your colleagues altogether. It’s all about balance.
Rapid, regular check-ins with your team are an excellent way to keep everyone in the loop and stave off working-from-home loneliness, something which 20 percent of remote workers struggle with.
“Mimic the water cooler discussions you would typically have in the office,” says Hassan Osman, Director at Cisco Systems and Author of Influencing Virtual Teams. “Those seemingly minor interactions actually help increase the level of intimacy and cohesion among the team, and those social bonds result in better overall team productivity.”
For conference calls, outline a clear plan, set a meeting time limit, and assign someone to lead the discussion. If you can opt for video conferencing over audio conferencing – it’s more engaging and more collaborative.
Shaun Savage, CEO of GoShare, recommends using tools like Workplace, Google Meet, and WhatsApp “to make sure everyone is on the same page about company announcements and other communications.”
5. Take regular breaks
It’s so important to take regular breaks throughout your working day, even though you can’t leave the house for prolonged periods at the moment.
“My favorite thing about working remotely is breaking up the work-day by taking care of small personal chores, or taking breathers by focusing on a hobby,” says Hilary Bird at Render Pilots.
Breaks could be scheduled:
- to reflect the usual break periods you would take when working at the office
- as a reward between blocks of work
- to align with the breaks of others in your home.
Take the opportunity to check the news, go on social media, do some exercise, or call a friend. Doing so during a break will make it less tempting to get distracted when you are supposed to be focussing on work.
6. Do some exercise
Doing 30 minutes of exercise per day, such as walking, running, or gardening will keep you healthy and cause your body to release endorphins, subsequently improving your overall mood. But exercising is a unique challenge during the COVID-19 crisis. With gyms, yoga studios, and even parks closed for the duration of the pandemic, some governments are allowing people in lockdown only one form of outdoor exercise per day.
Indoors, remote workers can take advantage of the many fitness instructors currently offering free online workouts and exercise classes via Instagram LIVE, YouTube, and other channels. Some forms of exercise, like yoga, pilates, and aerobics, are easily accomplished in a small amount of space in your home.
7. Finish on time
Perhaps the best piece of advice that seasoned remote workers can offer is to prevent your working day from bleeding into your evening time. Set yourself clear boundaries and a firm finishing time. Don’t be tempted to check emails until you have started work the following morning. Just like a normal work-day at the office, you deserve time to yourself in the evening to relax and recharge.
As with any significant change to your working life, there will be a period of adjustment as you adapt to your new environment. Be patient with yourself: a lot is going on in the world and so many distractions to contend with. But by following these seven tips, you will find your working from home mojo before you know it.
Over to you
Remote work, especially now, leaves us with a lot of empty pockets of time to reflect. If you’re thinking about making career moves, or simply want to keep busy, consider signing up for an online course.
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