Working from home can cut both ways. Whether you find yourself to be extremely productive at home or not, it all comes down to little decisions you make, and whether or not you follow some simple best-practices.
I’ve been working remotely since 2009, and in that time I’ve stumbled upon some things that have worked for me. I’ve also had the chance to discover things to avoid doing. Naturally the ideas here aren’t going to apply to everyone, but perhaps you can pick up a helpful trick here and there.
The importance of routine
The most important thing to keep in mind when working from home is your daily routine. I find it extremely important to keep myself on a rather rigorous schedule day-to-day, and I try to not deviate from that routine under any circumstance, as much as possible.
This means starting work at the same time every day, taking lunch at right around the same time every day, and essentially establishing a cadence with your team mates about when they can expect you at your desk versus when they can’t. It’s all about taking the guess-work out of your availability to your colleagues.
One last thing: Taking a little bit of time before work to get showered and dressed is something I’ve found to be hugely important to starting the day off in a productive headspace. It also helps me create that mental spot between home life and work life. It feels good to go to work dressed.
Create a work space
Another thing that has helped me is to create a space in your home that is dedicated for your work. This can be an office, a specific chair, or any other space where you can sit and not be disturbed. If you need to shut the door and block out the rest of the family, then it’s important to establish those boundaries early.
There are plenty of things you can do to signal to your family that you’re working on a particularly focus-intensive issue, or if you are in an important call and can’t be disturbed. This can be a closed door or perhaps putting on headphones. It’s good to have an open conversation with your family about these things, so that you can ensure when the time arises, you know you can go in to a problem with your full attention.
One last thing: Keep your space clean and tidy. I’ve definitely noticed that if my office gets cluttered, it not only bums me out, but I feel like I get less productive as well. So take a few minutes every day to tidy the space around you. You’ll thank yourself for it.
Communication is key
When you’re off-site, it becomes increasingly important to digitally communicate as much as possible. This means leaving frequent updates to your direct team mates, scheduling video calls to connect face-to-face, and generally taking the guess-work out of your in-flight work.
Since you’re no longer in the office having those incidental conversations, the burden is on you to fill that gap, and really be a proactive force of communication. Try to lean-in to your video chats, as opposed to taking meetings with the “audio only” option. It really helps reinforce to your team mates that you are actively listening and prepared.
Bad habits stick quickly
As important as it is to have a good routine and build good habits, it’s also equally important to avoid bad habits. A thing you do for a couple days can quickly become something that bleeds in to your day-to-day work life, killing your productivity. You can probably imagine what some of these habits might be. My advice is to avoid them. What may seem innocent for a while can add up to burning hours and hours out of the week.
Know when to change it up
One thing I really miss about working in an office is being around other people. I miss the camaraderie that comes with being able to chat with colleagues over coffee or taking a walk. If you don’t build little interactions in to your work from home life, it can be detrimental to your emotional wellness in the long run, so know when to change it up.
As important as that “routine” I talked about truly is, you have to also know when you just need a break from it. Take walks, talk to friends, take your work to a quiet cafe where you can work for a couple of hours every now and then. Enjoy the freedom that working from home offers you from time to time. It’ll make you all the more productive at home.
Know when to quit
Just as important as starting on time every day, stopping on time is extremely vital. This means walking away at the end of the day. Just set the time (whenever it is that you would normally stop work in the office). Turn off the computer and enjoy the evening. Take a short walk to make a mental break between your work day and your evening. I know, I know, you really want to just get this thing “wrapped up,” but let me tell you, attacking that problem the next day, rested, is going to be much easier. I promise you that.
Get in the zone (bonus tip)
One last thing I’ll mention, at least for me. If I can’t seem to get myself in to a productive headspace, I turn to music. I’ll get my headphones on, turn on something I love, take a deep breath, tell myself, “Okay, let’s do this,” and just make it happen. You would be surprised what a motivator music can be. It can change your entire headspace. Use it to your advantage. Try it sometime when you just can’t seem to switch from home-mode to work-mode.
There’s lots of software that can help you stay productive in the workplace. Here are a few of my favorites.
- Shush (MacOS): Shush is a big one for me. Do you find yourself switching between video conferencing software and needing to re-learn how to mute and un-mute in each one? Sometimes you forget to mute and it can be embarrassing. Shush essentially gives you the ability to easily mute and unmute your mic at the System level. This way you don’t need to even think about the individual software’s mic control. You can just use Shush to un-mute and mute, and it allows you to set up custom keyboard shortcuts (so you can enable a “push to talk” mechanism, if you like).
- Fantastical (MacOS): I always have to mention this one, because it’s an absolutely superb calendar application, which will give you reliable alerts when meetings are coming up. It’s not free, and not even necessarily cheap, but I use it every day, multiple times a day. The integration with G-Suite and other calendars is excellent too.
- Droplr (MacOS): Droplr is another very helpful tool. It allows you to take screenshots or videos, and will immediately upload them to the cloud and put a short URL in your clipboard for easy sharing to colleagues. I find this very helpful to give a conversation context when I’m talking about something application-related. Furthermore, it allows you to shorten URLs, put quick text snippets in the cloud, and even annotate screenshots before sharing them. Very cool.
- Google Meet: Yes, we use video conferencing a lot. One thing that many people find annoying is hunting down a meeting’s permalink before a meeting starts. It usually involves digging in to the calendar event. Well, a little known tip is that if you just browse to https://meet.google.com/ Google will show you a list of all of your upcoming Meet meetings that day. Very handy indeed.
- These little camera covers: These are super handy for disabling your laptop camera when you’re not using them. Some video conferencing software can start video without prompting you. This will ensure that you are only on video when you are ready.
Remember, working from home is a huge change to your daily life. It’s going to create all sorts of new dynamics both in your family and in your own self. Be patient, and mindful of your good and bad habits. Reassess on a weekly basis what’s working for you and what isn’t, and make a plan to make the next week better. When you’ve just started working from home, it’s super important to establish the good habits early, and always be open to giving yourself what you need.