In the span of a few weeks, working from home went from a growing trend to a way of life. In 2019, 43% of Americans worked remotely, at least occasionally. Now, COVID-19 has forced three billion people to stay home, and many companies are fully remote for the first time. As such, getting familiar with the best practices that empower you to be sustainably happy and productive when working from a home office is critical.
Despite the suddenness with which many people made the change, more than half of professionals in a new survey say working remotely during the pandemic has boosted their productivity. To those of us that have been working remotely since before the pandemic, this is not terribly surprising.
Over here at Loomly, our employees have been successfully working remotely since we launched in 2016. Unlocking the benefits of remote work while avoiding potential downsides like isolation and communication slip-ups requires addressing five main areas: mastering time management, setting up a work area, placing boundaries between home and work life, boosting your productivity, and developing effective management strategies for your team.
Whether you are a remote worker, owner of a home-based business such as e-commerce or consulting, or managing remote employees for the first time, these tried-and-true strategies are sure to get you on track.
Rule #1: Master Time Management
Create a Routine
Spending the day in your pajamas or sleeping in may be fun at first, but those habits will zap your energy over time. Developing a routine may be the most important step you take as you adjust to remote work. Getting dressed and to your desk at the same time, every morning lets your mind know you are ready to work. Stepping away from work around the same time daily will give your mind and body the rest it needs. If you worked from nine to five in an office but find the need to adjust your schedule when working from home, speak with your supervisor to manage expectations. Once you have set a schedule, stick to it.
Limit Social Media Distractions
As tempting as it is to check in on friends and family, read the latest headlines, or watch a video of goats wandering city streets, try to resist. Setting aside short periods of time for social media or browsing the news and holding to that schedule will help you stay on task and keep down stress levels.
Rule #2: Set Up an Area for Success at Home
Dedicate a Work Zone
It is very easy to lose any kind of work-life balance when you are working remotely. Creating a space solely for work will train your mind to switch into “work mode.” Ultimately, no matter how small your home is or how many people you share it with, find a spot to transform into your workspace. Use a dining table or a breakfast bar during the day, prop a small table in a corner, or convert a bookcase into a standing desk.
Design Your Space
Setting up your new space begins with technology. You absolutely need a robust Internet connection, preferably high-speed with plenty of bandwidth, especially if the kids are streaming movies in the next room. If your Wi-Fi signal is not strong or stable, set it up near a router or invest in an Amazon Echo or Google Nest Wi-Fi, which can help distribute the signal around the house.
As working from a laptop screen for long periods can cause back and neck problems over time, an external monitor and an ergonomic chair are great investments. If you are not living alone, noise-canceling headphones or a good pair of earbuds such as Apple AirPods or Amazon Echo Buds will keep your attention on work and your relationships on track.
To prevent your screen from going dark in the middle of a Zoom call, keep everything charged with a power strip or a phone stand with a charger. This tip may seem obvious but is also an easily overlooked detail that has the potential to throw your productivity off completely. Lastly, add your favorite coffee mug or a water bottle, and you will be set.
Rule #3: Place Boundaries Between Work Life and Home Life
Working from Home When You Have a Partner
Maybe you were an at-home worker who had a routine down, and now your significant other or roommate is also at home and throwing off your game. Perhaps you like to work quietly while your partner talks — loudly — all day. Getting in sync with others working at home can be tough, so introducing these guidelines may help:
- Respect Each Other’s Schedules and Work Styles: Peace at home begins with understanding and respecting the other person’s work schedule. You might have early morning meetings, but their team gets together on Zoom at five — just as you are ready to wind down and relax. Be sure to discuss your individual schedules, becoming clear on what you can and cannot adjust. Figure out when you want to take breaks together or share meals.
- Make Empathy a Priority: Everyone has a work style and rhythm, and it is important to understand how housemates prefer to do their jobs. Their tasks are different, as are their managers and teams. If one of you needs blocks of quiet time during the day and the other spends the day in meetings, it can lead to tension if you share a small space. Learning to observe each other and knowing when to support, encourage, or interrupt each other is vital.
- Give Each Other Alone Time: Both of you are used to having some time alone, even if only during your commute or on your morning run. Now that you are together 24/7, tensions can quickly erupt. It is more vital than ever to spend some time apart and harder to do so. Set aside time for each of you to have alone time again. Remember that this is an uncertain and confusing time, and people have different ways to cope with stress.
Working at Home When You Have Kids
In addition to the transition to remote work, parents of school-age children are juggling online learning, mealtimes, and a host of other new distractions. Kids are adjusting as well to your new routine — and theirs. From a kid’s perspective, after all, having a parent at home means the parent is always available. These tips can help you avoid meltdowns and settle into the new arrangement at home:
- Make a Weekly Plan: Get set for the week ahead by planning. No matter what they say, children do best with a routine. If you have a partner and young children, decide who will watch them at different times depending on each person’s work schedule. Determine how meals, breaks, and check-ins through the day will be handled. Next, figure out what tasks kids need to complete over the week and what activities you might want to do together and add them to the plan. Post the schedule where everyone can see it and let your kids know what to expect.
- Mark Study and Play Zones: As well as knowing what they are doing and when they are doing it, kids also need to know where they can and can’t go. Try to separate areas where they will do schoolwork from where they can play. If noise is a problem, devote a spot in the house to quiet time where a child can go and not be disturbed. Make it clear to children that just as they should not be interrupted when they are studying or in quiet rooms, they should try not to disturb you while you are at your desk.
- Turn to Online Tools to Help: The abrupt shutdown of schools has left parents scrambling to become teachers. That is an impossible task, especially when you are working. Instead, do what you can and utilize online tools and activities to do the rest, from those provided by schools to those being offered by libraries and cultural institutions. Tap into friends and family, too.
Rule #4: Boost Your Productivity
Maximize & Sustain Focus
Working at home has always required people to resist the temptations of turning on the TV instead of responding to an email or checking what is left in the fridge instead of finishing a project’s status report. Social media created even more ways to lose focus. Now, working from home includes everything from handling family members to trying to keep your stress levels down. Here is how to keep up your attention and get your job done:
- Do a Self-Audit: As you adjust to working at home, take some time to observe how you are really spending your time. Uncover when you get the best results — what time of day and the circumstances. Sometimes the tasks we think take most of our time and focus require less effort. And some of the things we think are helping us be more productive waste our time. You may find you can now get more done in a shorter amount of time than you could in the office.
- Divide the Day into Chunks: Create blocks of time during which you will complete specific tasks. Concentrating on one thing at a time during a set window is a more productive strategy than multitasking. And once you check something off your list, you will feel good — another productivity booster.
- Take More Breaks: No matter how you set up your workspace, be sure to protect your body by taking frequent breaks. Ideally, take a 15-minute break every 90 minutes. Stand up and do some stretches, take a quick walk through your house, or step outside for some fresh air. Prevent eye strain with the 20-20-20 rule: look away from your screen every 20 minutes and focus on something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
- Practice Extra Self-Care: Taking care of your body, mind, and spirit is always important; now, it is essential. That means eating as well as possible, drinking plenty of water, and getting plenty of sleep and exercise. Rest your mind with a good book or movie, listen to an inspiring podcast, and take breaks from watching the news. This is an ideal time to take on a creative hobby, start a journal, or develop a meditation practice. One of the best stress relievers is focusing on what you can do for other people — donate to a charity, offer advice to a friend, or volunteer for a cause you support.
Download the Right Apps
Many companies will provide the software you need to work at home. If you work for yourself or you are setting up a team, there are plenty of software options for improving workflow and enhancing communication:
- Access and Security: If you need to connect to your work computer from home or if your IT team needs to help you from afar, you’ll benefit from remote desktop software, such as Microsoft Remote Desktop, Apple Remote Desktop, TeamViewer, or SplashTop. It is also a good idea to improve security with software that encrypts passwords, such as 1password, and connections, like NordVPN.
- Real-Time Communication: Use messaging apps like Slack and Microsoft Teams to stay in touch with your colleagues. If your contacts are using a variety of different messaging platforms, try connecting them through Mio to streamline your workflow.
- Video Conferencing: Seeing other people’s faces will keep you from feeling isolated, clarify emails or chats, and boost collaboration. Some options work best for one-on-one conversations and others for group chats, so consider those as you make your choice. Look into Zoom, Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, and Messenger Rooms.
- Project Management: Web-based tools like Monday, Basecamp, and Asana make it easy to collaborate, schedule, and assign tasks and track the progress of projects. For sharing documents, GoogleDocs, Basecamp, and Dropbox are especially useful, while DocuSign make digital signing a breeze and Harvest simplifies invoicing,
- Collaboration: Apps designed for specific industries will improve collaboration. For example, there’s GitHub for software and Invision for design.
- Timekeeping: Managing and recording the time spent on different projects is easy with tools such as Timely, Toggl, and Harvest.
Rule #5: Effectively Manage Your Remote Team
Set Expectations: If you want your remote team to play by the rules, you must set them. Managers need to lay out what they expect from employees at home, including what meetings are mandatory, when employees are required to be online, and when the workday starts and ends.
Write a Culture Code: Maintaining a solid company culture can be even more challenging when staff is not sharing an office. The lack of face-to-face communication is particularly hard for newly remote employees. Draft a culture code that presents the daily principles that should guide behavior and decision-making. If you already have one, see if it needs adjusting in this new reality.
Sidestep Communication Gaps: To avoid missing out on conversations that happened over messaging apps or getting frustrated when no one immediately replies to an email, you will want to make written records and regularly distribute them to the team. Take minutes of meetings, summarize important phone calls, and track messages to be sure everyone is in the loop. Store the documents in a place accessible to everyone. At Loomly, we find ourselves frequently writing down things like: “as we discussed over the phone today.” Referring to conversations that have taken place in GitHub tickets and Slack channels provides transparency and helps keep employees on track.
Schedule Recurring Check-Ins: It is easy to let human interactions fade away when your staff is working at home, but that is a costly mistake. Structure the team’s schedule to include time for team members to connect with each other as well as with their supervisors. At Loomly, we have three recurring “Rendez-vous.” Daily, we all check in on Slack to fill the team in on what we’re working on; weekly, we have one-on-one meetings with our direct manager or report; and monthly, we come together for an all-hands video call to share and discuss company updates.
Employ Smart Workflows: The pandemic has made clear how crucial it is for businesses to be flexible. If you are not using an agile workflow, it is time to develop it. With smart workflows, cross-functional teams meet — including online — regularly to review progress, understand insights, explore strategy, adjust goals, and set high-priority tasks. Doing so allows your team to quickly identify priorities and adjust their tasks accordingly.
Build-in Fun to Stay Motivated: Remote working does come with challenges. The biggest risk is that employees increasingly feel disconnected from the team. Without casual conversations around the office or team-building events and holiday parties, employees can feel isolated — and quickly lose motivation. Maintain these connections by setting up video celebrations of company milestones and employee birthdays or anniversaries. Consider adding virtual retreats to the calendar, from mindfulness training to dance parties. Create places where employees can share personal news such as a #watercooler Slack channel. Allow for spontaneity and remember to have fun.
If you have always been working in an office and are experiencing remote work for the first time, or if you have been working from home but are still looking for ways to improve your productivity and your happiness in this configuration, the above tips are a good place to start to set you up for success.
Like many things in our fast-changing world, feel free to experiment with these rules, and adjust as you go. Come up with the setup, workflows, and culture that suits you and your business best. Whether you are a business owner or a freelancer, working from home can offer you a flexible lifestyle combined with lower overhead costs and higher growth potential.
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift to home-based businesses and remote working that was already underway. Working at home can be a big adjustment for employees and business owners alike, though it may well become how most people work in the years to come. When this uncertain time has passed, many people may find that remote work has improved their lives and their businesses — and decide never to go back to the commute and the office again.
Loomly is the Brand Success Platform that helps marketing teams collaborate online, seamlessly. Originally created by Thibaud & Noemie Clement to streamline an internal workflow in a previous venture, Loomly is now serving thousands of teams around the world. Start your 15-day free trial now.
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