As I write this, millions of people around the world are adjusting to full-time remote work and learning. Given we are hardwired to need and enjoy human connection and socialisation, working remotely full-time can be a challenging prospect.
Firstly, working remotely definitely has its perks! Between the flexibility to be able to work from anywhere (I am currently in my dining room at home), the reduction in time and money spent commuting, and the ability to set your own hours, working from home can be very rewarding. However, there is one major drawback that many people, including myself, have found to be a challenge: staying productive and focused.
As much as the extra flexibility is a positive, it also means it is easier to lose the daily structure that commuting enforces. It is easy to get distracted or work odd hours that leave you feeling stressed and worn out. While some studies have shown that working from home does contribute to more productive employees, over a period of time that productivity may start to dwindle. Fortunately, I found a few techniques to help keep you focused on the job at hand.
1. Set up your space
Yes, working from home means you can work from your bedroom, living room couch, the kitchen counter etc. However, having inconsistent places to work can lead to inconsistent work patterns, leaving you stressed and dreading work. Additionally, working from a couch or bed can leave your body feeling achy and your mind feeling drained.
A desk and comfortable chair will help you be more efficient. If you do not have this available to you then setup an area at your dining table to present the feel of a desk working area. I have personally found that working between my dining table (sat down) and my kitchen counter (simulating a standing desk scenario) worked wonders for my work (and my neck and back). I also noticed that keeping my workspace limited to these areas helped me to go from work mode to home mode much easier, and prevented the lines of these two mindsets from blurring together.
2. Make a schedule and stick to it
As important as it is to have your workspace, it is equally important to have set working hours. Try to start and end your workday on as much of a schedule as possible. This includes waking up and getting ready as you would if you were going to step into an office. Your morning prep routine plays a large role in determining your mindset for the rest of the day. As much as it is tempting, do not make a habit of joining conference calls in bed in your pyjamas. You will find you are more productive when you dress for the day and brush your teeth.
I tend to use the Microsoft mobile apps to check for project updates in Microsoft Teams, post comments to Yammer as well as catch up on internal news, and check my emails using Outlook mobile all whilst making my morning coffee!
Ensure you schedule necessary work breaks and lunch times. When I first started working from home, I would usually be so busy that I would forget to take lunch altogether which is a non-sustainable habit. I have learned to prepare food beforehand and schedule a lunch break. Knowing that I must stop at a certain time helps me focus on finishing a task.
3. Be organized and keep things tidy
Your workspace is your office. With that said, having the right tools will help with productivity. Notepads and calendars can keep memos and lists in order. I personally use Microsoft To-Do to plan my day and always keep a notepad and pen at hand (as I would if I were sat in my work office). It may be subconscious but having these items to hand tells my mind that I am in “business mode”.
Also ensure you protect your workspace – talk to family members or roommates about the hours you are working from home and the ground rules during those hours. Assume that anything that can interrupt you will interrupt you – like a shopping delivery during a critical business call or a dog barking in the background of a client video chat. Be as proactive as you can about avoiding these kinds of incidents.
4. Make time to “see” other people
I have found that this is one of the most important yet overlooked suggestions. Working from home can become quite lonesome after long periods of time, especially if you do not interact with others. Setting up times to get away from work can make a massive difference in your work-life balance and help you come up with fresh ideas.
It can be a challenge to stop working and do something leisurely, especially when first starting out. I remember telling friends and family that I would have to skip social events because I wanted to finish a piece of work. I ended up isolating myself and nearly burning out. Make it a point to go out and do not feel guilty about it.
As a remote worker, you may find you are not often granted the same abilities to brainstorm and collaborate the way you would if you were in an office. However, with the technology available today, if I need feedback on a deliverable, I usually call my colleague and use the co-authoring feature provided with Office 365 to collaborate on a piece of work together.
Communication is always a good idea when uncertain but even more so when working from home. It not only provides clarity; it also serves as a reminder that you are taking initiative.
For example — Email, text, IM, and other written methods of communication are prone to misunderstandings. When you sense this is happening, be quick to pick up the phone to resolve issues.
Also, ensure you maintain more casual communication habits — if you normally catch up with colleagues in person before a big meeting, do the same before dialling in to a group conference call when everyone is remote.
If you normally chat with a colleague first thing in the morning, do the same remotely by instant message or video call. At Intelogy we use Microsoft Teams for daily catch ups and meetings. Even when at home, you should confirm receipt of messages and check in with people when you start and end your day – Yammer is a great way to share work-related news and updates as well as have informal conversations with your whole company.
I post on Yammer every morning what projects I will be working on throughout that day, so all my colleagues have visibility of what I am working on. If I have availability, I might post an update letting everyone know I am free to help if anyone needs assistance with their workload.
Whatever approach you choose to adopt, try to follow the same rituals and habits to maintain relationships and a sense of normalcy.
6. Establish that you are at work to friends & family
Because remote work is still a somewhat new concept, many people do not understand that work hours need to be respected. I have had a few people tell me that what I am doing can be put aside so I could run errands for them, especially when I first started working from home. If you can establish boundaries and stick to them, people will come to respect that you cannot be bothered during your work hours.
7. Use video, even if it is uncomfortable for you
To avoid feeling isolated, use video technology, available via Microsoft Teams, to connect with your team and colleagues in a more human way. I know that video calls are not comfortable for everyone, but the slight discomfort can be worth the benefit of seeing people’s faces. When working remotely you will find that you will start to rely heavily on videoconferencing because it provides us an easy pathway to build relationships and meaningful interactions.
Human interaction, especially if remote work is new for you, can make all the difference in your productivity and your mental and emotional well-being. (Pro tip: When you are speaking, look up at the camera on your computer — not at the screen — so people can see your eyes!)
8. Plan for the day/week/month and track your time
Only you know your schedule and your abilities to implement some of the above tips to your life. If you take care of a child or have a schedule that fluctuates often, you know that keeping a routine can be near impossible. I have found that setting out both short and long-term goals makes it easier to balance change. Make entries on your calendar to carve-out the time you need to work on tasks. If you don’t, you may never get to them.
If you feel like you need help or more information then please contact us and we will gladly assist you further.
There is no doubt that you will acquire new skills when working from home. While it is not for everyone, if you can stay focused and develop positive habits, you can successfully adapt. It is all about balance.