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The global transition to remote work isn’t a temporary experiment. Like video games and the internet, it’s most likely here to stay. If you haven’t mastered self-motivation quite yet, though, don’t worry: the following remote working tips from leading industry experts can help you conquer distractions and tackle your to-do list for good.
Discover 50 ice breakers questions and games that will make your meetings engaging.
If there’s one thing I know for certain, it’s that when I start my day slowly and with something I enjoy, I am always more productive and efficient. This doesn’t have to be something complex, or even the same thing every day. I think that’s the mistake we make when we think about establishing a routine. Think of it more as allotting time for yourself every day before you start working to do something you enjoy, rather than having to commit to building a certain habit.
As a remote working employee, you should be waking up as if you’re going to commute to work. If you can, get some exercise, eat breakfast as usual, and get ready as if there are other people you need to meet aside from your family. Maintain your company standards and work as if you were in an office setting.
Get up in the morning and get dressed as if you were going to work. I don't mean a suit and tie, but getting dressed in something relatively smart helps me get in the formal mindset. I've tried working in sweats, and my work became casual, as did my time management and productivity. Separate yourself from normal home habits. It's a mindset thing.
Set up a designated work area, give yourself a work schedule, and have a specific work phone. When you make an effort to separate your home and work life, you’re more likely to avoid distractions, allowing you to get into the right mindset for work and achieving more productivity.
Having a dedicated workspace will completely change your productivity levels when working from home. No matter your home environment, it's a big challenge to properly isolate yourself from distractions. That’s just one reason why having a dedicated workspace (ideally, not your shared kitchen counter, dining table, or couch) is so important to curating a productive environment for yourself. It's also key that you're using the best tools – like the best virtual meeting platforms – in order to be your most productive when working from home.
The best remote work tip I can give you is to avoid working in your bedroom. Doing so creates the illusion that you’re at home—that you’re not really in a ‘work zone.’ As a result, you are tempted to take a nap and get too many unnecessary breaks. It took me months to figure this out. I had to transfer rooms to realize that working in my bedroom will never make me productive.
When I began having trouble separating work and home life, I began taking simple steps in making sure my workspace was literally out of sight and out of mind. When I am done for the day, I am extremely intentional in removing any temptation to work beyond the call of duty. That means if I’m working on my laptop, I completely shut it off, put it away in my desk drawer, and lock it up. If I’m working on a larger PC, I will either move the monitor out of sight or literally throw a large blanket over it so that I don’t have to look at it.
Discover 50 ice breakers questions and games that will make your meetings engaging.
I usually work from my dining table, which means my setup must be portable and limited to a few things. With that in mind, I invested in three items that help me work more comfortably and spark joy throughout the day: an adjustable laptop stand, a seat cushion, and an essential oil diffuser. While these items might seem non-essential, they make my space feel not only comfortable but pleasant, too.
Get a laptop stand to bring your workstation to eye level, and make sure your office chair is comfortable. Set the temperature at a temperature that's a bit cool but not so cold that you're more willing to stay put. Make sure that you have a giant water bottle or thermos handy. Even if you spend 5 to 10 extra minutes setting up the ideal environment, you'll make it up very quickly in efficiency and effectiveness.
For remote workers, video conferences are widespread. Make sure you have a professional or simple background behind you and that you are dressed and groomed appropriately (at least the parts of you that others will see onscreen). Make sure you have enough lighting and a good microphone (most earbuds work just fine).
When you are in the office, people might see you are in the zone and focused. This is not true when you are not in the same place. Reduce the noise and minimize distractions when you need to focus on deep work: turn off slack notifications, hide your email tab, etc.
Working remotely is all about limiting distractions so that you can focus on completing the task at hand. Create a consistent, distraction-free environment as often as possible. Noise-canceling headphones are a staple, but only one piece to the puzzle...close all tabs and applications that you don't need for [each] immediate task, and turn your phone on silent.
I think having a reliable source of background noise improves concentration for deep work. Any audio streaming service could be used for this purpose, but after a year of working from home and not wishing to change the background noise every so often (or have to charge up my phone to use it as a speaker), I ended up buying a small white noise machine that sits in the corner of my office. A small white noise machine not only helps improve concentration, but also serves to mask sounds of traffic going by and neighbors doing DIY.
Numerous messages popping up randomly can destroy our productivity. Instead of clicking on them and responding ASAP, we should establish clear rules such as responding 2-3 times a day, unless a certain communication channel is marked as ‘urgent.’ This will not only allow us to think clearly during the day, but it will also eliminate chaos.
If bosses are texting during dinner time or late at night, wanting you to ‘quickly check’ on some work stuff, tell them respectfully and firmly that you will check it tomorrow during working hours. Personally, I tell them, ‘I'll check it soon,’ and then they leave me alone.
It’s easy to forget that you don’t need to be constantly contactable when working remotely. Share your work schedule with your work contacts, and set up automatic replies and a voicemail for when you’re not working. Taking breaks and time away from work is important and allows you to approach work refreshed when you start back up.
Working from home is not a breeze, especially if you're also helping your kid with their homeschooling, you have a wailing baby, the pets are making a ruckus, and everyone's hungry. Do first the most urgent and most important thing in your to-do list. Multi-tasking will just make you more anxious and stressed, so just prioritize what you need to do first.
Scheduling times for specific tasks and using a stopwatch to be productive is something I’ve done over the last few years. It’s effective in keeping me focused, detailed, and free from distractions. I make a list of the tasks I need to do, get started on the most immediate one, and set my alarm for 60 minutes. During that time, I work with no distractions to finish the specific job. After the 60 minutes is up, I give myself a break and allow myself to figure out what needs to be done next.
Writing emails, creating documents, and formatting spreadsheets throughout your day can really eat up your time, causing you to get behind in your tasks. To improve your productivity, spend a little downtime creating templates for all those messages and forms. Templates may seem like a bit of a cheat, but they'll save you time writing and formatting the same communications over and over throughout your workday. Then, when it comes time to write those 50 emails in the morning, you'll have more time to personalize them and make them more relevant to the topic, project, or client.
One idea that our company took on that worked extremely well is to pair up team members with accountability buddies. Team members are put into pairs, and you have them work together with a video conference streaming between them throughout the day. Each person works on their own tasks. Some ask advice as needed, while others make light chat throughout the day, just as you would in an office. It's reassuring to have someone around while working, even if you're not talking.
One of the best things we've implemented are personal user manuals — simply a documented guide to everyone's working style, preferences, and personal quirks. During the first weeks of onboarding, new employees create their own 'personal user manual', and have access to everyone else's. It covers typical daily routines, communication preferences, strengths, weaknesses, and working styles. It helps to fast-track getting to know each other, and is something I cross-reference often when collaborating on projects.
If your partner or roommate also works from home, make sure your chore time is equal… Any difference in chore time becomes glaringly obvious when both partners or roommates are home all day. To make everyone more focused and comfortable while working from home, make sure chores are divided in advance and expectations made clear.
If we don’t have a dedicated office at home, we may sometimes feel overwhelmed by working from our living room all the time. That’s why it’s a good idea to use co-working spaces, so that we can dress up, get inspired and even socialize. We might also want to change rooms at home – it’s all up to individual needs!
Sticking to one routine for an extended period of time can in itself lead to burnout, so don't rely on doing the same thing every day... Examples of switching my routine up for myself included waking up at different times to suit my energy levels throughout the month, fitting in swimming after work to get a break from my home office, and experimenting with an LED lamp (10,000 lux of light ideally) to reduce early morning grogginess.
Don't default to video conferencing. For example, when you’re meeting with a teammate who lives in the same city, have them select if they'd like to have a video call, meet in real life, or maybe have a walking meeting via a calendar invite.
Studies have shown that people who work from home end up working 1.4 more days per month than their office colleagues. With the added time spent working, it’s important to prioritize your health and movement even more. Set up a DIY standing desk, or take scheduled walks during the day. Sitting for long hours has been shown to decrease lifespan, and working from home is no different.
Don't give in to the pressure of trying to finish everything on your to-do list…You deserve a break, whether you're working at home or not, so just take that 1-hour lunch break and have coffee breaks in between.
Of course, you'll get days where you don't feel motivated to work - it's human. In these cases, talk to your boss and ask if you can take a ‘mental health day.’ I often find, taking a day off and focusing on self-care boosts my productivity a lot when I feel better and get back to work.
My tips for remote working: from a manager perspective, try to shift a lot of your communication to be asynchronous instead of synchronous. Collaborate on a Google doc, send an email, or film yourself doing a screen share, instead of setting up a meeting - this will help prevent 'Zoom fatigue' and meeting overload. Make sure you have a written 'source of truth' for project management or meeting notes, so that everyone has the same access to information. From an employee perspective, don’t be afraid to set boundaries; turn off notifications after a certain time, delete Slack or work email apps from your phone. Don’t forget to actually leave your house once in a while - break up your day with a walk, some exercise, or a lunch run - that way, you won’t feel holed up.
If you and/or your company are new to remote working, don’t let its various challenges intimidate you. Remote work can lead to increased productivity, greater team loyalty, and improved mental health for everyone on board—what’s not to love? If you’re still struggling with the transition, be patient and give yourself some grace. Mistakes and mishaps are all part of the learning process. Research what others are doing and experiment with what works for you, and you’ll be sure to discover how to get the most out of the remote work experience.