Life rapidly moves more and more online, and remote work has suddenly become a new normal, signaling one of the biggest paradigm shifts in corporate mindset since eight-hour workday at the turn of the last century. And while many enjoy working from home, others may find it a total nightmare.
If you haven't worked remotely before, you might imagine yourself sitting on a couch with a cup of coffee, enjoying the comfort and quiet while doing some work on your laptop, and maybe even having your pet around to cheer you up. Sounds amazing, isn't it? Hate to break it to you, it is almost never like this.
The truth is remote work has enough difficulties and pitfalls, from technical problems like shoddy wi-fi to total loss of productivity. Some of the most common challenges of working from home are longer hours, constant interruptions (by family members, pets, etc.), loneliness and lack of communication, chaotic work schedule, and so on.
If you are experiencing some of these challenges or just planning to go remote, we are here for you! We've compiled a bunch of helpful work-from-home tips for you to remain sane, healthy, productive, and positive. But be prepared: to do your work remotely and efficiently, you have to be ready to change your regular workflow and habits almost entirely.
1/ Get out of bed!
There's one place you really shouldn't work from – your bed. It may be tempting to stay in your pajamas the whole day under some cozy blankets, but you should remember that this devastates your mental health.
The thing is that our brains are wired to adapt to locations and change their work mode accordingly. If you start working from places that are meant for resting, you blur the boundaries between your work and rest modes, and your productivity will decrease rapidly. Working in bed may also result in sleep disorder because your bed should only be associated with the state of calmness and healthy sleep, nothing else (well, maybe one other thing, but that's it!). We highly recommend investing some time and effort into organizing a dedicated work space in your home.
2/ Create a rock-solid morning routine
Jumping straight out of bed to your desk is a bad idea. The best way to get prepared for work is to have a morning routine. You sequence together a chain of morning activities, and each of them should trigger the next, e.g., meditation, some light exercise, a glass of water, taking a shower, getting dressed, having breakfast, compiling a to-do-list for the day, etc. The last activity in your chain will signal the brain that the work will begin shortly, and you need to remain focused. So, we recommend creating your personal list of morning activities and follow it for at least 1-2 weeks to form a habit.
Such morning routine will also fill you with energy and positivity, develop self-discipline, and reduce stress. Therefore, it is a crucial step towards a productive day. By the way, there are plenty of useful apps that help with this routine building, like Fabulous, Alarmy, Loop Habit Tracker, Streaks, Habitica, and others.
3/ Save your sweatpants for Saturdays
We know how comfy sweatpants and sweatshirts are. But try to avoid wearing them during your work hours. And please, don't stay in your pajamas either. It turns out that a little discomfort will keep your brain sharper, more focused, and work oriented. After your work hours are over (you should always limit your work hours and step away from the desk at the specific time), feel free to wear the comfiest clothes or nothing at all, and enjoy your hard-earned rest. Dressing up for work is also a way to keep clear boundaries between work and rest.
4/ Set up your home office to benefit your work and health
This is one of the most critical points. And here we don't mean to set a corner of the kitchen table or a sofa. It is essential to design and organize the workplace where only work happens, ideally, with plenty of daylight. If working from home turning out to be a long-term endeavor for you, we suggest a separate room or a place with a door, at least. If this is not possible, be creative with the available space, buy a compact desk, move some furniture around.
If you struggle to find a spot, ask a friend to help, it is often surprising how a fresh perspective can turn things around. Often even the smallest details make a huge difference. Even if the space is limited, try to do your best to save your work-life balance.
And don't forget to treat yourself! Go for a standing desk, anti-fatigue mat, or a comfortable chair to boost your productivity. If you are going to spend 8 hours a day in a chair, get a good one!
5/ Make to-do lists
Lists help. Review your list for the day as soon as you finish with your morning and sit behind your desk. Make it the first work-related thing you do in the morning. Review, prioritize and then start working on your tasks one by one from top to bottom.
Without a sensible to-do list, you risk losing focus or simply forgetting something important. Whenever you get distracted, just open your to-do list and scan it again to return to the task you were working on. In the end of the day, check off your list of accomplishments — every crossed off task is a small win, and every little victory helps.
You can keep a list on paper, or use any of the literally hundreds of apps meant for creating and maintaining to-do lists, like Todoist, Evernote, Google Keep, TickTick, Microsoft To Do, and others. You can keep a personal list of tasks right here in Infolio. Pick the best tool for you to improve your daily work discipline. All the tools offer multiple ways to organize your tasks, make it easy to add new tasks, and categorize.
6/ Schedule your day, and stick to the schedule
Somewhat surprisingly, it turns out that a lot of remote workers end up working more hours than office dwellers. And more often than not work takes up all the employees' spare time, leaving very little for family, hobbies or leisure activities. If you work too hard for too long, you will have no time for personal life. As the result – no life-work balance and an almost guaranteed burnout afterwards. That's why one of the best things you can do is setting alarms on your phone – one to start working, another to stop (with breaks and lunch scheduled, of course).
Flexibility is obviously a key benefit when it comes to remote work, and no one forces you to stick to the conventional 9-to-5 schedule at home. But let us assure you, that setting concrete work hours and keeping a steady daily work schedule will help you to stay saner and happier.
7/ Take regular breaks
Your productivity, mental well-being, and overall mood will suffer without regular breaks during work hours. The trick here is to not go overboard and turn a few minutes into a couple of hours — home environment can be a sinking sand of procrastination.
The best solution is to include breaks into your schedule and set the alarms. And try not to exceed the scheduled break time.
Keep in mind, scrolling through Instagram stories doesn't count as a break. It is essential to take a pause from screens, social media, and the internet. Have a cup of coffee, relax, and chat with people around you, or step outside for a few minutes for some fresh air. Then you will get back to your work truly rejuvenated. Remember, working long hours without taking regular breaks will lead to stress and exhaustion. Don't let this happen to you.
8/ Imitate a daily commute
For some, it is crucial to have their daily commute to the office. And it's quite logical – it is the process that separates work from the personal life with real physical space. Most people admit that they enjoy the commute – the time for yourself which you can dedicate to listening to your favorite tunes or stay one on one with your thoughts. If you miss it, we suggest adding a so-called virtual commute to your workday, especially at the end. It can be a walk around the block, while listening to music, or reading a book on a bench in the park. Devote at least 15 minutes to this activity, it is an effective way to unplug from work and enjoy some downtime.
9/ Set boundaries with people around you
Sometimes the main killers of your home productivity are the people around you, who demand attention or ask for help or want to talk or simply ignore your concentration. Make sure your roommates, siblings, parents, spouses, children, and pets (well, maybe not pets) respect your space during work hours. Just because you're working from home doesn't mean you're available to hang out or play.
In order to stay sharp when working remotely, you'll need to set some strict home office rules. Make it crystal clear when you're in a no-interruptions-allowed zone. Stick to your schedule and explain that you are available only during your official breaks. If you don't have a dedicated room, set your workplace so that you look away from any "hot zones" of activity and buy yourself some good (ideally noise cancelling) headphones. If you can get distracted by small kids, plan some activities in advance to keep them busy, at least during important phone and video calls. Well, try at the very least.
10/ Improve team communication with video chat
Yes, some people are introverts by nature and feel better without regular face-to-face communication. But even if you feel that video calls are useless for you, it doesn't mean it's the same for your colleagues. When you're stuck in your bubble for too long you might find it increasingly difficult staying on the same page with other people.
Well, the good thing is that in 2020 we are practically spoiled with various options for video calls and conferences. So, use them, don't be afraid to turn your webcam on for a call from time to time! More often than not, video calls will improve your work relationships, and in some cases they can be really fun (custom Zoom backgrounds can do wonders in that regard).
The best video conferencing software, such as Zoom, GoToMeeting, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams, allows you to video chat and collaborate in real-time. Replace some emails with video calls, and you will feel like a more cohesive and united team even if you're separated by thousands of miles.
Movement is essential for your brain. It is just as beneficial for the mind as it is for the body. Staying at home all day is not an excuse for not closing your rings (if that was your thing). And if you haven't tracked your daily activity before – it's the perfect time to start! Stand up, walk, do some sit-ups, exercise. Set a target for at least 10.000 steps a day. Maybe you have a dog? That's another great motivation to stay active. Schedule an appointment in your calendar to walk the dog daily, and don't skip it or delegate to anyone. By the way, that is exactly one of the work-from-home bonuses that a lot of people dream of.
12/ Don't snack around
Full-time unrestricted access to the kitchen feeds into your desire to snack more often, especially as a way of procrastination. To stop yourself from gaining a few extra pounds (or maybe more than a few) remove all the unhealthy snacks from your house. Seriously, if you cannot resist the temptation of the vanilla ice-cream hidden in the freezer, then don't keep it there at all. Schedule just a lunch, a couple of teatime breaks, and a dinner. The healthier you eat – the more productive you stay. The best brain foods that enhance memory and concentration include oily fish, dark chocolate, berries, nuts, and seeds. Replace usual snacks with these, and you will feel the difference soon enough.
13/ Invest in a good pair of headphones
We've mentioned this already, but it's worth saying it again. If you live with someone and still don't have a good pair of headphones, then you should absolutely consider buying one. Music not only masks the outside noise allowing to concentrate better, but it also helps you to work faster and more efficiently. In fact, the right music can supercharge us. It is proven that the background music improves the efficiency of performing a repetitive task. Besides, having a great headset with a microphone is a must today, considering the number of daily conference calls you have to attend when working from home.
Here's a good list of the best headphones and earphones for work (and play) on the market.
14/ Stay organized with the right productivity app
Since Infolio is the task and project management suite, we couldn't skip the topic of productivity apps. The technology can't help you to get dressed or make the bed for you (not yet). But the right productivity app like Infolio, Monday, Trello or Airtable, can help you maximize productivity and bring the team collaboration to the next level. In today's world of countless tools and services, finding the right solution can feel very challenging. Just focus on your (and your team's) needs – whether you need to take notes, organize your tasks, track project progress, or collaborate with the team.
Take a look at our list of the best tools for remote work in 2020. We have a good summary of the best tools in three categories — video conferencing, task and project management, and content collaboration.
15/ Switch things up (to a degree)
Little change can make a big difference for your productivity. You might have heard that freelancers often work outside their homes – in cafes, co-working spaces, libraries, — to change the scenery and get some inspiration. When leaving the house is not an option, consider moving around the house. Do some work in the living room, on the couch, in the kitchen, but only temporarily, for short periods of time or even just for some conference calls.
16/ Fight job creep
Engaging in work-related activities beyond regular work hours reduces productivity and negatively affects sleep quality. Texting, emailing, and work-related social media shouldn't be handled outside your scheduled working hours. To avoid job creep, you have to learn how to replenish your personal resources. To really unplug from work, avoid any screens with information and choose some enjoyable wind-down activities. Some of the things that positively affect sleep quality are family activities, cooking, caring for children, reading, etc.
If there is no clear beginning and end to each workday, schedule your day. Schedule, schedule, schedule! We can't repeat this enough. Pay attention to your evening routine and bedtime hours, as well. Disconnect from everything that keeps you thinking about your work and hide the devices that can suck you back into work mode. Take time for relaxation – spend some quality time offline to recover from being online.
Keep reminding yourself that staying constantly connected means you won't be fresh enough to solve new problems in the morning.
When working from home, you can easily turn into your own worst enemy. If you don't stay organized, there's no tool that can help you. The most productive remote workers master strict self-discipline, stick to their schedules and develop healthy morning and evening routines.
Start with yourself and your habits, the right working environment and productivity tools will help you to overcome the challenges of remote work and remain sane, healthy and positive.