How to Make Working from Home Work for You
I love where I work. I can stay up brainstorming or writing at my desk until 3 a.m. if I want to or I can take a morning off to have brunch with my family. It takes me less than a minute to walk to my office, and my son sometimes likes to join and work alongside me. (He’s the best coworker I’ve ever had.)
That’s what it’s like to work from home.
Mentioning that I work remotely tends to get mixed reactions. Some people ask how I ever get anything done, and others ask how they can find a work-from-home job for themselves.
I know it doesn’t work for everyone. Some people are just too distractible and can’t function in a remote environment. However, for others, it’s just a matter of setting yourself up for success with a few simple hacks to make your home office into a productive place to work:
Separate Your Work Space from Your Home Space
While the temptation to work from under a pile of blankets may be strong, you need to actually get out of bed to work (even when you work from home).
A common mistake among remote workers is failing to draw a clear line between the spaces they work and the spaces they live in. Working from the couch, at the kitchen table, or in your bedroom are all terrible ideas for two reasons: 1.) You’re more easily distractible and 2.) You’ll have a harder time “switching off” from work mode.
When your home is in your workspace and your work is in your home space, the line between the two gets blurry, meaning you’re less likely to be 100% focused and present in the moment.
I know a home office is an investment. Afterall, you’ll need to rent or buy a home that has an extra room, and we all know that adds to the price. Then, it costs even more to set up the space to make it a physically comfortable yet mentally stimulating place to work.
However, it’s probably the most impactful thing you can do to make yourself more productive. Besides, you’ll spend around a third of your life in that space. It should be somewhere you feel comfortable and motivated. (Oh, and an ergonomic office chair is a must. Your back will thank you.)
Cut Through the Noise
A traditional office environment certainly has its distractions. (Susan brought cookies. Anyone want to swing by the breakroom?) However, there are also plenty of distractions in a home environment—kids running down the hall, ambulance sirens blaring from the street, background noise from family going about their daily lives.
That’s why it helps to have some way to cut through the noise and concentrate. Buying a pair of noise-cancelling headphones and drowning out all sounds from the rest of the world is one method. Personally, I prefer to put on some music to get me in the right headspace for whatever I have to tackle that day.
Thanks to technology, there aren’t many occasions when I have to physically be in a room with other people in order to collaborate effectively. Although there are countless more awesome services and software out there, here are my recommendations of the bare essentials for remote work:
- Real-Time Communication: Don’t rely on texting or emailing alone. Collaboration software like Slack is designed for work and makes it easy to chat, share documents, make calls, and store information in one place.
- Scheduling: How much time is wasted just on the inevitable back and forth of figuring out when meeting participants are available? With an online scheduling tool, you can just send a link with your availability, and your contact can choose a time from there.
- Word Processor: If you don’t have Microsoft Office (or preferably the entire Office Suite) installed, now’s the time to bite the bullet. I know everyone hates shelling out for the subscription fee, but it’s the most popular text editor for a reason.
- Video Conferencing: Make sure that your conferencing software includes screen-sharing, recording, and text chat capabilities.
- Cloud Storage: Backing your work up in the cloud not only keeps it safe, it also makes it possible to edit and share documents from wherever you happen to be at the time.
- Cyber Security: Chances are, you’ll be handling sensitive information about your company or your client, and an unsecured computer is a huge liability. Invest in security software (a password manager, email encryption, and of course, strong antivirus protection), and be careful with the links and content you open on your work computer.
- Time Tracking: Look for a service that allows you to not only track your time but also do the associated tasks you need for work (like sending invoices, managing payroll, or creating employee schedules).
Depending on your industry, there will, of course, be other tools you’ll need to do your work effectively, but this list is a good starting point for any remote worker.
Step Away from the Screen
If you need to stretch your legs, do it. While you can invest in tech to solve many of your productivity problems, there’s no substitute for a walk around the block.
Many remote workers feel chained to their desk, wanting to prove to their boss or their client that they really are working by being available at an instant’s notice. That truth is, however, that sitting in front of the computer all day every day isn’t healthy.
Besides the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle, remote workers tend to get depressed, unmotivated, or creatively suffocated when they spend the day alone and deskbound.
I’m often on the road to visit the main office to check in, chat with clients, and work on large projects, which provides a great opportunity to get out of the house and shake up my routine. If you don’t travel much for work, try to find ways to incorporate some activity into your day.
Head to the coffee shop to write your report. Break up long periods of work by taking the dog for a stroll around the neighborhood. Grab lunch at the local deli. Work out.
You’d be surprised what a quick break away from the computer screen can do to reinvigorate your brain.
Find Your Productive Hours, and Stick to Them
One of the hands-down best things about working from home is the ability to set your own hours. There’s no one telling you that you have to be sitting at your desk typing away by 9 a.m. If you’re a night owl, embrace it. Schedule your time around the hours when you are most productive. Then, stick to the schedule.
I try to block off evenings with my family every day starting at 5 p.m. During this time, I’m not thinking about work. I’m cooking dinner with my wife, maybe watching a movie or playing with our kids. I owe them this time to be 100% attentive to them. Then, when it’s time to go back to work (I usually take a few more hours at night to get some more work done while the world is quiet), I’m focused on the task at hand.
The one caveat here is that if you have clients or coworkers, you’ll need to also be respectful of regular working hours, so make sure to set aside daily “office hours” when other can reach you during the standard workday.
I firmly believe that the future of work is remote. Business can cut overhead costs dramatically by allowing a large portion of their workers to do their jobs from home. Plus, they’re free to hire talent from all across the world. They’re not limited to just the people in their area or who are willing to pack up their lives to relocate.
And, on the worker side, two-thirds of people report that they’re actually more productive when they’re allowed to work from home.
Working from home is the path to a happier and more productive workforce. It’s just a matter of shifting the way we view and approach remote work.