COVID-19 has just launched millions of people into the world’s largest work-from-home experiment.
If you’re one of them, it can be downright scary.
Working from home isn’t just a new environment, it’s a completely different way of operating.
It’s okay to feel out of your depth. But, we’re here to help you get your head in the game.
As a remote-first company with over 35 full-time remote employees, we have a few tricks to help you stay productive and healthy…
Here are our best work-from-home tips:
1. Stick to a Non-Negotiable Work Schedule
Treat your regular work hours as non-negotiable, with a clear start and end time.
This isn’t just about making sure you work enough hours in your day, but also about making sure you don’t work endlessly into the night. That can happen if you don’t have a sense of what time you need to be on and offline (more on that in a minute).
Within these hours, it can be helpful to block off time where you’re fully focused (we call that “focus mode”), so others on your team know when not to disturb you with messages, calls, and (relevant) distractions.
You might need to experiment with this and find when your prime time for doing focused work is (more on that in the next section). For some it’s in the early morning hours, for others it’s late in the afternoon!
Once you find when these times are:
- Tell them to other members of your team.
- Set them in your calendar.
- Be strict about them!
Your clearly defined end time is also your chance to disconnect at the end of the day. It puts a clear distinction between working hours and personal time. Close your tabs, get some rest, and avoid work over the weekend!
You’re either on or you’re off — there’s no in between.
2. But Also, Don’t Be Afraid to Say No
Once you’ve set your prime time, protect it like a lion(ess).
The tricky part about working remotely is that people can’t see you being busy. So, it’s up to you to let them know when you are.
Depending on how much control you have over your schedule, you can try to cluster-schedule your calls to limit disruptions.
For instance, this Uscreen team member decided to cluster-schedule the majority of her calls for Mondays. She prefers to have one day of back-to-back calls, followed by clear skies for the remainder of the week to focus on her tasks:
Additionally, we at Uscreen choose to keep Wednesdays completely call free. This ensures that there is at least one day a week that every team member has to work in focus-mode, disruption-free.
You may consider setting a call-free day within your team if the nature of your job allows it.
If you use internal messaging like Slack or GChat, it’s helpful to establish a signal for when you don’t want to be disturbed.
For example we use the 🚫 symbol in our Slack status for focus time and 📆 if we’re in a meeting:
If someone’s using one of these signals, we don’t bug them.
3. Create a Dedicated Workspace
Designate a specific area or room in your home to be your workspace.
Ideally, this will be a quiet room where you can shut yourself away and get some productive work done. It’s best to avoid communal areas like dining or living rooms!
If you do need to work in a shared space, it can be worth investing in a good set of headphones, to give you that “closed off” feeling. There’s a lot to be said for headphones in, world out!
Set yourself up at a proper desk or table with a comfortable but supportive chair. The laptop-in-bed setup might seem tempting but your back will thank you for choosing something firmer! (Trust me, we’ve learned this the hard way.)
Try to avoid distractions like TV in the background and minimize interaction with kids as much as you can.
Give yourself the environment to put yourself in the working headspace, which is a distinct mindset from your everyday, hanging-out-at-home self.
4. Don’t Work in Your Pajamas
PJs are for sleeping and netflixing in bed (and there will be plenty of time for both).
Shower and dress as if you’re going to work – because you are. If you set yourself up for success in the morning, the rest of your day will be productive.
If you already have a morning routine, even if it’s just:
- Get up
- Make coffee
- Take a shower
- Listen to a podcast
- Go to work
You should try and stick to it as best you can. Only now you’ll be going to work at home!
If you don’t have a routine, you could try and create one. Pick three or four things and do them in a specific order, to help you get into the right headspace for work.
We recommend keeping it simple, like:
- Get up at the same time
- Eat a proper breakfast (you have time for that now!)
- Move your body.
- Start work.
This will help you get into the zone and “switch on” for work each day.
5. Don’t Forget To Take A Break!
When you work from home, it can be common to forget about breaks. You might take five minutes here and there to drink a coffee, but proper breaks go out the window.
If you don’t give yourself the break time you need: your brain will take one for you. Worse still, the quality of your work will start to suffer.
To ensure you’re regularly taking restful breaks, we recommend you follow a simple on/off working structure. This means working for a specific amount of time, then taking a short break that requires you to get up and move your body, like a quick yoga routine or something.
The Pomodoro Method
Set a timer for 25 minutes. Work in a solid, focused block for that time.
When the 25 minutes are up, take a five minute break. Each of these cycles is called a “Pomodoro.” After four Pomodoros (two hours), take a ten minute break.
The 90/20 Method
Set a timer for 90 minutes and work through this block.
Once the time is up, take a 20 minute break. Get some fresh air, watch a YouTube video, do whatever you need to do to refresh your brain.
In the afternoon, you might start to feel that 90 minutes is too long. If so, you can reduce the working block to 60 minutes and the break to 15 minutes.
Track Your Time With Software
You could also consider keeping track of your hours with a productivity tracker. We use Hubstaff. It offers a free version you can use to monitor your productivity and more.
6. Communicate Effectively (By Chat or Email or Video Call)
Effective communication is crucial to successfully working from home. Why?
Because all of your colleagues are feeling the exact same way you are, right now. They’re trying to get on task, manage their schedule, avoid distractions and make-do until this all blows over.
This means you should be specific about why you’re reaching out — if it’s just to say hi or if you have a task you need help with, so people know how to prioritize responding to you.
Video call etiquette, on the other hand, is somewhat of an art form. Here are the basics:
- Start your call with video/audio off and then turn it on once you’re prepared
- For larger calls, mute yourself when you’re not speaking (that way, no one hears your weird breathing sounds)
First, try to establish a structure for your call, even a simple plan. You can prep an agenda beforehand to know what will be discussed. Here’s what we usually do:
- Quick personal catchup and check-in, usually about 5 minutes
- Call leader moderates the meeting so it begins and ends at its scheduled time.
- Everyone recounts last week’s accomplishments and goals for the upcoming week.
- Questions and comments are left till the end
When it’s time for someone to hop off the call and others continue one-on-one, have a code word to gently let them know (ours is pineapple).
7. Remember to Connect and Kick Your Isolation-Loneliness in the Butt
When you’re working from home, connection is everything.
Why not organize a virtual coffee time with a team member or a larger group? Share photos of your daily life and announce things to others.
For example, we have a Slack channel called #IG-Live that’s dedicated to sharing our lives through photos. We share everything from our rad desk setup to a weekend at the beach to precious cat pictures.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to people on your own, too. Here are some super valid reasons to connect:
- Ask for suggestions (e.g. what TV show to watch) to spark conversation
- Brainstorming sessions with one or multiple individuals
- Asking for a more complex explanation than usual
- Feeling that something that was explained in writing was possibly miscommunicated
- Asking for someone’s opinion (e.g. to validate ideas)
- Communicate to your managers if there’s anything bugging you
- Letting people know important changes in your workload (e.g. priority pops up that pushes someone’s tasks to a side)
- Feeling lonely
- Just wanting to say ‘hi’
When connection becomes more deliberate, it also becomes more meaningful. You might find that you value this connection more than in-office chit chat.
You should also try to keep (virtual) social contact outside of working hours. It’s good for productivity, mental health, and just having 10 minutes away from your work screen.
8. Have Fun and Enjoy the Benefits of Working from Home
Once you add structure, you’re free to reap the rewards of working remotely:
- More flexible task scheduling
- Create your own work environment
- Improved productivity (no office distractions)
- Zero commute time
- Efficient video call meetings
- Better work/life balance
- Saves money
- Higher job overall satisfaction
Although you’ll likely have to work within certain hours, you may have more flexibility when you complete certain tasks within those hours.
You’ll be less bound by attending in-person meetings, or having to take your lunch at an exact time.
You can also take advantage of time that would be spent commuting to and from work. Why not go for a midday walk in the park? You could learn a new skill, language or read a book.
Although many have been suddenly thrown into a brand new world of remote work, you can take charge of the situation.
For the first time (probably since school), you’re now plunged into working from the same environment where you live and relax.
You’re a mere few feet away from your TV and your dog and your PlayStation and a million other potential distractions. It’s terrifying and exhilarating.
By implementing some of these tips, you can feel empowered to tackle tasks, manage your time and effectively connect with your co-workers.
With a little bit of discipline, you’ll start to see how magical remote work can really be.