Working from home always sounds like a great idea. There’s no commute to worry about, and you don’t even have to get dressed if you don’t want to. You can play whatever music you like and possibly work outside if the weather is nice enough.
Better still, today’s technology makes it easy to stay connected to your team members, so if you need to collaborate on a project, it’s simple and easy to do so.
The Challenge of Working From Home
Nobody will argue that working from home has a lot of benefits. However, it comes with its fair share of challenges too. Distractions, for example, come in all shapes and sizes. Kids, spouses, roommates, pets, neighbors, mail carriers, television – and there’s the ever-present compulsion to check every notification that lights up your phone.
Plus, you are probably used to working with a familiar group of colleagues. When you’re working from home, you’re on your own, and it can become a bit lonely. You need a little more discipline and self-governance, but by adopting a few work-from-home best practices, you can stay focused, maintain productivity levels, and keep your projects on track.
Here are some actionable best practices to help you optimize your space for remote working:
1. Demarcate a Dedicated Work Zone
If you are concerned about distractions from family and the everyday routine around the house, ensure that you have a dedicated space to work from.
If you have the option, you might want to take over a spare room. If you don’t have that luxury, think about setting up a desk in your bedroom, in the basement, or a part of the house where you’ll be comfortable. Just make sure it’s out of the line of traffic. You want to keep interruptions to a minimum, so a room with a door that closes is ideal, but an out-of-the-way corner is fine too.
"On the opposite side, try to find some places in your house where you never work, because that creates that mental safety and distance. As much as you can, still try to create those boundaries for your brain — that will both help you relax and it'll help focus when you are in that space."
2. Personalize Your Space
Yeah, it’s your place – but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it a little more inspiring.
Once you’ve decided where you’re going to work, make it a comfortable and fun place to be. Add some photographs, some of your favorite tchotchkes, and maybe one of those nifty electric coasters that keeps your coffee hot. We're pretty big fans of plants as well.
3. Get Comfortable, Stay Healthy
You know how many hours you spend in front of the screen. Do you have an ergonomic chair that’s comfortable enough to sit in for a few hours? If not, a quality chair is a good investment. Ergonomically speaking, you should be able to rest your arms comfortably as you type, your feet should be flat on the floor, and your back should rest lightly against the back of your chair. Look for a chair with good lumbar support and as many adjustment options as possible.
You might also consider a standing desk or convert your existing desk. That way, you can alternate between sitting and standing over the course of the day. Standing desks have been proven to reduce back pain and many other issues associated with sitting for long hours.
4. Keep a Routine: Set A Schedule, Establish Ground Rules
Sticking to a routine is the best way to maintain focus productivity. Keep the same schedule as if you were going into the office; get up, get ready, get dressed, have your coffee, and arrive at your desk more or less at the same time you usually do. Do your best to maintain a professional routine. It's far too easy to feel lazy when you're lounging around in your pajamas, and the day doesn't feel like it started. You'll also come across more professionally if you are video conferencing with clients or your team.
Be sure your family knows that even though you’re home, you are working and not to be disturbed unless it’s absolutely necessary. If you have to, put a sign on your door when you don’t want to be interrupted.
5. Take Regular Breaks: The Pomodoro Method
Since you’re at home, it’s easy to get so immersed in your work that you forget to get up and move around now and then. Many studies show that taking breaks is critical to be effective. Key benefits to taking a consistent pause include to stay creative, maintain memory, restore motivation and overall be healthy. Extra credit if you're gettting some fresh air outside of the house. It could be a quick lap around the block or pulling some weeds out of the garden.
Set a timer to remind yourself to move every once in a while. The Pomodoro Method is a popular (and very easy) time management technique where you have set work and break sessions built in to finish a specific project. To follow this method, the following steps are taken:
- Decide on a project or task that you want to complete
- Set the timer (called Pomodoro) to 25 minutes
- Do the work until the timer goes off and make a mark on the computer or a piece of paper (to keep count)
- Take a short break for five minutes
- Repeat and take a long break for 10 minutes after every four working sessions
Seem complicated? It's not, we promise. There are plenty of apps that make this very easy on your device of choice, but to get started you can use this simple timer.
6. Prioritize Clear Communication
One of the most challenging things about working from home is maintaining clear communication. Be sure you are checking in as often as you need to and be even more precise and clear with your messages. When you're working from home, it's more important than ever to document and share more freely than you think you should.
When you can’t just walk over and speak to your colleagues face-to-face, there are bound to be misunderstandings. The more concise and descriptive you can be, the less time you will spend clarifying. For this reason and others, we are huge fans of video communication. Whether you're using Zoom, Teams, Skype, Facebook or others, seeing the people you're talking to helps the non verbal come through. You'll also find the conversations are more human.
7. Stay Aligned to the Team
Above all, be sure you have some form of connectivity between you, your managers, and your team. Messaging apps like Slack, ProofHub, or Facebook Workplace work well to keep everybody on the same page.
Having the right technology is great, but it's also important when part of a team to stay connected to that team. It's easy to disengage when we aren't checking in with each other regularly. One of the things we like to do is maintain a quick daily check-in to follow up on progress and see how things are going. Sometimes we don't have an agenda at all, and it's simply a chance to see each other.
Another thing we like to do is keep a single group chat going throughout the day. Some team members may just like to stay connected and talk throughout the day just like they would if everyone were in the office. The small things like a quick, regular sync-up or an ongoing chat can help the rest of the team top of mind and engaged.
8. Check In Regularly, Respond Quickly
When you are working from home, it’s easy to fade into the background. To maintain your visibility when you’re not in the office, check in with your team often to let them know what you’re working on.
Be sure your communications channels are open and visible so that you stay visible. Respond quickly to emails and requests, and be sure to ask whether your teammates are getting everything they need from you.
"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place."
9. Seek Out A Change of Scenery Every Once In A While
People stagnate even in the hippest home office situations. If you find yourself hitting a wall, get up, and get out of your element. Whether that means taking it out to the back porch, moving to another room, or taking your laptop down to the local Starbucks, a breath of fresh air will do your focus and creativity a world of good.
Whether working from home is an option, an office perk, or a must-do because of illness or other unforeseen circumstances, it’s easy to set yourself up for success. With a little advance planning and preparation, you’ll breeze through your workday, and when it’s over, you’ll already be home.