Since the outbreak of Covid-19, 40% of American adults have reported working from home due to the virus. This is an acceleration of a long-established trend towards remote working. More than ever before, people are working remotely – either by choice or because they have to – and knowing how to work from home is becoming a must-have skill.
For many people, the idea of working from home is very appealing. Though expectations aren’t always realistic. People often have visions of working in their pyjamas, finishing early every day, and sitting at a laptop with a cool drink in a sunny garden. All of these things are possible, but they’re not always practical!
There are, however, a lot of benefits to working from home that can easily be achieved. These include ditching the rush hour commute, saving money in travel costs, spending more time with family, and choosing your own working environment.
But while working from home can be good for you, learning how to do it well can be a challenge. People who are new to working from home often struggle to structure their time well, communicate with colleagues, stay motivated and avoid distractions.
Homeworker HQ exists to help you work well from home and this article is an introduction to, hopefully, get you off to a flying start.
If you’re new to working from home, we hope you’ll pick up some useful tips and avoid some of the most common pitfalls.
Set up a space to work
If you want to know how to work from home effectively, you’re going to need somewhere to work and all the right equipment.
When deciding upon your workspace, you’ll need to think about your budget, available locations to work in your home of garden, what furniture you need, and your office or workspace layout.
To learn more about how to set up your home office for success, check out our complete guide.
You’ll also need to make sure that you have all the technology you need in order to work from home.
There are jobs you can do from home in a lot of different fields, so what you need will vary depending on your position. Most likely, though, you’re going to need a computer or laptop, a reliable internet connection, a work phone, access to corporate emails, and secure remote access to the company’s internal network.
If at all possible, we highly recommend setting up a dedicated work space. This should be somewhere quiet, so that you can focus, and a separate area from where you generally relax. Setting up a separate, dedicated work space will help to draw a clear line between your work and home life and avoid distractions.
How to avoid distractions
Distractions can occur in any environment, including the traditional office. You might be familiar with the chatty colleague who won’t leave you alone to get on with your work, or the distracting radio station that everyone else in the office insists on listening to.
But even when working from home, there are plenty of opportunities to get distracted too. For example:
- Family members talking to you or making noise
- Pets, which can be just as distracting as people, if not more so! (Working in the office can be soul-suckingly dull, but at least you won’t run into issues like your cat walking across your desk in the middle of a conference call!)
- Websites and social media
- Your phone, including messages from family and friends
- Excessive video calls with colleagues
- Noisy neighbours
- Deliveries and visitors
- Household chores and DIY that you’ve been meaning to do
You’ll probably be able to think of many more. Perhaps even some that uniquely apply to you and your own living situation.
Distractions exist and we can never get rid of all of them. There’s no point trying to eliminate all distractions. Instead, you need to set yourself up to avoid or ignore them as much as possible.
When you have an established system of avoiding distractions, you’ll be able to maintain your focus and do better work.
Have a dedicated workspace
Even if you can’t set up a home office, it’s a good idea to set up a consistent spot where you can work.
It can be tempting to lounge on the couch (or even in bed!) when you work from home. However, there are a number of downsides to this approach.
Set up a workspace that’s good for your health
Working on the couch is very bad for your posture. If you’re going to spend day after day working at a computer, you need to ensure that you’re seated (or standing) at a correctly configured desk. This means a desk that is adjusted to the correct height for you and that offers plenty of space for your computer and other items.
And if you are seated, you need to use a quality ergonomic chair. You’ll want a chair that is adjustable to suit you, offers head, neck and arm support, and provides adjustable lumbar support for your lower back.
If you slouch on the couch rather than using a proper desk and chair then you’re asking for injuries. Poor posture can also lead to, or aggravate, conditions such as sciatica.
Find your own space away from family and pets
Ideally, you’ll be able to have a room that you can work in where you can close the door. If you don’t have this as an option, come to an understanding with your family so you aren’t constantly interrupted!
It can be helpful to have some kind of signal that means “I’m working”. Wearing headphones or a note sticking to the back of your laptop can let your family know that you’re busy without them disrupting your workflow.
Working remotely doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be at home. Maybe you find that the local library or your neighborhood coffee shop puts you in just the right headspace for working.
Feel free to experiment a little bit and find out what works for you.
Get into the right frame of mind for work
Having a dedicated workspace can also help you to transition to the right mindset.
One of the main challenges of working from home can be separating your work and home life. If you work in the same room where you also eat your dinner, watch TV and spend time with your family, it can start to feel like you’re never away from work.
If at all possible, try to position your workspace in a different room to where you normally relax. This will allow you to switch off from work in the evenings and draw a line between your work day and your personal time.
Failing this, it may be best to pack your work away at the end of each day and leave it there until morning. If you must work at the dining room table, or in the corner of the living room, you can avoid the feeling of work constantly being there by putting your laptop, stationery and documents in a drawer when you’re finished with them.
Don’t go on social media
Social media can be a temptation at the best of times. Even in an office with colleagues, you may be tempted to check twitter or Facebook when nobody is looking. And then there’s your phone and its endless supply of pointless but addictive YouTube videos. But at least the office provides some restrictions to stop you losing yourself in the social media time sink. After all, you don’t want your boss to catch you browsing Facebook posts!
At home, there are no such restrictions. There aren’t any coworkers that could peek at your screen at any moment. Perhaps you’re self-employed and don’t even have a boss (other than yourself!). If you’re not careful, looking at your social media feed for “just a second” can easily turn into an hour or more of lost time.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help you avoid social media and stay productive.
6 ways to avoid social media
- Before you get to work for the day, log out of all your social media accounts. Of course, you will be able to log back in again if you really want to. However, even this simple step can create enough of a barrier to make you think again and get back to work.
- Never log into social media on your work computer. This is an even better deterrent. Particularly if you don’t know your passwords from memory!
- Leave your phone in another room or use a separate work phone with no social media access.
- Ask a family member you live with to keep an eye on you. Give them permission to tell you off if they see you browsing social media or notice you posting when you shouldn’t be.
- Promise yourself a reward, such as a break or snack if you don’t use social media for a certain amount of time.
- Use social media blocking apps. For those really lacking willpower, you can use software to lock yourself out of social media and other distracting websites, apps and games.
Remember: In most cases, your work isn’t going away. So the more time you waste on social media, the longer it will be before it’s done! And in the meantime, your to-do list will just keep getting longer.
Reserve time for personal tasks
Having the freedom to get some personal tasks done during the day can be one of the great perks of working from home.
As long as you’re not on an urgent deadline, or missing a conference call or some other commitment, there’s nothing wrong with taking a short break from work to take a delivery, hang out the washing or help with the kids.
As long as you stay up-to-date with your work, a good boss won’t mind you taking the opportunity to maintain a balance in your work and home life.
The problem comes when this healthy productivity turns into procrastination and your work begins to suffer.
One way to avoid this is to reserve time for personal tasks. Instead of suddenly deciding to vacuum your office rather than write that report – then finding that three hours later you’ve cleaned the entire house and the report still isn’t done – reserve a small amount of time to get your workspace in order.
This fits in well with the time-blocking method of structuring your working day.
How to structure your day
The flexibility of working from home is a plus, but sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. When you work from home you don’t have to worry about getting into the office by a certain time, you can take breaks and have lunch whenever you like, and you’re isolated from colleagues and their routines.
This can turn the day into one big empty block of time. And if you don’t make efforts to give the day some structure, that block of time will pass quickly – often without any productive work getting done.
So, how do you add structure to your day when you’re working from home by yourself?
Have a morning routine
Establishing a morning routine isn’t always easy. On average, it takes around two months for a new behaviour to become automatic. So for a few weeks at least, you’re going to have to be proactive in making yourself follow a routine, before it starts to come naturally.
However, once your morning routine does become habit, it can be a huge boost to your productivity.
People often approach the day as a series of unknown steps, without any planning. They perform one task, whether that’s work-related or something as simple as having breakfast, then think “what shall I do now?”. On some days, the next step might be to have a coffee. On others it could be to check emails, go for a run, or procrastinate on social media. After each step, they have to once again think “what shall I do now?”.
This lack of structure makes it very easy to avoid work. Particularly if you have a boring task to do and don’t really want to get started. There’s always an alternative answer to “what shall I do now?”.
However, once people actually get started with work, it’s possible to get into a rhythm and feel ‘on a roll’ quite quickly. The key is getting started in the first place.
A morning routine puts you on auto-pilot towards a productive day
A morning routine removes the “what next?” question. If you have a routine, you know what to do next, as you do it every day.
You don’t even need to think about it.
Of course, what your routine looks like is entirely up to you. Though we’d recommend incorporating some food, exercise, and getting properly dressed.
A dedicated routine of getting some exercise, taking a shower, getting dressed in work clothes, eating breakfast and drinking coffee can do wonders for how the rest of your day plays out.
As long as the final step in your morning routine is a work task – such as preparing a daily report, having a team meeting, or replying to emails – you’ll be off and running.
Act as if you’re going to the office
It may seem a little silly, but you might find that ‘commuting’ to your home office is the most effective way to kick-start your day.
This doesn’t mean the “commute” from your bed to your desk! It means going out for a walk, bike ride, or run right before working. It’s amazing how getting out can help you transition into a different role.
While some people can work from home in their PJs, we recommend getting dressed as if you’re going to the office. Wearing work clothes are a signal to your brain that it’s time to step into work-mode.
You can even do the same thing at the end of the workday. This will help you transition back into your home life. It is also a time for relaxation without being weighed down by thoughts about work.
Prepare meals the night before
Working from home means you’re always home to prepare your meals. This can be a good thing. It can save you money as you can buy food in bulk, you can have hot meals more easily than if you’re in an office, you may have time to eat with your family, and you may find that you’re able to eat more healthily.
However, the freedom to cook your lunches at home can also lead to wasted time. By the time you’ve prepared your food, eaten your lunch, and perhaps taken a bit of a break after you’ve finished eating, you may find that you’ve taken longer than the standard one-hour lunch you’d have in a traditional office.
One way around this issue is to prepare your lunch the evening before your workday. This will allow you to take a reasonably long and relaxing break without taking too much time or spending your whole lunch break cooking.
Make a schedule ahead of time
When you make a schedule for the day or week ahead of time, you’re setting yourself up for success. When you don’t, the uncertainty around what to do next will waste time and perhaps lead to distraction and procrastination.
Of course, things always come up, and there’s no need to see an agenda as set in stone. You’ll just want to chart out what you plan on getting done each day to help keep you on point. Plus, you won’t have to struggle first thing in the morning to figure out what you should do first.
We recommend following these simple steps to create an effective schedule:
- Write your to-do list for the next day at the end of the previous day. i.e. Your last task on Monday should be to write a list of what you’re going to get done on Tuesday.
- Use the time-blocking method to divide the day into manageable chunks. Always be clear about which tasks you’re going to get done in each block of time.
- Cross tasks off a list when they are done. This can give you a great sense of progress and achievement!
Recognise when you are most (and least) productive
Everyone is different. Some people are morning people who can instantly be productive as soon as they jump out of bed. Other people are night owls who roll out of the bed in the morning and struggle to get going.
One great thing about working at home is that you’re often free to structure your own day.
As you start working to a schedule, pay attention to which times of day work well – with lots of good work done – and which times are less productive.
If you know that you work well in the mornings before an early afternoon lull, then get a second wind, plan your schedule around that. You can schedule your most important work for the start of the day, then schedule some admin tasks for the lull (choose things that you know you can get done while not firing on all cylinders), before returning to your most important or creative work when your energy returns.
Of course, you can also try to change when your productive times are. For example, by giving yourself a snack and a caffeine boost. But do bear in mind that nobody can be productive 24/7.
By recognising your productive and less productive times, you can adjust your schedule to maximise your productivity across the day.
Set a strict end time to finish the working day
When you work in a traditional office, you will get up from your desk at the end of the day and go home. It’s pretty clear to you and others that, at that point, your working day is done.
When you work from home, there’s not such a clear cut end to work. It can therefore be easy to over-work. You may also find that you think about work throughout your personal time or even wander back to your desk to do some extra work or jot down an idea late in the evening.
This isn’t healthy. Work-life balance is absolutely crucial to our physical and mental health and well being.
One of the most important tips for working from home is that you need to decide on a time to end the working day and stick to it. As with the morning routine, it can be useful to establish an evening routine to help you achieve this.
You’ll be more effective at work if you unplug at the end of the day and focus on other things. Make sure you aren’t constantly stuck in work mode!
How to communicate when working from home
Good communication is essential in any business, but it’s particularly important when working remotely. Working from home removes in-person face-to-face communication. People aren’t sat next to each other, there are no more “water cooler chats” with colleagues, and maintaining lines of communication generally takes more of a concerted effort than in a traditional office.
However, with a little bit of work, it is possible to establish effective methods of communication, even when working within a remote team.
Communicate with colleagues
The closest you will get to an in-person conversation while working from home is a video call.
Video calls will never be the same as actually meeting face to face, but they do offer some of the same benefits. For example, the ability for a number of people to take part in the same conversation and the opportunity to pick up visual cues from facial expressions as people are speaking.
Compared to email or phone calls, the combination of both body language and tone of voice that a video call provides can really improve communication.
Generally speaking it is better to over-communicate than to under-communicate. After all, it’s better to have too much information than not enough. That said, you should take care to avoid overwhelming colleagues with too many video chat requests. You also need to make sure that your own schedule doesn’t get overcrowded with unnecessary video chats.
We recommend establishing some guidelines for what kind of communication method you will use in different circumstances.
Choose your communication methods
- Use email or instant messaging to share short pieces of information where an answer is not needed. Or for questions with a simple response (such as yes/no questions).
- Use email to share things that need to be expressed in writing or that have associated documents.
- Use phone calls for short, straightforward discussions of, say, less than 10 minutes. If the conversation isn’t lengthy or controversial then there’s no need to set up a video call, which will most likely drag on longer than a phone call.
- Use video calls for longer ‘meetings’ and for conversations that may benefit from being able to read visual cues. For example, even if the conversation will likely be relatively brief, you may want to set up a video call if it is a sensitive subject or there is potential for misunderstanding.
Communicate with people at home
If you have a video conference call scheduled, or important work that you need to focus on, you should let other people in the house know that this a time you need a quiet space.
Be sure to give everyone in the house plenty of notice. They may have plans that conflict with yours – some noisy DIY at the time your important meeting is scheduled, for instance!
And remember that it may be you who needs to change your schedule. Even if other people in the house are not working, it’s still possible for their priorities to take priority over your work.
Don’t put your wellbeing on the backburner
It’s admirable that you want to do a good job, but if you don’t take care of yourself you’ll burn out. If you fail to prioritise your own well being, it’ll catch up to you both in your work and home life.
It’s amazing what even five minutes can do. Set clear break times for yourself and then take them.
Use this is an opportunity to get away from your desk and refresh your mind a little bit. It can be easy to just scroll through social media or head over to YouTube during breaks, but it’s important that you take some time to stop looking at a screen and shift focus if even for a few minutes.
Don’t feel guilty about taking breaks. Doing so actually increases your productivity!
Working from home means that you’re spending a lot of the day sitting. It’s essential that you get up and move around a little every day, even if it’s just taking a relaxing stroll around the neighborhood.
If you work in a stressful role, exercise can do wonders for relieving stress and improving your mood. Not only this, but it’ll help boost your energy and help you get a better night’s sleep, which will lead to a better day of work tomorrow! It’s win-win, and it’s a must.
Listen to music
Listening to music has a long list of health benefits, such as improving your memory and reducing stress. More than that, though, it can really help you tap into the zone.
Consider matching the music you’re listening to with the task at hand. Classical music or other instrumental music can be great for when you really need to focus on something. If you’re feeling lethargic, listening to energetic music can practically magically transform your mood and energy levels.
You might even consider listening to video game music. Though it might sound a little silly, this music has no lyrics and is designed with focus in mind.
When you’re working from home, it can be good to have cues that tell your brain to get into work-mode. Consider listening to the same playlist when you’re first going through your inbox to help you enter the right headspace for the day. Even something as simple as incense or an essential oil infuser can be helpful to signal to your brain that it’s time to focus.
Make time for social interactions
There’s no way around it, working from home can be lonely.
Spending too many days alone on your computer can make you long to be around co-workers. Fortunately, it doesn’t take much human interaction to help break the feeling of being a hermit. Head over to the coffee shop on your break or take a minute to talk to the mailman.
Working from home also means that you should make the effort to spend time with friends and family after work. By enhancing your out-of-work time with human interaction, working from home won’t feel nearly as lonely or isolating.
Learn how to work from home and improve with experience
When you’re first learning how to work from home, it can take some getting used to.
The temptation to either work too little or work too much can be strong. And it’s important to get yourself set up with the right systems and routines in order to succeed.
Most people find that they run in to some problems while adjusting to working from home. And that’s fine! What matters is that you learn from your mistakes and improve your work environment over time.
If you’re trying to make your remote working setup and routine as efficient and enjoyable as possible, be sure to browse all of the articles on Homeworker HQ.
And if you have a question that we haven’t covered, please just ask in the comments, via email, or on social media.
References and further reading
At Homeworker HQ, we like to share our sources and promote other websites that you may find useful. Here are a few recommendations on this topic for you to check out:
- 20 Tips From People Who Work From Home Successfully – HubSpot
- How to work from Home – The Verge
- How to work from home, the right way – BBC
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