The COVID-19 epidemic has resulted in a sudden and unexpected shift to remote work for many Americans. While there are some great benefits to working remotely (the dress code is a lot more relaxed, for starters), those unaccustomed to doing so can find themselves struggling to ignore distractions and maintain productivity. There are some challenges, to be sure, but by implementing certain strategies, you’ll be able to focus on the tasks at hand and contribute to your company’s success during these uncertain times.
I’m pretty lucky: as a writer, my job is custom-made for working remotely. All I need is a laptop and an internet connection and I can write virtually anywhere. I have worked in coffee shops, libraries, parks, and—of course—from home. Because I do this regularly, I have learned how to avoid the pitfalls that plague people who aren’t used to working remotely, and can offer tips to improve productivity. Whether this is a temporary situation or a brand-new lifestyle, the following strategies will help keep you focused and productive!
Create a Dedicated Workspace
Your living room couch might be super comfy, or maybe you’ve got a dining room table with convenient access to the coffee maker. Resist the temptation to plop down just anywhere and try to work; I’ve found it’s next to impossible to get out of the mindset that the living room is for watching TV and the kitchen is where you eat. When you commute to work, there’s a clear separation between your personal and professional lives, but when you’re home, these boundaries do not exist and it can be difficult to concentrate. To put yourself into the right head space, create a dedicated area in which to work—and stay there! Ideally this involves a home office, but not everybody is fortunate enough to have a spare bedroom. You might need to get creative and utilize the space you have, whether that’s a basement or a corner off to the side of another living space.
Set Up Proper Equipment
Wherever you choose to work, you’ll need the right equipment and furniture. At the very least, this means a desk and chair. Don’t have these furnishings and can’t afford to buy them? No worries; even a cheap folding card table and camp chair will work in a pinch. You don’t have to be fancy, since it’s unlikely you’re going to be parading clients through your house. As far as equipment goes, you’ll need a computer (a laptop is ideal for me, but if you’re a designer or other professional who needs a more powerful computer, a desktop PC is perfectly fine). Depending on your work, you might also need a mouse and keyboard. A second monitor isn’t essential, but it sure makes my job a lot easier when I’m flipping through a variety of open tabs. It goes without saying that a strong internet connection is key, as well. Hardware is only half the story; make sure you have the right software, as well. Many companies communicate via Slack, Skype, Duo, Zoom, Basecamp, etc. Contact your IT department if you need a VPN (virtual private network) connection to access servers and share data with your team.
Dress for Success
You can leave the three-piece suit in the closet for now, but don’t lounge around in your pajamas all day, either. Aim for a comfortable middle ground (jeans and a t-shirt are perfect, though I’m going to be honest and tell you that I am personally most creative in sweats). A good rule of thumb is this: don’t wear something you wouldn’t leave the house in! When you take your wardrobe seriously, you will take your job seriously. Bonus: you won’t be caught off guard if you receive a video call from your boss!
Maintain Regular Hours
Believe it or not, working from home often leads to longer days than if you’d gone into the office. It’s easy to log onto your computer before you’ve even showered or finished that first cup of coffee, only to get sucked in. Likewise, you might find yourself checking emails when you’d normally be cooking dinner. Sticking to a regular schedule is crucial in maintaining your work-life balance and preventing burnout. If your regular hours are 8:00 to 5:00, work only during that time—and don’t forget to take breaks and “go to lunch” (even if that involves walking a few steps into the next room). Turn off email and instant-messaging notifications at the end of the day and log off your computer.
Socialize with Your Coworkers
It’s more important than ever to socialize with your coworkers when you aren’t in a shared office. One of the biggest downsides to working remotely is missing out on the camaraderie that defines your work culture. This is especially true for extroverts, who might find isolation almost unbearable (not a problem for me, but I feel your pain). Make yourself available at all times by keeping Slack and other chat or instant messaging apps open, or engaging in occasional video calls. Remember, you’re all in this together; that shared bond can actually help foster stronger working relationships in the long run.
One of the reasons I don’t recommend working in the living room is because you probably have a TV there, and if you’re like me, subscriptions to streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. It’s too tempting to grab the remote “just for a second” and channel surf; next thing you know, you’ve watched the latest episode of “America’s Got Talent” and missed an important work deadline. Television isn’t the only distraction; books, video games, food, pets, and household chores can all divert your attention from the important work at hand. Yes, you can throw a load of laundry in the wash—but don’t clean the bathrooms when you’re on the clock! Find things that help you focus (for me, this is listening to music) and learn to recognize, and avoid, things that prevent you from getting your work done.
Schedule Regular Check-Ins
“Out of sight, out of mind” may be a concern when working remotely. Maintain regular contact with your colleagues (not just your supervisor, but your teammates, as well) through scheduled check-ins. These enable you to keep coworkers up to date on the status of ongoing and future projects. The frequency of these check-ins varies depending on your job and workload, but at the very least schedule these at least once a week. Some companies might decide to hold conference calls or virtual webcam meetings to keep everybody in the loop, as well.
Take Advantage of the Perks
Remember what all work and no play did to Jack. Even the hardest working professional isn’t likely to spend every second of their day toiling away. There are some real pluses to working from home, and you shouldn’t shy away from taking advantage of them. Without a commute, you can set your alarm clock a little later and grab some extra zzz’s…sleep helps reduce stress and keeps you alert. Step outside to grab some fresh air and take a quick walk around the block in order to clear your head and stimulate your creativity. Make yourself a healthy lunch rather than grabbing a burger (both your body and your wallet will thank you).
Whether you’re happy to be working from home or can’t wait until the world returns to normal, the best thing you can do is embrace this opportunity and make the best of it. Before long, you’ll be a pro at this, too!
Written by Mark Petruska, Senior Content Writer