With COVID-19 employees everywhere have had to pack up their office desks and bring them home (if their jobs allow it). Not every business can easily function with their employees working remotely, but the need to adapt has caused more and more businesses to pivot their strategy and find ways to make remote work viable.
It can be challenging but with the right equipment, space, and discipline it can actually prove to be quite productive for you and your team. When preparing to work from home it is important to follow this checklist in order to be fully prepared and help you avoid the common pitfalls most remote workers experience.
Prepare a space
Working from home may be new to some of you, so you’ll want to make sure you have everything to keep your job going when you’re unable to go back and forth between your home and the office. Now, this involves more than having the necessary equipment, it involves creating your workspace. You’ll want to create a space that balances both comfort and productivity by walking through the following necessities.
Identify what equipment you have and whether you’ll need to purchase anything to make your work as seamless as possible. To assure you can continue working, you may need:
- 1-2 computer monitors – If you’re used to using two monitors, see if you can borrow one from the office to combine with your laptop or home computer.
- Headset or microphone – You’re computer mic just won’t cut it, be sure you have a headset or BlueTooth headphones with a decent quality microphone.
- Webcam – Luckily most laptops come equipped with a camera, but you can always use your phone or find a decent webcam if necessary.
- Mouse and keyboard – Again try and use the same type of equipment you’re used to having available in the office. If you usually have a secondary keyboard or mouse, ask to bring them home while working remotely.
- Strong and reliable internet connection – This is pretty self-explanatory, but if you live in an area with poor internet access, you may need to find an alternative location or opt for a wireless hotspot to get by.
- Remote Tools – These will fully depend on your needs and what your company uses. If you’re unsure of which tools are best for you, check out our recommended list to get you started.
The Work Space
Aside from having the necessary equipment, you need to create a workspace that encourages productivity. Now, this doesn’t mean you need to have a desk or in-home office (although that can be beneficial), but you do need to designate a space as your best option for working remotely. Here’s what you should keep in mind when establishing your at-home workspace.
- Quiet space – You want to be sure you can stay focused, so try to choose a room or area that is out of the way and that isn’t frequented by others at your home.
- Natural lighting – Having natural light exposure is just as beneficial for your health at home as it is when you’re in the office.
- A door – You don’t necessarily need a closed-off space at all times, but if you’re taking regular phone/video calls it’s important to have an isolated area available. This can be your regular in-home office space or a separate room you visit specifically for meetings.
- A comfortable chair and adjustable desk – It’s up to you to figure out what seating and desk arrangement works best for you. If you have regular back pain, make sure your chair provides proper support. If you need to regularly stand, fashion a makeshift standing desk.
When working from the comfort of your own home, it’s important to establish boundaries in terms of your workspace and working hours. After you’ve created your set workspace, make sure that your spouse, children, roommates, and others at home respect it; working from home means having the luxury of more time with family and friends, but that luxury can easily become a distraction.
Alert your housemates when you will be working and maybe give them some visuals to remember to keep out of your workspace when on conference calls or doing head-down work. If a closed-door isn’t enough, make a sign. A little sign reading something fun like “Mom’s lair! Do not enter. May return at 3 pm.” could be that little visual reminder to your children that you need your space and quiet.
Having fun with different signs on your door or at your designated office space can help remind those you live with that you’re thinking of them, but need to focus. This practice can even extend to your remote chat tools like Slack. Regularly updating your status, switching to do not disturb and automatically setting up meeting times can be an easy way to let your coworkers know when it’s best to communicate and assure that you aren’t distracted by constant interruptions.
Dress for work
To feel the true distinction between relaxing at home and working from home, get dressed in something you would normally wear to the office. Your outfit doesn’t need to be extra formal, but at least getting out of your pajamas will help you to feel more alert, put-together, and ready for the day. Getting ready for your day will put you in the right mindset for work and will show those you live with that you mean business.
Brandon Strapper, the founder of 858 Graphics, is strict about starting his day in the right clothes. “Shower and dress for work as if you were leaving your house. Put on fresh slacks, a pressed shirt, and shiny shoes. You are going to work, after all. If you stay in your bathrobe and slippers all day, you won’t feel like there’s any separation between home and work. This might just be a psychological trick, but it helps me stay focused, reminding me there is work to be done.”
Going through the action of dressing for work is vital to the separation of working from home and living at home. It also helps you establish the action as part of your day, which leads directly to our next tip.
Establish and keep a routine
While the freedom of working from home may have you tempted to work different, randomized hours throughout the day it is actually better to keep a tight schedule. Having a routine of getting up at the same time, eating at the same time, and working set hours will keep you healthy, productive, and ultimately give you more free time with your family and hobbies outside work. While there are myths against the productivity of those who work from home, you can actually be extremely productive so long as you keep yourself accountable.
While a personal routine is important, that schedule does not need to be the same as all of your coworkers. You may find that you’re typically more productive at different times of day, be living in a different time zone, or need some hours in the day to take care of your kids.
Prithwiraj Choudhury, the Lumry Family Associate Professor in the Technology and Operations Management Unit at Harvard, speaks on the importance of employers allowing asynchronous work in an article by the Harvard Business School. Choudhury says, “The crisis accentuates what remote companies already understand—that work does not need to happen at the same time. People can wake up in different time zones and cities, open documents, and get going.”
Whatever routine you wish to set for yourself, hold yourself accountable and make sure to follow it. This will help you stay productive and help you maintain a sense of normalcy in times of isolation. You may even find that you prefer to continue working from home after times of social distancing are over.
Make video calls a regular thing
For many people, meetings and phone calls can be overwhelming—they can overlap with your focus time and distract from other activities. However, in times of extended remote work, meetings through video calls specifically can be an important part of staying connected. Being outside of the office severely cuts back on face-to-face contact with your employees and can create a sense of isolation that not only negatively affects your work but also your mental state.
There are several different programs through which companies choose to do video calls. At Palo Alto Software, we often use a range of video calling programs depending on the size of the call we will be making. Amongst the most popular programs we use are Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Slack video calls. All of these programs have the ability to see and hear who is on the call, selectively turn off audio and camera access and in some cases share your screen and leave comments.
It is important to stay connected with your employees even in times of prolonged self-isolation. Being able to see one another allows for better communication, inspiration, and collaboration. If you start to feel a little stir-crazy, try designating a different part of your house specifically for your meetings. This will allow you to come to meetings feeling more refreshed and then return to your typical workspace for more heads-down work afterward.
If you’re typically unfamiliar or uncomfortable with being in front of a camera video calls are still worth the shot; you will likely find that the ability to simply see your employees helps you feel a lot more productive and less lonely during these isolated times of quarantine and remote work.
Takes breaks and find new perspectives
Even the most creative workspace can become stagnant if you’re in it 24/7. When you have the chance to take a break and gain a little new perspective (whether that be in a different room or your backyard) you could be surprised by how positively it can impact your mood.
Andrew O’Connor, the Director of SEO at American Addiction Centers, says, “If you have others living with you, make sure you have a private space designated for home office work. Feel free to venture to other spaces for a different perspective. For example, take your work to the patio, by the pool, or to the couch.”
The very act of changing your work environment can help boost your energy and productivity, and it’s a whole lot faster than remodeling your workspace.
Working at home for prolonged periods of time can be exhausting; it can lead to a lack of movement, difficulty separating work from home, and can ultimately become unproductive if you aren’t taking the necessary breaks your mind and body need. Breaks are important! However, how you choose to spend your time can determine whether your break is actually successful in keeping you motivated.
Set scheduled breaks for yourself where you do something completely different than sitting at your desk. Get up and do some stretches, go outside for a quick walk, or do some at-home workouts. Socialize with your spouse or kids or call up a friend. It is good to excite your brain and refuel yourself however works for you.
Taking breaks like this will allow you to take a step back from work so that you are able to get back to it with a fresh mind. This will ultimately help you be more productive and help you keep a healthy differentiation between work and home.
Transitioning to remote work
Remote work from home may be new and foreign to some of you, but you might find that you really like it, once you break through the difficulties of adjusting to it. In these times of isolation and drastic changes to our everyday lives, setting up work from home with a dedicated schedule can make even the strangest of times feel a little more normal. Keeping a healthy routine and following these guidelines will likely keep you successful, happy, and productive home-dwelling professionals.