In the wake of COVID-19, many of us are spending a lot more time at home than we bargained for, including our work hours. Morning commutes crammed on public transit to the office have transformed into hazily shuffling down to the kitchen to grab a cup of coffee. Office desks have been traded in for kitchen tables, couches, bay windows - wherever strikes inspiration, really. Team Building has gone completely virtual. Not to mention your fluffy new “colleague” needs to be let out for a walk every couple of hours. The expectations are the same, but the environment is… definitely not.
Here are our tips and tricks for a productive remote work lifestyle. Whether you’re being thrown into the work-from-home realm for the first time, or are a seasoned veteran in search of a quick refresher, these “Dos and Don'ts” should be enough to get you kick-started. As with most things in life, there will be a bit of an adjustment period for everyone involved - yourself, your management, your colleagues, etc., but you can get ahead of the curve and lead by example in following these recommendations:
DO: Choose a Dedicated Workspace
First thing’s first! When you transition into a work-from-home environment, you’ll have to dedicate a space in your home that will be used exclusively for work. This will look different for everybody. Where one person might be most productive in a home office, another might get their best work done at the kitchen table or in their backyard. Feel free to try out a few spaces to see what works best for you and the nature of your business. If you tend to have a lot of video conferencing calls, be mindful of your background and any ambient noise that could interfere with your calls and factor that into your decision on your workspace.
What’s most important is that you know when you’re in this space, its “work face on”. This means distractions are put away, and it’s time to buckle down and focus on the task at hand. Since you’ll be spending a lot of time here, decorate your dedicated workspace in a way that makes you happy to be there. Aim for ample natural light and some greenery where possible. By the same token, do your best to avoid this space when you’re off the clock to establish a sense of separation between work and home life.
DO: Invest in the Right Equipment
If you’re going to get a job done right, you’ll need to be armed with the proper equipment. While it may seem like a hefty investment at first, talk to your employer to see if they offer any subsidies or if your purchases can be written-off as a business expense. We recommend the following for any home office space:
- Proper desk
- Ergonomic chair (working on the couch or bed will kill your back after a while… or might cause you to fall into an unscheduled nap!!)
- Laptop or desktop computer (you can only answer so many emails on your smartphone...)
- Good headphones and a webcam for video conferencing calls
- Strong internet connection
DO: Pretend Like you are Going to the Office
One of the best tips we’ve come across when it comes to remote work is to pretend like you are going to the office. Set your alarm for bright and early and go about your morning routine as you normally would pre-COVID quarantine. Make the effort to shower, do your hair, and put on something presentable. While your outfit doesn’t have to be as formal as what you would normally wear to the office, it should still be appropriate. This is especially important given that most remote workforce tools utilize video conference facilities...the last thing you want is to be caught on a surprise ZOOM call in your PJs!
DO: Maintain Regular Contact with your Team
While it’s always important to keep in routine contact with your team, this becomes even more of a necessity within a remote work environment since you can’t physically see each other. With everyone being individually accountable for their presence throughout the workday, it’s best practice to give your team a quick “heads up” if you’re stepping out for a break or lunch so they know if they won’t be able to reach you for a bit. Also consider sharing high-level updates and small wins before signing off at the end of the day so everyone knows where the team stands moving forward.
Keeping in touch with your team isn’t only beneficial from a work perspective. Seeing some familiar and friendly faces can help boost your morale and productivity - adding a sense of normalcy to your new remote work environment. Consider spending breaks playing online games together for a few laughs. We’ve got a great list put together here.
DO: Keep a Regular Schedule and embrace Routine
Putting together a routine can help keep you sane as days become muddled during quarantine. Structure your day in a way that works for you and your team, and stay on schedule by using an online calendar or other productivity tools. Establish your start time, scattered breaks throughout the day, and what time you’ll clock out. You’ll also want to pencil in time for uninterrupted “deep work”, meaning distractions are put away so you can focus on a task more efficiently and effectively.
Be aware of upper management's expectations - does your boss want you working a strict 9-5 or can you work at hours you are most productive? - as this will have an impact on your schedule. Having a relatively set schedule will keep you on track with your workload, as well as help mirror the office environment in that your co-workers know when they can and can’t reach you.
DO: Set Boundaries and Be Comfortable Logging Off!
When you lose the separation from office and home, it’s easy to keep working beyond the normal scope of your office hours. It is, therefore, important to create boundaries for yourself that signal to your mind that it’s time to stop thinking about work. Something as simple as letting your team know you’re signing off for the day, actually doing so, and leaving your home workspace can work wonders for maintaining your work-life balance. If you have an idea come to mind after hours, jot it down and wait until the next work day to act on it - don’t let your work consume you. Journalist and work from home expert Sara Marie Hall said it best: “Just because you have access to work anytime doesn’t mean you should be logged in 24/7”.
DON’T: Use Remote Work as and Opportunity to Slack Off
Working from home, for many, seems like an absolute blessing - no one around to monitor your work, the freedom to take breaks whenever you want and, really, who’s going to know if you slept in an extra hour or so? It’s best to push these delusions of grandeur out of mind immediately.
In reality, you are now acting as your own manager and drive has to come from within to get your work done in good quality and on time. Plan what you’re going to work on in advance of your day and stick to your schedule. Of course it’s important to take regular breaks, but make sure you’re still getting your work done on time. If you’re worried about procrastinating without someone looking over your shoulder, consider setting artificial deadlines so you aren’t left scrambling at the last minute.
Do not take advantage of this added flexibility, or you run the risk of losing your manager’s trust or, worse, your job.
DON’T: Turn on the TV
Unless you work in an office space with a typically noisy environment that you’re used to tuning out - it’s a lot easier to become distracted when working from the comfort of your own home. Having a dedicated workspace should help eliminate potential distractions right off the bat, but just in case you’ve chosen to work in, say, the living room, don’t give into the temptation to turn on your television. You might be looking for ambient noise to mimic the chatter in your office, but trying to keep up with your favourite Netflix series out of the corner of your eye (Tiger King, anyone?) is going to be a significant hindrance to getting stuff done. Instead, try listening to instrumental music (without any lyrics) or better yet - classical music, which has been proven to increase productivity.
DON’T: Snack All Day
One of the great things about remote work is that you no longer have to worry about spending money on lunch breaks. While an all access pass to your fridge seems like an absolute dream, it can quickly become a slippery slope into poor eating habits. I mean, I’m not one to judge (I live primarily on candy and and Cheez-Its), but it’s surprising how much more frequently one becomes tempted to snack when at home. Taking a break all too soon turns into walking to the kitchen to grab a bite of this and that. You might also feel bored without your colleagues around, and snacking when bored is a really easy trap to fall into. To combat this, consider meal prepping as you would during a traditional work week at the office.
Just remember: a healthy body is a happy mind!
DON’T: Forget to Take Regular Breaks
When working from home it’s easy to get lost in the work and forget to take breaks. Many will even push themselves harder than when at the office out of fear that they’ll come across as lazy or slacking, as is the common misconception with remote work. In doing so, you run the risk of forgetting personal maintenance. Taking breaks throughout the day to stretch your legs, grab a cup of coffee or lunch is extremely important for your mental health and productivity. So, don’t be afraid to go outside and get some fresh air and Vitamin D… a change of scenery will actually help you be more productive!
During these rather unusual times we are all trying to find a sliver of our old routine, a semblance of normalcy that we can cling to while we wait this out together.