Working from home can be a dream come true for many people: you have flexible hours, avoid commutes, spend more time with your family, and get to work during your most productive times. But working from home can also prove challenging when you’re used to the normal 9 to 5 lifestyle.
Here are a few tips and tricks to keep you on track and awesome while working from home.
Have a Defined Workspace
Of course you have a computer at home, you wouldn’t be working from home if you didn’t. But setting up your laptop at the kitchen table just after the family has finished breakfast and gone off on their separate ways isn’t the same thing as having a home office. Set up your own space. Somewhere that is yours, where kids, significant others, or roommates know to stay away - especially during your working hours.
If that means you have to go to your thrift store and pick up a cheap desk that you prop up in the corner of the living room, so be it. If you only have space for one office in the house and your spouse insists that they need computer time too now and again, that is fine, too - as long as the space is yours while you’re working.
Place some nice plants in the room, surround yourself with art or posters that you like, keep your space as tidy or with as many stack of papers as you want, just as long as it’s yours. Having a separate space not only helps you gain ownership of the work you do at home, it helps create a sense of work-life separation; something that’s very important to a virtual worker’s psyche.
Remember those piles I mentioned keeping on your desk? It’s perfectly fine to do, but try to have some kind of method to the madness. If you keep your workspace organized (and the rest of the areas in your life, but we won’t get into that here) work itself can’t help but to be more organized - and better for it. You’ll be better at keeping meetings straight, your to-do list in order, and a balance in your environment.
There are plenty of benefits of being organized, including my personal favorites: reduced stress, increased productivity, and being better equipped to handle the little things when they come your way. It’s hard to be surprised by a deadline or an important meeting when you’ve already got that stuff penciled in. Don’t be surprised if you find that this sense of organization at work spills over into your home life, too - being organized just feels great!
Maintain a Schedule
If you’re already a part of a virtual company that functions on a normal 9 to 5 schedule than this may not be as important for you, but for freelancers and those work in a more flexible environment, it may be tempting to work in short sporadic spurts throughout the day. This is fine for many, and even increases productivity since you’re doing work when you know you’re best equipped to do it, but it’s still important to maintain some kind of schedule.
Maybe for you that means working two hours at a time before taking a break, or maybe it’s working in separate four-hour blocks of time, but whatever it looks like just try to keep a consistency to it. This not only invites a sense of structure into your day (which can be good for productivity, so long as it isn’t too rigid), it also lets people know when they can get ahold of you for work-related things, and when they should leave you alone.
For this last reason it may make the most sense for you to conduct your business during traditional working hours, but if that simply doesn’t work for you, don’t hold yourself to it. As long as there is some sense of predictability to when a client can reach you, when a friend should avoid trying to schedule a lunch date, and when you can be sure you’ll produce some stellar work, you should have a much better time performing in your virtual environment.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it can be surprisingly hard to prioritize breaks when you’re in your home environment. You’re comfortable when you’re at home, so it can be tempting to work non-stop in an effort to get a ton of stuff accomplished - but it’s easy to burn out doing this. Get up from the computer every once in a while, stretch, maybe even go for a walk - do things that get you up and out of your home office.
You would take breaks in a traditional work environment - be it for bathroom breaks, lunch hour, or water cooler talk - and this should really be no different. Taking breaks can leave you feeling refreshed and ready for the next task at hand, and they’re great for your body, too.
If you have a hard time remembering to take breaks, schedule them into your day. Put them on your calendar and set it up so that you get a notification when it’s break time. Don’t allow yourself to hit the proverbial snooze button on your refresher; you’ll be doing yourself a huge favor in the long-run and I promise that task or project will still be there for you when you get back.
Be Great with Communication and Always be Video Meeting Ready
I’m not saying you have to put on a pants suit or blazer every time you have a meeting scheduled (I’m in sweatpants from the waist down all day every day), but make sure that your hair is brushed, your surroundings are tidy and organized, and your overall presence is professional. This isn’t only true for client meetings, either. If you’re going to be chatting with coworkers or team members you should treat it with the same professionalism you would if they were a client. This means no eating while you’re on the phone, try to keep background distractions to a minimum, and anything else you probably wouldn’t do if you were meeting in-person.
In a virtual environment, video meetings are an almost a daily thing. They keep teams close and collaborating, they add that ‘human aspect’ that’s easily lost without the face-to-face interaction of normal business life, and they just seem to make people happy. I mean who does want to see their coworker’s or client’s smiling face?
Get Out of the House
Working from home can turn you into a bit of a homebody (heck it might be the reason you wanted to work from home in the first place). It’s funny, but it can have the same effect as spending an entire day in the office; when you’re done with your shift, all you want to do is sit around and binge a new series on Netflix and go to bed - even work from home can be draining! But if you’re pulling a full workday from the comfort of your own home it’s more important than ever to make sure you leave the house - at least once a day if you can manage it.
Run some errands before or after work, grab some groceries, get some take-out, go to the gym, or take a walk around your neighborhood - whatever you do, just make sure you’re out of the house from time-to-time. If you have the flexibility in your job, you may want to move your workspace around from time to time and test out coffee shops or local areas with wifi that aren’t just another room in your house.
Keep Your Work and Home Life Separate
You’ve got instant messages and email notifications coming to your phone during all parts of the day and can’t help yourself but to answer them (despite the familiar grumpy look on your spouse’s face). Or maybe your kids did something hilarious at school today and you can’t wait to tell your coworkers - and clients, if they’ll listen - about just how crazy your home life can be. It can be difficult to blur the lines between work and home when the two are nearly one-in-the-same for you, but it’s more important than ever in a virtual environment.
This goes hand in hand with maintaining a schedule, since it sets up boundaries for when you are and aren’t working - for the people around you and for yourself. If you and your coworkers/clients know for sure that you typically quit the day at 5 o’clock it’s easier to turn off the notifications and start fresh on work the following day. There’s always another task to do, but in the same vein there always another day to do it. Keeping distance between your work and home life will help you keep you sane, and at your peak level for performance.
Bringing too much of your work into your personal life can be a major issue, but the inverse situation can be problematic, too. What you find charming and pertinent about your family and home life, your coworkers - and especially your clients - might not. Connecting with someone on a personal level is a lot different than sharing your everyday life anecdotes. Keep the stories about your kids, pets, in-laws, or anything else like that at a minimum during working hours, and focus more on your professional relationships.
Avoid the Home Distractions
Remember that Netflix series I mentioned? For some reason, the middle of the day seems like the best time to get in a few episodes. Or maybe it’s that warm and comfy bed calling your name on a particularly dark and dreary day? There are countless things around your house that will easily serve as a distraction if you’re part of the work-from-home crew (I can practically hear my refrigerator calling my name from the other room as we speak), but distractions, like multitasking, kill productivity.
For me, the best way to cut down on distractions is by adhering to a schedule, keeping my office door closed during my work hours, and by offering myself those distractions as rewards after I’ve completed a good day at work. Sure it takes a bit of self-discipline, but it keeps me on track and gives me a better level of satisfaction at the end of the day. When I’ve tackled a few projects during my day I feel more satisfied when I’m kicking back later. I don’t have unfinished tasks looming over my head, and don’t feel like I’ve cheated myself out of the day’s full potential.
Run Errands Outside of Work Hours
When you work from home it can seem like you have all the free time in the world to get your work done and your household chores done. You imagine doing a load of laundry in between answering emails; you’ll work on a project for a bit and then maybe you’ll get dinner started, right? Well, I hate to tell you this, but studies have shown time and time again that multitasking doesn’t work (and doesn’t even exist), so this kind of thinking may actually be hurting your productivity in the end.
If you run a personal errand or step away from work for too long, it can be difficult to get back into the groove of things. The best way to avoid this is by doing your chores before or after the times you would normally be doing work, instead of interspersed within your most productive hours. If you make it a part of your routine to run errands when you aren’t working you’ll get into the habit of it - and you’ll probably see a spike of success in both activities.
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However you structure your day, however you set the boundaries between work and life, just make sure you do. There will be ups and downs to any work setting, but if you gain better control of your work setting at home, you’re guaranteed to have a better time.
And, if you’ve been working from home for awhile now and think I missed some great tips for working remotely (or think I’m totally missing the bar on some of these), let me know in the comments! I love hearing from my fellow virtual warriors. 🙂