Working from home is a relatively new paradigm that is becoming more common as companies globalize and communication technology becomes more powerful. In fact, a Gallup poll recently found that at least 43% of employees work remotely at least some of the time. For some, it’s a dream while for others it’s necessary to work in their dream job. Whether you work at a large company that has flexible work arrangements or run your own decentralized start-up, we want to make sure you set up your home office for success so here are some of our best tips for working from home and working remotely.
Understand Your Needs in Order to Be Productive While Working From Home
What kind of space do you need to work from home?
Everyone is different when it comes to how they work best. Some people need a quiet, dedicated office to work from with a closed-door while others are comfortable working in local co-working spaces or cafes. This is particularly important to consider if you have kids or a spouse who will also be home while you are working.
Even if your company allows flexible working arrangements, many people still opt to get out of their homes to work to get away from distractions. After all, if the bed is only a few feet away, why would you want to take a nap in the middle of the day?
What will be your working schedule?
Are you a morning person or a night person? Do you like taking frequent breaks or can you work for hours at a time and then like to take a long lunch break? Knowing what your ideal work schedule is will help you be more productive.
If you do like taking regular breaks, we highly recommend trying out the Pomodoro Technique.
Have a Routine and Stick to It
It’s easy to think, “I can just take a quick nap since my bed is right there” if you’re working from home. Unlike working in an office environment where there is an omnipresent boss making sure you are working as much as possible during business hours, it’s much easier to goof off when you’re at home. Here are some simple steps to set up a routine at home so you can optimize your schedule.
1. Get up at your normal time and get dressed like you would to go to the office
When you have a 10 second commute, it’s easy to snooze your alarm or set an alarm for thirty minutes later. This is actually counterproductive. We recommend waking up at your usual time, taking a shower like you normally would, and getting dressed in work (instead of pajamas!) clothes will get you in the spirit to work.
If you generally hit the gym, take the kids to daycare, or grab a cup of coffee at a local cafe before working, do that as well before you start working.
2. Set a transition period before sitting down to work
Typically a commute, whether a walk to the office or a hour-long drive in rushhour traffic, gives you time to get in “work mode.” If you’re working from home, a 10 second walk from your bedroom to the office is not sufficient to change your mindset that it is work time. We recommend taking a quick walk around the block to get the blood flowing and make you feel like you just walked to work.
3. Communicate to everyone your regular business hours (e.g. 9:00 a.m to 6 p.m)
Make sure everyone, from your clients to your colleagues, know what your regular business hours are. In this day and age, it’s easy to get lost in work since we feel like we need to always be on because people can contact us at any hour with a text message or email.
Clearly communicate your regular business hours so that your clients and coworkers know when it’s ok to contact you and when to expect a response. You should also clearly set boundaries by not answering your phone (unless a phone call in your line of work means an urgent issue) or replying to emails outside of office hours. Doing so signals that it’s ok to contact you whenever and that you work around the clock.
The same goes for your spouse/partner/friend/roommate/kids who may be at home . It’s easy to add separation when you have an office door (open door means I’m open to interruptions, closed door means I have a meeting or am doing heads-down work), but if you have a shared space it can be harder to add this separation.
For shared spaces, make it clear that you need time to work. Wearing noise-canceling headphones while working and removing them when it’s ok to be interrupted is a great way to solve this issue.
4. Set alarms to start and end your day
Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in work so it’s important to know when to call it quits. Once you’ve established business hour expectations with your clients and coworkers, set an alarm to star your work day and one to end it. This will make sure you know when to step away from your cereal bowl in the morning and when to call it quits for the day.
5. Have a dedicated work space to work in and ensure relevant equipment is working
We’ll get into more details below, but make sure you have a dedicated work area with all the equipment you need to make telecommuting possible (camera, headset, microphone, monitors, etc.).
7. Over-communicate via emails or other channels and be prepared to describe elaborate details in emails.
While working from home, you don’t have the same luxury of walking over to a colleagues desk and providing a detailed explanation to their question. You’ll have to use email or phone calls as a substitute. Get comfortable over-explaining details to avoid long email threads.
8. Respond to text or instant messages within a certain timeframe
During business hours, colleagues should expect relatively quick responses. The expectation is that text or instant messages should be the equivalent of walking over to someone’s desk. Set an expectation with your colleagues that you will answer all text or instant messages within a certain timeframe, such as within 1 hour.
Create a home office space that you want to work in
Regardless of how hard you try to recreate the look-and-feel of an office environment at home, it will always still feel a bit like home. To be as productive as possible you should first evaluate if home is the right place to work. If so, here are some of the things you should make sure you have.
You can also read about our seven (7) recommended upgrades to your home office.
Furniture and Office Essentials
Desk: Make sure you have a comfortable desk to work at. If you’re used to working at an office, try to get a desk that is similar to what you are used to using in an office environment. Wayfair and Amazon have some great options. Make sure that you choose one that matches your decor and space. Also, if you’re used to using a standing desk, try getting a full standing desk or a table top converter.
Desk Chair: A desk chair is a must and you want to make sure that you find a comfortable one since you’ll likely be sitting in it for long periods of time. It’s worth investing in a high-quality one that is also ergonomic. Check out our favorites here.
Desk lamp: Desk lamps are another staple of the home office. Without fluorescent overhead lights in a traditional office, it can be hard to get sufficient light in your workspace, especially if your desk is tucked in a corner without windows. Check out our list to find one that looks elegant yet provides sufficient lighting.
Do you like a quiet working space? If so, you might want to opt for a pair of noise-canceling headphones to drown out screaming kids or barking dogs.
If you prefer a louder environment, you could opt for a cafe or listen to recorded cafe sounds.
Use the right video-conferencing equipment
When having remote meetings, you need to make sure that you have the right video conferencing equipment so that people can clearly hear and see you. We recommend getting a laptop with a built-in webcam and a headset with a microphone.
Without the ability to talk with someone face-to-face, it’s important to have crystal clear voice communication when using video-conferencing software. Make sure you get a headset that provides both excellent sound quality to your ears and your colleagues. While headphone quality is important, microphone quality is equally important when you’re working from home so that everyone can hear you as clearly as you hear them.
Your company may have some video-conferencing software already, but if not we recommend the following:
- Google Hangouts: A great solution that can support multiple people per chat and integrates with all of Google’s great products.
- Zoom: Zoom lets you have up to 100 participants by default in every meeting and is a great option for video-conferencing as well as webinars.
- UberConference is a great option for video-conferencing with crystal clear audio and up to 10 participants per call for free. They provide an automatic transcription of meetings notes as well.
Leverage software that’s designed for remote workforces
Making sure everyone on a team stays on the same page about work that needs to be done and work that has been completed is important. It’s challenging enough when you can talk to people face-to-face and get regular status updates, but managing project updates and devlierables remotely is even harder. Thankfully, there are number of great online tools to organize your projects, editorial content, and even your life. They work great whether you’re a team of 50 or a team of 1.
- Basecamp: The original online project management tool, Basecamp still holds its ground. Easily handle tasks, to-dos, status, and communication along with docs and files associated with any of the tasks.
- Trello: Our personal favorite, because you get most of the features for free, is Trello. You can create Kanban boards that you add task cards to in order to clearly mark the status of each task. You can add additional details to the cards for clear direction.
- CoSchedule: A favorite among publishers, CoSchedule gives you the power to control when and how your team creates content. CoSchedule gives you full control over your editorial team and even includes features to publish content to social media.
Aside from video-conferencing software, there are a lot of other communication software options to make your remote working life easier. Here are some of our favorites.
- Slack: Slack is still the king of company chatrooms whether you work at a startup or a large Fortune 500 company.
- Microsoft Teams: If your company is a heavy Microsoft Office user, the Microsoft Teams makes a lot of sense. It packs a ton of features for team collaboration and integrates with many Office products.
- Google Docs: Google’s office products are great for remote collaboration. The sync when docs or folders are updated is seamless. Multiple people can edit the same docs simultaneously without loss of information or locking of docs (something Microsoft Sharepoint has issues with).
Distraction-free writing apps
If your job requires a lot of writing, you may want to try using a distraction-free writing app to keep better focus (especially if you aren’t wary of a boss looking over your shoulder). We previously wrote an article about the best distraction free writing apps that you can use to stay focused on the task at hand.
Follow virtual meeting etiquette
Working from home requires handling meetings a bit differently. Follow these guidelines to make sure you get the most out of virtual meetings.
Use video when possible
While you certainly want to make sure your hair is done and you’re wearing work-appropriate clothes, you should make sure to enable your webcam whenever possible so that you can establish a connection with people in the meeting. Video-conferencing is hard enough when you can’t interact with someone face-to-face and it’s even harder when you can’t see them.
Mute yourself when you’re not talking
Nothing’s worse that hearing a dog barking or kids crying in the background of a conference call. Mute yourself during conference calls and video chats unless you are speaking to make sure everyone can here the primary speaker clearly.
Take detailed notes
While also standard for regular meetings, make sure to take detail notes to share with people who weren’t able to attend the meeting or if people couldn’t hear well.
Working from home can be challenging at first if you’re used to the classic office work style, but once you get used to it and establish a routine it will be quite comfortable. Following these tips should help you to acclimate to home office life and get you off to a productive start!