Even before the global lockdowns and sheltering-in-place phenomenon, hundreds of thousands of workers have opted to work from home instead of reporting to an office or designated workplace. The reasons vary, but they are almost always practical ones. Aside from significant savings in gas, rent, commute, and other overhead costs, working from home has proven to be a good motivation for employees to become more independent and productive.
If you are reading this – congratulations! Chances are, a remote-friendly and encouraging company has hired you. Or you might be thinking of transitioning to a work from home scenario, in which case, congratulations are still in order for your life-changing decision.
However, flexibility should not create chaos when you work remotely. The absence of a rigid schedule or routine isn’t an excuse to make your output less stellar or subpar. There are still ways to be productive even without the strict supervision often associated with traditional workplace or office setups.
Below are twenty-five of the most practical yet tried-and-tested ones to consider if circumstances (or choice) have made you a work from home employee.
1. Take advantage of available technology
…especially communication tools, which are some of the most vital for the workplace (more on this later). Working from home only heightens the need for virtual communication and coordination. Without actual physical supervision, they are more important than ever to keep everyone’s progress and attendance in check.
But beyond that, these tools can help you track your own workload and if you are meeting deadlines. There are spreadsheets, apps that check grammar, spelling, plagiarism, and more. There will likely be new communication and work-related apps to be implemented when you are a remote worker, so familiarize yourself with them until using them becomes almost second-nature to you.
Technology can also add a layer of fun for those working from home. Video ice-breakers and games are now common and an accepted part of regular meetings, so by all means, use technology to enhance team-building and socialization.
2. Let communication be your default tool
Now more than ever, effective communication is a must – especially since body language and other aural and physical cues are no longer present in a remote setup. Staying connected is important especially in a virtual office environment. Updates can be done regularly and without a hitch, and participation from everyone can be encouraged and made into a habit.
Cracks in communication can prove disastrous. Proper communication, on the other hand, fosters trust and teamwork. If there is anything unclear regarding instructions and processes, communicate your confusion to people who can shed light on them. The same goes true for personal issues that need to be addressed and resolved. Communication is the key to effective relationships in any workplace.
The best companies know how to use integrated communication tools that allow direct messaging, virtual conferences, collaboration, and other useful functions. Knowing and being willing to communicate with your superiors and workmates means you are committed to your job and are willing to improve at it. It’s really as simple as that. No matter what communication tools are in place, you should comply with and use them effectively.
3. Set aside your own personal workspace
As with regular workspaces and offices, having your own space is a must. It doesn’t have to be decked out fully like an actual office space. What matters is that everything is within reach, it’s quiet, comfortable, and you won’t be disturbed by anyone else who might be living with you (people or pets!). Most importantly, set it up so that it feels like “you” – with the right kind of motivational touches, tools, accessories, and other things that will allow you to be as productive as you can be.
Setting up where there is constant traffic like on the dining table or in a family den isn’t a good idea. The bedroom is also a no-no. All of these areas could get noisy or have distractions from work – the bed could prove to be irresistible for napping or slouching, and other areas of the house might have tempting sights, sounds, and smells for you to be productive. Look for a place to set up where nobody can bother you for a set period, and make sure your Internet connection is strong and stable, too.
4. Avoid or resist distractions and other temptations
As mentioned in the previous point, you have to set up your workplace in such a way as not to be disturbed or have distractions surrounding you. It doesn’t end there, though. You could be cocooned in a quiet workplace minus a television, gaming consoles, sound systems, noisy kids and pets, your bed, etc. However, there are still social media and online apps to deal with. How do you address this particular distraction?
Use technology! There are apps that block social media for a particular period so that you can concentrate on work (and not be tempted to keep checking who posted what and when). Use them during your work hours and watch your productivity increase.
Consider the following useful apps:
- Freedom (available for iOS and MacOS users only)
- Self Control (free for MacOS users)
- Offtime (available for Android and iOS users)
- AppBlock (free for Android users)
5. Adhere to a strict work schedule
…and have everyone else at home follow it. If you are living with other family members or friends, respect each others’ schedules such as when kids have their virtual classes or others are immersed in their own work. It’s also a good habit to stop working during designated breaks like lunchtime/dinner, or when you need to stretch. Don’t use your laptop or work computer for social media catching up. This will just blur the boundaries between work and relaxing mode. At the end of the day and on weekends, it’s also advisable not to check on your work email and to switch off work notifications so your brain can also go on “off” mode and learn to unwind.
If your workplace has clearly defined start and stop times, then follow it strictly and let others at home be made aware of the sched. If you have a flexible schedule, it’s best to start as early as you can (more on this later), or when you are most focused and productive during the day.
This doesn’t mean you can log in whenever you feel like it, though. If you prefer working a night shift because you are nocturnal, for instance, talk it over with your employer if they will allow you to do so. Flexibility is a good thing, but too much of it can wreak havoc on productivity. The important thing is that everyone is made aware of when you are actively working and that you won’t miss out on important meetings and check-ins.
6. Plan weekly meals and chores in advance
Preparing, cooking, and washing dishes can take up a lot of your time, especially when you are expected to do so not just for yourself, but for an entire household, as well. The best way to address this is to plan meals for the entire week and prepare them during the weekends or off days.
Make easy stir-fries and packed meals you can freeze and microwave as needed. Have the entire family pitch in during the preparation, with someone designated to do the cutting and slicing, another one for mixing and cooking, and someone else to do the washing up, etc. Doing this will also discourage you from ordering delivery all the time (and thus, eating healthier, home-cooked meals in the long run while saving you money).
As for chores – have a rotating schedule of who does what, and how often. Assign weekly general cleaning like vacuuming, sweeping, making beds, watering plants, doing laundry and washing dishes, and other doable chores to each member of the household. Deeper cleaning and other heavier tasks can be tackled during weekends or breaks, with everyone pitching in to help. The important thing is not to let anything pile up and create a huge mess.
7. Prioritize the most important stuff
This advice goes for both work and home things. As mentioned in the section above, tackle the most pressing concerns so they don’t pile up and overwhelm you. How to do this?
Keep referring to your company’s preferred project management platform or software so as not to miss anything that needs working on ASAP. In fact, it should be one of the first things you should check once you log in for work (aside from your work email and messaging system). If you have regular meetings, discuss and ask questions on the project or phase you are working on so that everyone else is onboard and aware of the important details.
Have a calendar and other organizational tools to remind you of deadlines and where you currently are in a project. Use all the tools you are given so that nothing – whether it’s big or small – falls through the cracks.
8. Start as early as you can
If your company is operating on a flexible schedule, resist the temptation to start late and finish late. It will disrupt the rest of your itinerary – including personal ones meant for family, chores, and personal pursuits. Before you know it, your previous deadlines and tasks will spill over into the next day’s, and so on and so forth. That will wreak havoc on your productivity, in turn.
If you work best at night, establish a routine where you start working at a certain time, and stop when you are supposed to. This will give you ample time to rest and be refreshed for the following day. Going overtime or deferring work to the weekends is not a good habit – you will end up feeling short changed on sleep and rest, and will not be as productive or as present as you would like to be for your loved ones.
9. Clarify rules and guidelines
When it comes to workplace policies, it’s never a good idea to “play it by ear”. For starters, yours must be a clearly defined role and not a catch-all for tasks others will deem fit to pass on to you. Having a clearly defined role will also mean better productivity for the team you are part of – and consequently, for the entire company or organization. It is also easier to track each employee’s progress and where a project currently is.
As previously mentioned, it’s best to clarify log in times and the use of various office apps and tools from the get-go. Compliance is a must, so if something isn’t clear to you, ask a superior to explain the system and how to use these tools – the earlier, the better. Address guesswork and uncertainty as soon as they arise so misunderstandings are kept to a minimum (or hopefully eliminated altogether). And always adhere to the company culture!
10. Attend meetings regularly
“Touching base” with the rest of your workmates is important – yes, even more so in a remote setup! It can also become the most effective platform for non-urgent issues that won’t affect your output (or the rest of the team’s) but still needs to be addressed. Make it a habit to have an open dialogue with your workmates and bosses when the need arises.
And yes, team-building can be done virtually, too. It’s an important tool to foster camaraderie and establish the kind of culture that the company wants to put forth. Try your best to participate in these sessions because it will create an atmosphere of trust and support with your co-workers while helping you to get to know them better (and having fun while you’re at it!).
11. Strive for efficiency, not constant busy-ness
Now more than ever, being busy is overrated. Being busy in the not-so-distant past might have signaled one’s importance or productivity, but this is no longer the case. Being efficient is a much more sought-after trait these days. Getting the job done on time and with as little hassle and stress involved as possible is key.
Given the current circumstances, many people are in survival mode, with energies and motivation at an all-time low. This means you should allow yourself pauses in between work to recharge, as well as discouraging doing overtime for overtime’s sake. So strive for efficiency by using all the tools you can to make work more organized, and utilize the resources that are made available to you. This will help you aim for deadlines with more focus and keep hitting goals more consistently.
12. Compartmentalize and break down tasks into doable segments
The best way to address a load of work is to break it down into manageable chunks.
First, determine if the work falls under a project, then define the tasks that fall further under it. You can create targets or milestones for the tasks, whether they are daily, weekly, or monthly (depending on the duration of the project or if a task is recurring). You can label or name these milestones for easier reference, or categorize them if you are expected to hit several deadlines over a certain period. Then list down the resources and tools you need to accomplish each task – whether it’s an app, a tracking tool, a reliable and knowledgeable person/mentor, etc.
Always keep track of where you are when performing tasks, how long it takes you to finish one, and don’t forget to tick off “completed” (if it’s an app) or mark them as done using your preferred virtual tools. Before you know it, you’re closer than ever to your deadline or goal.
13. Forget multitasking – focus on one task at a time
Focusing on a single task at hand will often yield better results. Multitasking – that glorified workplace and academic phenomenon – is just confusing, stress-inducing, and doesn’t really produce favorable results all the time. All it does is make you look busy at best, and unapproachable at worst.
As previously mentioned, learn how to break down your work into doable portions while keeping your eye on your deadlines and goals. This will enable you to give each task its due attention, so there will be less (or no) need for revisions and room for mistakes. Remember, efficiency trumps busy-ness, always.
If you feel swamped with work, reach out to someone for help – be it a partner, superior, co-worker, anyone. Taking on everything all on your own when you don’t have the time or capacity to do so will only prove to be stressful. Your mental health is important especially during these times. Piling too much on your plate will just make you stressed and unproductive. Don’t make a habit of doing this.
14. Discover all the things you are grateful for
While it may sound cliche, counting your blessings can help you put things into perspective. When you feel down and stressed, take a look around you and take stock of the things you are grateful for. Do you have a roof over your head, a loving family or partner, an adorable pet, enough food to last the week, a hobby you love doing, and other things that remind you of why it’s worth all the struggle and hard work? Then count each and every one of them and send a silent message of gratitude to the universe that you have them in your life.
What’s more, being grateful has been studied and proven by neuroscience to help people to feel more positive, be self-satisfied, feel and sleep better, and even have lower blood pressure!
15. Take little breaks
Beyond vacation leaves, taking breaks for self-care and focused family time are musts when working from home. While it seems as if more time is spent while in one’s home with family members, it’s the quality of time spent together that matters more. So you might be spending a lot of time with your loved ones, but you could be too busy to appreciate that time to do things together that matter to you. It doesn’t necessarily mean taking a long trip somewhere or doing something extravagant. Picnics, cookouts, game nights, and other fun bonding activities could already do wonders for you.
Taking little breaks can also help you achieve work-life balance while recharging you if you ever feel burnt out or overwhelmed. One of the best ways to determine when you are in need of a break is to recognize your stress triggers early on. Don’t wait until you’re on the verge of a breakdown or panic attack to ask for a much-needed leave. The same goes true for paid leaves you might want to use for special occasions or emergencies.
So go ahead and take breaks, whether it’s for a few minutes or a couple of days. You deserve it, and you definitely will need it.
16. Be aware of feelings of stagnation
Sheltering-in-place can bring about feelings of isolation and boredom. Even when lockdowns get lifted and you are still working from home, there could very well be a feeling of being trapped, as if the four walls of your home are closing in on you.
Learn to recognize your triggers for both stress and when you feel underutilized, unable to achieve goals (both personal and for work), or generally stagnated. This could be a cue for taking a break or recharging, or making plans to do self-improvement activities like enrolling in classes or workshops.
Communicate these feelings to your workmates and superiors and ask for feedback that could help you navigate through the slump. The bottom line is, if you feel like your growth is being stunted, address it ASAP. This will enable you to find solutions to keep improving yourself and have better output in the long run.
17. Decline politely if you are overloaded with work
If you are part of a virtual team, there’s a big chance you might get involved in a system that resembles an assembly line production. If this is the case, you will need to focus on the tasks assigned to you to meet everyone’s deadline aside from your own. Should you find yourself being inundated with tasks from all sides, learn to discern which ones need prioritization. Then, learn to say no to those you truly cannot undertake because you need to take care of other things first.
The people you work with will not take this as a rejection if you explain and present to them what you are currently working on. It won’t do to be a people pleaser if you will end up feeling overwhelmed and miss deadlines because you couldn’t say no. Instead, you can promise to help out as soon as your own tasks are completed.
18. Adjust to circumstances and schedules accordingly
Even if you are hyper-aware of it, there might be some work-life boundaries that could get blurred when you start working from home. Aside from the usual distractions of noise, smells, and comfortably soft things, you will need to make room for accomplishing personal tasks and household chores. As well, there might be psychological or emotional issues that need to be addressed ASAP.
Take note of these issues and try to remedy them as soon as you can before they can even escalate. If you need to talk to members of your household or your partner about boundaries when you are working, go ahead and do so from the get-go. Make time to discuss personal issues after work, or when everyone is in a good headspace to do so. That way, everyone can adjust accordingly to this new situation of having to work from home, with no resentment or frustrations involved.
19. Make suggestions on how to improve work-related things
During your regular work meetings and team-wide updates, mention the things that you think could be improved upon, whether it’s by you, the system, or everyone else on the team. Do this in such a way as to provide constructive criticism and not pass the buck or blame someone’s shortcomings. If you have stumbled upon ways to make work easier, more efficient, and generally more productive, by all means – share them!
20. Set goals regularly (and find ways to meet them!)
Aside from meeting your work goals and deadlines, make sure you also set personal goals for yourself and your loved ones. Whether it’s getting in shape, learning a new skill, ticking something off your bucket list, or achieving a financial goal, make sure you consistently have your eyes on the prize.
And then celebrate jobs well done, whether it is yours or someone else from your team or family! This will feel great after accomplishing what you set out to do.
21. Reward or treat yourself as needed
Some days, you might feel as if you are not working during a pandemic, but working through it. Just getting a day’s work done might sometimes feel taxing. And with no end to COVID-19 yet in sight, it could get pretty overwhelming just thinking about working from home with no outdoor break in the near future.
Reward yourself for accomplishing seemingly easy but emotionally draining tasks. Sleep in during the weekends, treat yourself to your favorite dessert, make whimsical vacation plans and start saving up for them, and do other things that truly make you happy. Heaven knows you deserve it, especially during these times.
22. Be forgiving of others’ mistakes (and yours)
Now, more than ever, you should allow yourself and others some grace for not meeting expectations all the time. If you make mistakes, own up to them, take note of them, and work around them. The same holds true for others who may be working with you (or living with you). Come up with a solution together to avoid the same mistake and future ones, and let it go with an eye on improvement.
23. Never neglect personal growth
Self-care has become a watchword in the past few years, accompanied by ads on skin care, spas, massages, indulgent treats, ostentatious vacations, and other luxurious ways to treat yourself to keep stress at bay. Given these days of self-quarantining, though, those are not just impractical, but altogether impossible to do if social distancing has to be strictly followed.
Personal growth can be achieved by meditation, mindful eating, exercising, having meaningful conversations with family and friends (digitally), welcoming quiet times to reflect, and extending help to those who need it. Being in lockdown doesn’t mean you can’t reach out and touch other people’s lives, and enrich your own in the process.
24. Be mindful in your criticism and feedback
Open dialogue is great in a workplace – provided it’s done with respect and constructive criticism. Be mindful of how you give feedback to others’ work and anything else that you think needs to be improved in the work process. Give your honest observations, but follow them up with practical suggestions that you think would work for everyone involved. In the same vein, accept feedback and criticism about your work with grace and understanding.
25. Find areas and ways to improve yourself (beyond work)
Lastly (but perhaps most importantly), it’s good to remind yourself that there is life beyond work. Totally immersing yourself in just work day in and day out without pausing to enrich other aspects of your life will burn you out fast. Your close relationships and health can suffer because of it. That is not something you’d want.
You can take online courses to improve your skill sets for both work and personal goals. Given the shelter-in-place circumstances at the moment, there are so many lessons being offered online by well-known and respected mentors. Research the ones that will suit and enhance your talents and skills, as well as your big-picture goals and objectives. Even lessons that aren’t normally within your scope of interest and practice – dancing, cooking, working out, arts and crafts, music, etc. – might just prove to be the one you need to broaden your professional and personal horizons.