Don’t Normally Work from Home? Here are 27 Tips from Remote Work Pros
Okay, but you might be wondering, “is it really worth making a lot of changes for what will likely be temporary?” If you think making big changes to your home space might not be worth the trouble, think again. The fact is you may be working at home for an extended period (months, not weeks), so it’s worth figuring out how to make yourself as comfortable, productive, and efficient as possible.
Also, it’s possible that this disruption to traditional work life could be the catalyst for many companies to reconsider the value of the traditional office space. It wouldn’t be surprising if even after the pandemic simmers down, working from home at least a few days per week becomes the rule, rather than the exception.
At DTS Language Services, Inc., we’ve been working with remote teams for decades. So we have an idea of what works. However, what really matters is figuring out how to make working from home work for you.
Let’s jump right into the tips.
How To Set Up Your Workspace
First, you need to set up your work space to be maximally effective. If you aren’t used to working from home, it’s especially important to set up a dedicated workspace with all the essentials.
- Create a dedicated work zone
One of the biggest challenges to successfully working from home is the blurring of the lines between work time and personal time. We’ll talk more about how to set appropriate boundaries below, but one of the most important ways to make yourself feel ready to work is to create a dedicated work zone.
If you have a home office, you have a headstart with this, but if you live with someone else who is also in need of a dedicated work from home space, you may need to improvise. Find a space, preferably with a door that closes (if that’s the walk-in closet or guest bathroom, hey, you might have to make it work), and designate it as your work zone.
The key to making this work is when you’re in the work zone, you’re only allowed to work. This doesn’t mean you can’t work also in other places, like outside on the deck if the weather is pleasant. You’ll want to avoid relaxing (or folding laundry) in your work zone, though. If you want to relax, move to the couch.
- Figure out what your technology needs are
Do you usually work with two monitors in the office? Do you need to increase the bandwidth on your Wi-Fi? How can you ensure you’re protecting your clients’ data while working from home? Do you need to invest in a decent set of headphones or a higher quality webcam?
It’s crucial to figure out what your technology needs are and get what you need as soon as possible. If you need to put in a request at your company, you’ll want to do so now because many departments are short staffed and the lag time may be longer than usual.
- Use a VPN to access sensitive information
Whenever you are connected to a network that is not within your control, you should use a VPN for security reasons. This includes Wi-Fi at public spaces like co-working spaces, coffee shops, libraries, and airports. Of course, you aren’t going to these places now, but it’s still good to know.
Additionally, some organizations have their own VPNs so that employees working remotely can access certain websites or servers meant for internal use only. If this is true of your company, you’ll need to use a VPN at home. Keep in mind, when you’re connected to the VPN, your company can see what you’re doing. So make sure you’re accessing appropriate sources.
- Make your space as comfortable as possible
Beyond the essentials, make sure your home office is comfortable. After a week or two of working from home, your body may be missing your ergonomic office chair. It’s not a bad idea to invest in a good office chair for home use.
Consider what you need to do your best work. The good news is you probably have more control over the temperature and you may even have more natural light at home than in your corporate office. Now is your chance to make your workspace really work for you.
- Use your workspace to set boundaries with those you live with
While there are a lot of advantages to working from home, you may also be feeling the disadvantages—especially if you’re working from home with kids. However, you can use your workspace to set boundaries with those who live with you.
Let everyone know when you’re in your workspace, you’re “at work.” Insist that they keep the interruptions to a minimum during work hours and feel free to shut the door when necessary. For this to be most effective, you need to abide by the boundaries yourself too.
- Don’t start your day in your pajamas
Similar to setting up your physical workspace, you need to set up your mental workspace. Just as the others living in your home need boundaries to help you work from home successfully, you need to create boundaries for yourself. This starts with changing out of your sleepwear at the start of your workday.
It might feel odd to get dressed for the office and then go downstairs to sit at your desk at home. However, if you’re feeling easily distracted, this can be a good technique to trigger your “work brain” to engage. If, on the other hand, you can work just as well in jeans and a t-shirt and those on the other end of your video calls don’t care what you’re wearing, why not be comfortable?
The thing to avoid is wearing the exact same outfit for more than 24 hours. Effectively working from home is about developing the self-discipline you need to be functional. Personal hygiene may be a bigger part of self-discipline than you realize.
- Take advantage of the perks of WFH
Once you’ve set the boundaries you need to set, feel free to also enjoy the perks. Do you love to bake bread? Well, here’s your opportunity to throw some bread in the oven whenever you want (and take pleasure in the smell filling your home). Do you enjoy taking your dog (or your spouse) on a 2-hour walk during your lunch break? Go for it! The sun and fresh air will do you both good.
Also, you can use the time you’re saving by not commuting to do something for yourself. Read a book, really savor your coffee, mediate, or cook your favorite breakfast with the family.
- Know your WFH self
This may be the most important tip yet. When you know your own strengths and weaknesses, you’ll be better equipped to make the changes that will make you more successful. If you’re the kind of person who feels more professional when you do your hair or wear makeup, do your hair and makeup every morning, even if no one else will see you.
If you’re prone not to take breaks when working at home, set a timer and take a breather. You can’t afford to let yourself get burned out. Keep in mind that you need a change in scenery once in a while. No one expects you to be chained to your desk at home.
How To Be Most Productive While Working At Home
Once you’ve set up your workspace, it’s time to consider what else you need to be productive. As tempting as it might be to binge watch T.V. all day, you’ll feel better if you stay productive and reward yourself with a few episodes of your favorite show after you get your work done.
- Try to stick to a regular routine
Routines are helpful in the midst of uncertainty. It may not be clear what work really needs to get done while we’re all self-quarantined, so take some time to think about what you can do and create a routine that works for you. Finding a regular routine and getting into a grove will keep everyone in your household more sane.
If you are working from home with children, they’ll benefit from having a routine too. Create a schedule that you can all follow. You don’t need to account for every hour, unless that feels necessary. You can instead designate activities for morning, afternoon, and evening or even pick themes for each day and have the family come up with ideas around that theme.
- Declare your work hours
As we all learn to navigate working from home when we aren’t used to it, it’s also reasonable to adjust your work hours. Without commute time, for example, you may want to start earlier than normal and end earlier to get your workout in, go for a walk, or start dinner.
Whatever you decide on for regular work hours, set expectations by declaring your new hours. Tell your family, supervisor, co-workers, and clients. This will help to avoid confusion and help you set healthy boundaries.
- Discover your high productivity time
If your work is more flexible, this could be an opportunity to experiment and find the time when you do your best work. Perhaps your natural rhythms dictate sleeping until 8am, but you have been getting up at 6am so that you can get to the office on time. Now is your chance to align your work more closely with your natural rhythms.
Are you more of a night owl? Adjust your schedule so you can work at night when you’re most productive and spend part of the day (after you get enough sleep, of course) practicing self-care. The goal: to figure out the times of the day when you’re most highly functional and do the tasks that require the most mental energy during those times each day.
- Make sure you take breaks when you need them
Contrary to popular belief, when you work from home the challenge is often not that you get distracted by dirty dishes or a pile of laundry. The challenge is that you get lost in your work and forget to take breaks at all.
In the office, you have co-workers who stop by to ask questions or prompt you to get up and go for a walk. These small interruptions can take you out of your focused concentration and while this might be annoying sometimes, we all need reminders to take breaks.
If you find yourself sitting for hours without getting up, set a timer to take a 5- or 10-minute break every hour or so. Little breaks will make you more productive and the work will still be there when you return.
- Move your body to keep your mind focused
It’s not always obvious to us how moving our bodies can make us more productive, but if we sit for too long and our bodies get stiff, achy muscles can become a distraction. You can avoid this fate by being more mindful about when and how you move your body.
There are many options for virtual fitness classes. You can tune into your favorite YouTube channel or Instagram feed to follow along with yoga, dance classes, or other cardio classes. Your local gym may have moved some classes online too. If the weather is cooperating, you can go for a walk or a run. The fresh air will also get your creative juices flowing and make you more productive.
- Take time off if you’re sick
Another challenge with working from home is that you may feel guilty about not working while you’re sick. If you have sick leave, remember that you’re not doing anyone any favors if you don’t take that time off. If you don’t have the benefit of sick leave, you still should listen to your body and give yourself rest when necessary.
If this pandemic teaches us anything, it should be that work does not come before health and safety. There are serious consequences to pushing through and continuing to work when you’re not well. Often, slowing down for a few days can prevent worse symptoms down the road.
- Take advantage of downtime to learn something new
Much of the above advice for working from home is about how to continue a similar level of productivity while at home. However, you may be in a position where there is less work for you to do during this time. You can take advantage of the downtime by being productive in other ways.
Rather than feeling bored and flipping through Netflix to find something new to watch, look for something new to learn. Are there career skills you’ve been wanting to learn and haven’t had the time? Did you want to go back to school to earn that advanced degree? Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn how to speak Spanish. Now could be the time.
- Eat healthy meals and snacks
Eating well is another thing we don’t always associate with being more productive. When we eat healthy meals and snacks, though, we have more energy and proper nutrients allow our brains to function on a higher level. So skip the Coronavirus junk food and keep it healthy!
- Get outside
Nothing beats getting outside to keep you mentally and physically healthy. It’s safe to get outside for a walk or bike ride with the family. As long as you stay six feet (or at least two arms’ lengths) away from others, you’re making a great choice.
Getting outside will also improve your mood. If you can go exploring a new trail or walking in a new neighborhood, the novelty will help to stimulate your brain too. Be mindful of local ordinances as you enjoy the great outdoors. As mentioned before, the fresh air will improve creativity and make you more productive when you sit back down to work.
- Be kind to yourself
Finally, it’s important to realize that if you are not as productive now as you were a month ago, this is perfectly normal. You may need to adjust your expectations about how you work and how much you can do with the time you have.
It can be tempting to compare ourselves to others on social media who are suddenly ramping up their productivity or at least, bragging about doing so. Remember that everyone’s situation is different. When the voice of your inner critic starts to pipe up with negative words, imagine what you would say to your best friend, then say that to yourself.
How To Work With Others Virtually
Yes, your work environment has changed and your productivity needs have changed, but also the way you work with others has changed. In this last section, let’s discuss tips for working from home with others virtually.
- Understand the technology capabilities of those you’re working with
In addition to considering your own technology needs, encourage your employees, clients, or colleagues to discuss their technology capabilities with you. Having this conversation up front will save you time and headaches down the road. Be as accommodating as possible.
If someone you work with has never used the video conferencing technology you’re suggesting, for example, ask how confident they are about learning how to use the new software or ask them what technology they’re more comfortable with. Also, offer to help others set up their technology and share what has worked for you if they’re having technical difficulties.
- “Show up” to meetings
You may be tempted to keep your webcam off when you join video meetings, but if the only reason is that you don’t want others to see you in your PJs, put on a regular shirt and turn your camera on. If you are leaving your video off because no one else is showing up on camera, raise this as an issue for discussion and encourage everyone to be seen at least some of the time.
There are several good reasons to do this: to avoid interrupting others who are about to speak, to connect with others (we’re visual creatures), to see others’ facial expressions and read their body language, etc.
- Adjust your communication style
You may not realize how much being in the same physical location as your colleagues affects the culture of communication. Now that Kevin isn’t stopping by your desk to say he’s going on a coffee run and Katrina from Finance doesn’t run into you in the lunchroom to ask you about that report you sent over, there is less interaction.
The problem is work happened within these spontaneous interactions and conversations. To fill this gap while working at home, you need to adjust your communication style. Here are a few tips:
- Close loops – make sure you are intentionally closing communication loops by keeping everyone who needs to know “in the know”
- Don’t be afraid to strike up non-work-related conversations with co-workers – a little light banter will help to lift everyone’s mood
- Be more deliberate about status updates – check-in with your supervisor more frequently than you might otherwise to let them know about your progress on big projects
Another quick tip when working with others remotely is to be mindful of different time zones. Always remember to check on time zones when setting virtual meeting times and set times that are fair to everyone who is going to be on the call. Here are some other relevant strategies to consider.
- Respond promptly to messages
Remember that everyone is a bit more anxious than usual right now, so if you don’t respond to a message in a timely manner, they could very well start to worry about your health. Responding promptly to messages is always a good business practice, but it’s even more crucial during this time.
Follow the “24-hour rule” when it comes to email: respond to all communications within 24 hours, even if it’s just to say, I will be able to answer your question next Monday. If you’re experiencing an unusually high number of emails now, set up an autoresponder to let people know when they can expect a response.
- If a phone call would save time, pick up the phone
You also want to avoid clogging emails with needless messages. Often simple email requests turn into a never-ending back-and-forth. Avoid this type of unnecessary written communication by instituting a “3-strikes rule.” After three back-and-forth conversations, pick up the phone or jump on a video call to straighten out any confusion.
In many cases, a 5-minute conversation can save you hours of back-and-forth or carefully composed emails.
- Set expectations
A key part of boundary setting when you are working from home is setting expectations of everyone you interact with including those with whom you’re working virtually. If you normally don’t answer emails on the weekends, there’s no reason to break that rule just because you’re working from home. Keep in mind that you can catch up on work over the weekend without responding to new requests.
If you worry that setting expectations will make you “the bad guy,” consider that your employees, colleagues, or clients may be simply following your lead. When someone makes a request that feels overbearing, instead of fulfilling the request all the while stewing about it, tell them what you can do or simply say “no.” Remember that the person making the request may not realize their request is unreasonable for you. Set expectations. Don’t expect others to read your mind.
- Don’t hesitate to ask for what you need
Just because we are physically more distant from others now does not mean that we must also do everything alone. If you need a colleague to help you fulfill a customer request, reach out and ask for assistance. We’ll all get through this difficult time only if we lean on each other.
- Be empathetic, generous, and flexible
Yes, raise your hand when you need help, but also volunteer to help out if you can. As much as we all need to remember to give ourselves what we need and to be kind to ourselves, we also need to remember others are going through their own struggles. Be as empathetic, generous, and flexible as possible during this time.
It’s likely that deadlines will be missed, deliveries will be slow, and supplies could fall short. Always start conversations by asking how the other person is doing. Be genuine in your response. Keep in mind that others will remember how you responded during this crisis.
- Make an effort to connect beyond work
In addition to connecting for work, it’s critical to find ways to connect beyond work. A big part of working with people you like and with whom you talk about more than work, is the connection you feel. You can maintain that strong connection even while working remotely.
Set up some video chat time outside of your regular work time. Virtual happy hours and dance parties are popping up everywhere these days. You can also create a specific channel within your work platform where people can share fun photos or videos of their pets, babies, or funny memes or gifs. Sharing these together can be such a lovely way to release anxiety and reconnect with your colleagues.
Our team at DTS Language Services, Inc. is doing our best to stay connected and work effectively from home. We hope these tips for setting up your home workspace, staying productive while doing remote work, and working virtually with your colleagues help you stay on track during this difficult time.
Sending you all the best from our family to yours! Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can answer any questions.